Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Revisiting Paul O'Dette

Not literally... it's probably been 35 or 40 years since I've seen him in person, and there's no reason he should remember our encounter. But to his good fortune and ours, he became famous after a fashion in the interval since those days, as one of the world's great masters of the lute, both Renaissance and Baroque... they're different instruments altogether... as well as baroque guitar and all the large lutes: theorbo, chitarrone, archlute, etc. Those large lutes differ from each other in important details, but all have a half dozen or more bass strings run off the fretboard to extra pegs (usually on an extra pegbox), pretuned before each piece to the bass notes you need for that piece. (See photo below right.) There is nothing like the sound of those unstopped deep bass notes on a theorbo... a Steinway grand piano today is a lot louder, but the theorbo takes the prize for sheer resonance and color in the bass. Playing recorder or baroque flute, I'd rather be accompanied on one of the large lutes than any other instrument in the world.

(height over 6')
Back to Paul O'Dette. O'Dette, like so many of his generation (he's only slightly younger than I am), started out in a rock band. He then moved to classical guitar, discovered the lute literature, realized more quickly than most young teens that you couldn't do justice to the lute literature on any modern guitar, and started collecting lutes. That was then; now, he tours as a soloist, leads various ensembles, publishes both scholarly research and practical performance advice, and teaches at Eastman. The above picture notwithstanding, his beard is now only slightly less gray than mine.

Here's a fun fact about Paul O'Dette: if you don't watch out, he makes terrible puns. I mean genuine groaners! Or at least he did 40 years ago, and that sort of thing doesn't usually change.

I'm not going to conduct this tour of O'Dette's oeuvre. Just search for him on YouTube; listen to several works, then read this 1993 interview with Bruce Duffie, a Chicago radio announcer. I will get you started with this performance of a song Love's Constancy by Nicolas Lanier; Ellen Hargis, soprano; Paul O'Dette, theorbo. Be forewarned before you listen: you're going to want to collect his recordings, and in his long and creative life to this point, he's made or participated in over 120 of them!

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