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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

John JOHNSON (c.1550-1594)
Lute Music

The Delight Pavan; Galliard to the Delight Pavan; Carman’s whistle; Short Almaine; Dump; Rogero; Pavan; Piece without title (Galliard); Omnio Galliard; Almaine; Johnson’s Jewel; Quadro Pavan; Galliard; Chi Pausa; La Vechia Pavan; Galliard to La Vechia Pavan; The Marigold Pavan; Galliard; A Ground; The Flat Pavan; Galliard to the Flat Pavan; Dump; Passing measures Pavan; Walsingham; Goodnight
Christopher Wilson; Shirley Rumsey (lutes) Recorded June 1995 in St Andrew’s Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire
NAXOS 8.550776 [59.24]


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Robert Johnson described on this disc as ‘the founder of English lute music of the Golden Age’ was Queen Elizabeth’s favourite lutenist. Pieces such as these no doubt maintained his role as court lutenist, but are also historically interesting. Johnson continued the tradition of using familiar tunes and courtly dances such as Pavans, Almaines and Galliards adorned with Italianate ornamentation and divisions as a basis for his compositions.

The lute had existed in Europe since Renaissance times, mainly as a continuo instrument and for accompanying voices, but until the Elizabethan era solo lute music was rarely heard Britain. Johnson started a fashion for short, graceful pieces for the entertainment of the Nobility and the pleasure of accomplished amateurs. The ‘golden age’ of English lute music was brief but fruitful, and by the end of the 18th century the fashion had declined, and the lute was not revived until the 20th century.

Obviously all twenty-three pieces were not intended to be heard in succession, though they are nicely played and form a representative selection. They are not as exciting as Dowland’s elaborate Fantasias and Divisions, and all but three do not last more than three minutes. The six-course lute has a comparatively restricted compass and the resonant church acoustic makes for neither clarity nor excitement.

Roy Brewer

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