Jan Antonín LOSY (c.1650-1721)
Suite in A minor [12: 35]
Suite in F major [15:57]
Suite in G major [11:42]
Suite in D minor [13:48]
Suite in G minor [10:12]
Menuet in C major [1:29]
Suite in B flat major [12:04]
Chaconne in F major [2:49]
Jakob Lindberg (lute)
rec. 2018, Länna Church, Sweden
BIS BIS-2462 SACD [82:15]
Jan Antonín Losy’s name is nowadays largely forgotten, save amongst a few lute specialists. His exact date of birth is not known, but 1650 has been back-calculated, as it were, from the knowledge that when he died in 1721, he was said to be aged 71. Losy’s family were of Swiss origin. By the time of the composer’s father, also called Jan Antonín, they were based in Prague. Jan Antonín the elder prospered as a businessman in and around the city; he also distinguished himself in the 1648 defence of Prague against Swedish troops and was created a Baronet in the same year. In 1655 he was made Count von Losinthal. Though there is no reason to think that the composer’s father was especially interested in the arts, he must have encouraged such an interest in his children, on the evidence of a quotation from a letter of 1659, written by an unnamed “aristocratic cardinal”, with which Tim Crawford opens his booklet essay for this CD: “Losinthal’s two children have performed for us a little play, nearly a whole hour long. It was really good for such young children, as they not only spoke in it, but played string and wind instruments, and also danced and sang.” The two children mentioned here were probably the composer-to-be and his younger brother Johann Baptist (who died before Jan Antonín). There is another sign that Losy senior encouraged Jan Antonín’s interest in music: he appointed as his valet one Achazius Kazimir Huelse, a teacher of the lute and a minor composer, who seems to have remained with Jan Antonín the younger for many years. (Here and elsewhere I am indebted to an article by Emil Vogl, himself a lutenist based in Prague: ‘Johann Anton Losy: Lutenist of Prague’, Journal of the Lute Society of America, 1980, pp. 58-86.)
Jan Antonín the younger studied at Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague in 1661-1667. When his father died in 1682, he inherited both his father’s title and some considerable wealth. That wealth allowed him to give much time to his great love of music, especially the lute. His abilities as a performer were much praised by quite a number of his contemporaries. Even if one makes allowance for the element of flattery often present in the praise of aristocratic practitioners of the arts, it is clear that this ‘amateur’ was a skilled performer. (I use the term in its original sense: someone who does something out of love for the activity, rather than for money. There are no overtones of the modern use in the sense of ‘amateurish’.)
In his book Cabinet der Lauten, published in 1695, Philippe Frans LeSage de Richée, a lutenist from Silesia, called Losy “Printz aller Künstler in diesem Saiten-Spiel” (the Prince of all artists who practice this [kind of] string-play). In 1696, Losy played a small concert with Johann Kuhnau, most familiar now as J. S. Bach’s predecessor at St. Thomas’s Church in Leipzig. Kuhnau was sufficiently impressed to dedicate his Frische Clavier Früchte to Losy, when it was published in the same year. (He may, of course, also have hoped for Losy’s patronage.) Quite a few years later, in a letter of 1717, Kuhnau wrote of “the noble and excellent lutenist Count Logi [Losy]” who played, Kuhnau remembered, “with all imaginable delicatesse” (quoted from Vogl, see above). In 1715, the composer Gottfried Heinrich Stölzl, recently appointed Kapellmeister in Prague, observed that Losy “played the lute as well as one who makes a profession of it, in a nice, full-voiced, mostly broken French style, complete and learned”. He also noted that when practising he sometimes “dwelled upon a well-placed dissonance, in order to savour it completely, often very long, and called out ‘È una nota d’oro’, that is, “It is a golden note’” (quoted from Crawford). What is perhaps the most powerful of all tributes to Losy cannot be quoted here, since it is non-verbal. After Losy’s death, no less a figure than Sylvius Leopold Weiss (the two lutenists had certainly known one another’s work) wrote a piece in tribute to the ‘amateur’ lutenist of Prague – his Tombeau de Monseigneur Comte de Logi. That this has often been judged to be one of Weiss’s finest pieces may be a measure of how highly he regarded Losy and his work.
Only one short piece was published during Losy’s lifetime: a Courante which appeared in LeSage de Richée’s Cabinet de Laute (Breslau, 1695). As a member of the Bohemian aristocracy, Losy would undoubtedly have regarded publication as undignified, unfitting in one of his social standing. Nor, of course, did he have any need of whatever financial needs publication of his work might have brought. Other than this one piece, which Lindberg includes on this disc as the second movement of the Suite in G minor (track 12), we are entirely reliant on manuscript sources for our knowledge of Losy’s work.
It is reasonable to assume that Losy would have put together suites made up of short pieces, as was the common practice for lutenists of his time. If he did so, the make-up of such suites has been largely, but not completely, lost. Their constituent pieces have been preserved (if at all) in isolation in manuscript. Of the ‘Suites’ recorded here by Lindberg, the Suite in A minor which opens the disc is of Lindberg’s own devising; he made it up of pieces from disparate sources. The Suite in F major is based on a manuscript from the early 18th century. Most of the movements of the Suite in G major come from a recently discovered manuscript copied out by Andreas Bohr von Bohrenfels (1662-1728), an important lutenist and teacher of the lute, based in Vienna. The D minor suite is, again, largely of Lindberg’s own devising. He used material from a variety of sources. The Allemande, the Courante and the Bourée are taken from a lute manuscript which seems to have originated in Austria and is now in the Kalmar County Museum in Sweden, while the Sarabande, the first Gigue and the Menuet come from a manuscript now preserved in New York. The Suite in G minor was also compiled from several sources. The Menuet in C (track 31) was evidently popular, since it appears in at least seven surviving manuscripts. The Suite in B flat survives, in more or less the same form, in a number of manuscripts. The Chaconne in F major (track 36), which closes this disc, also survives in several copies; Lindberg has chosen to play one of the more elaborate versions.
Losy’s music owes much to the French lute tradition – there are quite a few passages in style brisé – especially as represented by François Dufaut. But there are also movements, such as the Gavotte (track 11) of the Suite in F major, where Losy’s writing takes on a singingly Italianate quality. He can write gorgeous slow movements, such as the Aria (track 4) in the A minor suite, as well as vivacious fast movements like the Caprice (track 6) in the same suite. He seems to have had a particular fondness for the Menuet. All five Menuets here (tracks 11, 16, 24, 29 and 31) are beautifully constructed and full of charm. That one piece of Losy’s that was published while he was alive, the Courante (track 27), here included in the Suite in G minor, was described by de Richée as “Extraordinaire”, and Lindberg’s sensitive interpretation makes one hear and understand why. Individual track after individual track could be singled out for praise (not least the Lully-influenced ‘Ouverture’ which opens the Suite in F major, or the rich Sarabande from the same suite, a piece of great dignity) but to do so would be otiose. Suffice it to say that Losy was an outstanding composer of music for the lute and that in Jakob Lindberg he has found a perfect modern advocate. Lindberg handles Losy’s sometimes unexpected harmonic ideas – as in the Allemande (track 33) of the B flat suite – with a kind of persuasive lucidity. He treats Losy’s music with the respect it deserves, without ever letting that respect turn it into something marmoreal. Everything remains fresh beneath his fingers and there is an air of spontaneity which no doubt conceals a great deal of preparation and rehearsal. If one believes, with Ovid, that ars est celare artem (true art conceals art) then this recording offers a perfect and ‘true’ demonstration of the lutenist’s art.
The quality of Losy’s music and the superb interpretations by Jakob Lindberg are further enhanced by a third factor – the instrument he plays. He employs a unique instrument with a beautiful and distinctive sound; he did that on at least two earlier
recordings: Weiss, Lute Music (BIS 1524) and A Lute by Sixtus Rauwolf (BIS 2265) . The instrument, which dates from around 1590, was made by the Augsburg Luthier Sixtus Rauwolf. The instrument, which Lindberg bought at a London auction, carries a repair label in the name of Leonard Mausiel of Augsburg, dated 1715. Mausiel probably made changes to the instrument to fit it for the music of a new age, notably in the introduction of the present neck, which allows for the use of 11 courses rather than the 7 or 8 that the instrument’s original neck would have allowed. The maple wood of the soundbox has, however, been shown (by the use of dendrochronology) to be made of wood that is earlier than 1560, and so is surely original. The CD booklet tells us that the instrument has “been carefully restored by Michael Lowe, Stephen Gottlieb and David Munro”. This restoration to playable condition took place in 2003. The resulting sound is pure delight. The balance between treble and bass seems ideal; the treble has a clarity and brightness of great beauty, which yet sounds very smooth, while the bass notes do not sustain too long, as they can often do on lesser instruments. The sound engineer Matthias Spitzbarth has captured perfectly the instrument’s sound, and the nuances of Lindberg’s playing, in a natural-sounding acoustic. The recording was made in Länna Church, close to Lake Kyrksjön on the Stockholm archipelago, a church built in the 1300s.
This is in some ways a revelatory release; no previous recording of Losy’s work – and there have been only a few – has made its high quality so clear.