CD of the Week: Hopkinson Smith: Mad Dog

In American lutenist Hopkinson Smith's new album, he has given his own titles to unnamed Renaissance-era pieces.

In an ideal world, the catalog of every piece of music ever written would be complete and flawlessly documented, but that’s just not the case. Only beginning with the baroque masters do we find meticulous record keeping of composers’ output. Their Renaissance-era predecessors find their works less documented – sometimes not at all – and often, when a piece is discovered centuries later, its title or composer is unknown. It then becomes the performer’s role to tell the tale of a nameless piece.

American lutenist Hopkinson Smith has also given himself the role of bestowing a name to these works, based on their character. Smith says of his project:

“Some people will be angry. Others will laugh. There are many orphaned lute pieces in English sources that have come down to us with no name at all. I have taken the liberty of christening four such pieces in this program with names that seem to suit their musical spirits.”

Smith’s newest release, Mad Dog, is solo lute works by Renaissance composers John Johnson, Anthony Holborne, William Byrd, and John Dowland – each having obtained their fame some time during Elizabeth I’s reign from 1558-1603. On the album, Smith balances jovial dance-like works with more melancholy and weighted selections. It was for this reason he reached out to famed Boston-born luthier Joel van Lennep to deepen his instrument’s resonance by adding a low string, in addition to tuning all of the strings lower. The result is a rich tone in the instrument’s lower range while retaining the brilliance of the upper register, the latter of which Smith employs to recount the more lively of these unnamed tales.

Listen to a track:

For more information and to purchase this recording, visit ArkivMusic.

Track listing:

1-3. Johnson: Johnson's Jewell/A Pavan to Delight/Galliard to Delight
4. Johnson: Ward's Repose
5-6. Holborne: As it Fell on a Holly Eve/Heigh Ho Holiday
7. Holborne: Fantasy
8. Byrd: Pavan Bray
9. Dowland: The Shoemaker's Wife
10-11. Holborne: Pavan/Galliard to the Pavan Before
12. Huwet/Dowland: Fantasy
13. Dowland: Mr. Dowland's Midnight
14-15. Holborne: Mad Dog/My Selfe
16. Johnson: Day's End Pavan
17. Holborne: Passion
18. Johnson: Carman's Whistle
19-20. Holborne: Mr. Holborn's Last Will and Testament/Muy Linda
21. Dowland: Prelude
22. Holborne: The Fairy Round
23. Holborne: Fare thee Well