sketches of Bakfark and Waissel
Waissel, from Bartenstein in East Prussia, was a schoolmaster,
priest and publisher of lute music. Probably born shortly before
1540, he matriculated in 1553 at the University of Frankfurt an
der Oder and in 1560 at Königsberg where he studied theology.
Waissel claimed in the preface to his 1573 lute book that he was
taught to play the lute by various artists in Italy and in Germany.
There is no evidence, though, that Waissel ever worked as a professional
lutenist. He was active in the vicinity of Bartenstein, from c.1570
to 1573 as a schoolmaster at Schippenbeil and between 1574 and
1587 as a priest at Langheim. Later, it seems, he settled in Königsberg,
where he probably died in 1602.
Waissel published three books of solo lute music: Tabulatura...
(1573), Tabulatura... (1591, reissued 1592) and Lautenbuch...
(1592), as well as a collection of lute duets: Tabulatura... (1592),
all printed by Eichorn in Frankfurt an der Oder. The Lautenbuch...
also includes important lute playing instructions. Pieces from
Waissel's lute books, especially from that of 1573, occur in several
contemporary lute manuscripts. This demonstrates that his publications
were widespread and quite popular in Germanic lands and in other
eastern and central European countries. His output obviously suited
the taste of his contemporaries.
Two non-musical works by Waissel are also known: a biblical history
in verses, Summa doctrinae sacrae (Königsberg 1596), and
a collection of ancient local stories, Chronica alter preusischer
... Historien (Königsberg 1599).
we still lack a detailed study of Waissel's musical output, it
is clear that he should be considered primarily as a collector,
arranger and publisher of lute music rather than a composer. In
the 1573 lute book he acknowledges taking some pieces from other
sources, and notating only some himself. Indeed, his lute books
lean heavily on previous publications like Drusina's Hans Newsiedler's
and several of Phalèse's; also many of the popular pieces
evidently derive from circulating contemporary lute manuscripts.
Polish dances recorded here, from Waissel's 1591 and 1592 prints,
represent popular music from around 1600. Some of them can also
be found in other contemporary manuscript and printed collections
of lute and ensemble music.
Bakfark was a Hungarian lutenist-composer; after 1565 he called
himself Greff Bakfark or Greff alias Bakfark. According to recent
research he was born c. 1526/1530 in Kronstadt in the eastern
part of Hungary called Transylvania (today part of Rumania). Bakfark's
family was of German origin, and they were musicians, mostly lutenists.
On account of his musical talent he became a musical apprentice
at the Hungarian royal court as a young boy (c. 1536). Typical
characteristics of his later works suggest an Italian teacher.
In 1549, Bakfark left the court (which had resided in Transylvania
since 1542), and went to Poland, where he became lutenist to the
King, who was a brother of the Hungarian Queen. Bakfark was to
spend sixteen years in Polish service. Soon he also found an influential
longtime patron in the person of the Duke of Prussia, Albrecht
of Brandenburg, nephew of the king. However, he did not act as
Albrecht's agent, as some modern studies have assumed. Bakfark
left the Polish court in 1552, and after an abortive first attempt
to travel to Italy via Germany, he went to France. While in Lyon
he published his first lute book, Intabulatura... (1553). According
to a letter (1554), Bakfark also appeared at the French court
as well as in Rome at the Papal court. Royal accounts and other
documents prove that from May 1554 he stayed at the Polish court
continuously, leaving it for short periods only. From this time
on Bakfark became the most highly regarded Polish court musician
and one of the best paid, repeatedly receiving salary increases
as well as gifts. He was even given property by the king. His
social status, fame and popularity also increased immensely. While
in Poland (1552-1556) Joannes Sigismund, son of the Hungarian
King, ennobled Bakfark and probably his brother, too. In 1566
the first printing of the Polish proverb concerning those who
"take up the lute after [or in other versions: in presence
of] Bakfark" surfaces. In Polish literature, he appears increasingly
as a legendary figure, being mentioned into the late 17th century.
Foreigners praised him too, calling him excellent
(1561), an enchanting musician (1552), or a
marvellous and unique master of his art (1566). The last
echoes remarkably Herzog Albrecht's statement (1559): one
rarely finds someone similar in his art, and hardly a king has
such a musician.
actual service in Poland lasted until May/June 1565, when he travelled
to Vienna to request a privilege for his second lute book from
Emperor Maximilian II. Although he dedicated this work, Harmoniarum
Musicarum . . ., to the Polish king, he apparently did not present
it to him. Bakfark then remained in Cracow, where his second lute
book appeared. About the end of 1565, he decided to transfer into
the service of Maximilian. His motive for the sudden change is
not known. (No evidence or hint exists of his political activity,
as is suggested by some scholars.) He left Poland in June 1566.
At Maximilian's court he enjoyed an exceptional position similar
to the one he had had in Poland. During his service he followed
the Habsburg Emperor's retinue to Hungary and Bohemia. In 1569
he stayed for some months in Padua, too. Bakfark's service at
Maximilan's court ended after he was arrested for a short time
in October 1569, on account of his contact with a Hungarian Bishop
who had rebelled against Maximilian. Early in 1570, Bakfark entered
into the service of Joannes Sigismund, Prince of Transylvania,
who rewarded the lutenist immediately with the estate of a whole
village. About autumn of 1571, after the death of the Prince,
Bakfark returned to Padua where his second wife and his children
had stayed since 1569. He settled close to the university and
probably had pupils among the foreign students; his contact with
them is well documented. The whole Bakfark family died during
the plague of late summer 1576.
extant works--all from his Polish years--comprise, according to
recent research, nine (or possibly eight) lute ricercares / fantasies,
and 32 (or 33) lute intabulations of motets, chansons and madrigals
by famous masters of the age. In addition to authentic works,
some pieces of questionable attribution also appear in 16th-century
ricercars and fantasies show typical characteristics of the style
of the post-Josquin generation: tightly constructed three- or
four-part motet-like compositions, making consistent use of strict
counterpoint. There is a clear stylistic difference from similar
works by lutenists of the previous generation, such as Francesco
da Milano, Alberto da Ripa, Luis de Narvez or Alonso Mudarra.
Bakfark was obviously influenced by the vocal works of Gombert,
Clemens non Papa and Willaert, and probably even more by the instrumental
ensemble recercars which appeared in Italy during the 1530-40s.
Bakfark's 1553 Lyon lute book is one of the first presentations
of such compositions for solo lute.
Bakfark's intabulations are unusually faithful to the original
vocal composition. He ornamented his intabulations but also his
ricercars and fantasies with remarkable taste and variety. All
his works are of great technical difficulty.
Nie bierz po Bekfarku lutniej
(Polish proverb: Don't play the lute after Bakfark)
from the lute player
Apart from the pioneering recordings of Bakfark by Dániel
Benkö on Hungaroton, Bakfark's music has not been recorded
in any significant quantity until now. Likewise, most of the pieces
by Waissel on this disc have almost certainly never been recorded.
Some of the Bakfark pieces may not have been performed in public
at all since Bakfark's time, since he seems to have been something
of a unique virtuoso, writing music that was best suited to his
apparently exceptional talents (special techniques, such as splitting
unison pairs of strings, and stopping one but not the other, are
required in Bakfark's music, as well as other ingenious left-hand
fingerings). Other lutenists, then and now, are hard pressed to
emulate him. However, his reputation in his own lifetime (and
beyond) was great, and his marvellous music deserves an airing
today as much as does the music by more frequently performed lutenist/composers
such as John Dowland or Francesco da Milano. So this is my attempt.
The pieces by Bakfark are interspersed with Polish dances by his
contemporary, Waissel, as a foil to the seriousness of Bakfark's
writing. Waissel's dances (arrangements of pre-existing music)
are sketched in plain and unadorned settings. Lutenists would
have been expected to improvise embellishments and variations,
a practice which I follow on this recording. The disc's title,
Black Cow, is an English translation of the Polish title of track
18: Czarna krowa.
To give the modern listener some idea of the lute's importance
in the mid-sixteenth century, the best parallel I can draw is
to say that the lute then was like the piano in the nineteenth
century: the instrument for solo music and for accompanying the
voice, both in an amateur (domestic) context, and at court (in
the case of the lute) or in the concert hall (in the case of the
piano). Or, if you prefer, the lute then was in some ways like
the electric guitar now: played by amateurs as well as ultra-famous
professionals with legendary reputations and skills, and the principal
instrumental medium of domestic music. Furthermore, like professional
guitarists of today, professional lutenists spent a great deal
of their time improvising, and, without exception, lute music
was composed by practicing players of the instrument.
Three main categories of lute music existed in the sixteenth century:
intabulations (arrangements of sacred or secular vocal music),
dances, and fantasias (and other freely composed forms). This
CD consists mostly of intabulations, the most heavily represented
of the three categories in the original sources, but also the
least performed and recorded today. It is the first in a series
of CDs for DGM which will concentrate mainly on intabulations
in an attempt to redress this imbalance and to show that the best
of them are fine and powerful instrumental works in their own
right, and not simply weaker derivations of vocal works, composed
as academic exercises or purely for the amusement of the player.
One interesting aspect of intabulations is that they were, in
a sense, the renaissance equivalent of the radio and hifi. The
lute was a domestic instrument, and arranging vocal hits
both sacred and secular (it must be remembered that sacred music
was a vital part of everyday life in those days) for solo lute
was a way of taking this music into people's homes and allowing
it to be heard there in a domestic rendition. The same is true
of Waissel's (and others') solo lute arrangements of dance music.
Peter Kiraly, author of the biographical sketches, for generously
sharing his expertise, and for providing the Polish proverb printed
above, quoted in Krzysztof Falibogowski: Discurs marnotrawstwa
i zbytku Korony polskiej (1625) and elsewhere.
Robinson, who provided me with copies of the original tablatures,
from which I prepared the performing editions for this disc
Sayce, for useful ideas
The whole DGM team for their confidence and belief
Jones, for instilling a love of the undeservedly neglected
Stevenson, for invaluable help with bovine iconography
Hackel, for generous artwork
Zan, for being there
Lute made in New York in 1997 by Andrew Rutherford, after Gerle
recorded 15-16 December 1998 in Wiltshire, UK
recorded by David Singleton and Alex Mundy
post-production by Adrian Hunter
recording is for Lucy