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Differences in sound qualities of lutes, as opposed to vihuelas and 5-course guitars?

I'm a fiction writer working on a novel one of whose characters will be the seventeenth century Francesco Corbetta, one of the early Italian masters of the 5-course guitar, and a teacher of Gaspar Sanz.

My experience of the old instruments is not very great; but listening to people playing  modern recreations of vihuelas and the 5-course guitar on You Tube, I don't hear much difference between the way they sound, and the sound of the lute. Which raises the question, in connection with my project, why someone talented as Corbetta would have chosen to devote himself to the 5-course rather than the lute, especially when the guitar at leastr outside Spain still seems to have been regarded as an instrument to be strummed in taverns and barber shops.

What I'm looking for are educated guesses, and guesses from people knowledgeable in these matters would be appreciated!

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Guitarmiami--thanks for the response. You remark contributes to answering my question. But could you be a bit more specific about what's responsible for the "haunting" quality of the baroque guitar?
Jim, quite a few Baroque guitarists also played the lute, but Corbetta took pride in stating that he had never ever wanted to play any other instrument than the guitar, so obviously he had fallen in love with it completely! There are so many knowledgeable members of this forum who certainly will give you good answers, just you wait and see. Perhaps Corbetta appreciated the campanela and strumming technique, something which is not performed on lutes?

Good luck in your quest!
Harry--thanks for the comment. Your observation about campanella being a technique on the guitar and not on the lute is interesting. Campenella can be executed on the double-stringed courses as on single strings? Hard, though, to imagine that being a sufficient reason for preferring the guitar of the period to the lute.

As for strumming: As I understand it, most courtly guitarists abandoned strumming which they regarded as lowlife noise-making, in favor of the more elegant punteado.
You should probably look into the details of this, Corbetta's early 1639 book is entirely in the strummed style. He did stretch it beyond the simple first position chords, though. By the time of his 1643 book he is using the mixed style which incorporated both strumming and lute-like (punteado) playing.

You might look into Richard T. Pinnell's book "Francesco Corbetta and the Baroque Guitar". It includes a transcription of his works. -- R
Jim, I'm glad you posted to the Forum with your questions. I don't have a great deal of time at the moment, but I will add one idea that has been in my head recently.

The ukulele is also an instrument that is not always very highly thought of -- an instrument to strum while sailing in a canoe, perhaps. So perhaps the situation is not so dissimilar to the guitar at Corbetta's time. An instrument that most people played in a simple way.

Of course, there are some fantastic players of the ukulele, such as Jake Shimabukuro. He is a young man, with a sunny personality, engaging performer, with a great technique. He didn't see the limitations of the instrument, I think, as much as he saw the _potential_ of it, bringing to it his innate creativity, and flooring people who had never heard a uke played that way -- who never would have imagined it _could_ be played that way.

That artistic spark can be lit by an instrument as (seemingly) simple as the ukulele or the Baroque (a term they, of course, didn't use) guitar. In other fields we have wonderful artistic expressions from Matisse working with only paper and a scissors (when his hands could not hold a brush). Or Picasso imagining a bull from a bicycle seat and handlebars. Or the fantasy collages of Joseph Cornell working with scraps of paper.

Perhaps there was a guitar hanging in young Corbetta's home, and he heard other people going beyond those simple chordal accompaniments, or discovered new sounds for himself. Perhaps the lute was too aristocratic or expensive. Perhaps he relished the energy and power of those strummed chords, or their equally possible delicacy. Perhaps it was a creative itch that he luckily found could get scratched by the wonderful (humble) Spanish guitar.

Perhaps more later. -- R
Rocky and Andrew--thanks for the thoughtful speculations.

I haven’t sought out Pinnell’s book, although I am aware of it. It’s not readily available here in Atlanta and I should maybe go to interlibrary loan for it. But I am chiefly interested in the character of Corbetta, rather than the guitar he was playing, and I gather from what I have read that neither Pinnell or anyone else knows much about his life, apart from the fact that it was peripatetic. That gives me liberty to invent the character--which, of course, is basically what biographers with more information at their disposal than I have do, too.

I ran across a reference to a diary Corbetta had kept that was lost at some point. In what I’m writing, I’m inventing the section of that diary dealing with his time spent in Restoration England at the court of Charles II. He was very well regarded there. Strumming, as accompaniment for singing, abounded at the court. Everybody seems to have wanted to know how to do it. (It was a sexy court, and in the visual art of the Renaissance and Baroque, guitars and lutes are often pictured in the hands of prostitutes, and court ladies with bedroom eyes.)

Rocky’s mention of the fact that Corbetta incorporated strumming in his playing recalled for me some transcriptions of his pieces for modern guitar I used to play that, I now recall, did, in fact, include rasgueado. Corbetta in his ramblings spent some time in Spain where he would probably have heard enough brilliant strumming to last a lifetime!

I’m representing him as a commoner moving in aristocratic circles, so Rocky’s suggestion that there might have been an inexpensive guitar in his parent’s home, and that he liked the vigorous strumming he heard in popular music but conceived a way of combining that technique with the more delicate and refined punteado, is appealing.
Supposedly Sanz had said Corbetta was "the greatest of them all." Don't recall where I ran across that. Yes, I have the Tyler and Sparks. Your comment that the lute always sounds "serious" squares with my impression that the lute does not allow for a variety of tonal effects equivalent to that of the guitar. See my remarks in response to Alexander Batov today.
Corbetta's life is very well documented - so if you are writing a novel about him you need to do a lot of research first. You could start by reading his obituary in Mercure Galant and what he says about himself in the introduction to La guitarre royale (1670). So much is known about him that it would require a book to answer your query but it seems that he took up the guitar in spite of opposition from his parents. Sanz does call him "the best of all" in the introduction to his guitar book when discussing books published by other guitarists but he certainly wasn't taught by Corbetta. And the baroque guitar is completely different from the lute!
Just a guess - I suspect the differences are maybe less heard today on some reconstructions of vihuelas (which are laregly hypothetical due to the lack of surviving instruments) and the tendency of luthiers to build what they "know." Even four-course guitars are built by many luthiers in a lute-like fashion with thin soundboards and many bars. Historically, there is evidence to suggest that this may not have been the case. I believe (based on the limited knowledge I have in this later era) that baroque guitars generally had thicker soundboards and minimal barring to accommodate strummed play, creating a soundboard with more "punch" and less sustain.

Personally, I wouldn't use most vihuela videos on youtube as a gauge -- instruments either built too lute-like or played by people as if they are playing lute! Baroque guitar copies today are more likely based on surviving models and have a chance of sounding closer to the way they did, but be mindful of the player...

Just my 2 cents!
Craig Russell is a recognized thinker on the Baroque Guitar. I found the following, which may be informative:

The basic idea is that the transition to baroque involved a move from harmony as a product of simultaneous linear statements, to harmony for its own sake. And he suggests the guitar embodied that transition, with its focus on chords. The idea that music could be composed over a chord progression seems to be new, and the guitar is emblematic of that idea.

I'm constantly reminded that you simply can't take for granted how much (or little) our current musical sensibilities have to do with those of earlier times. It could well be that the guitar was so new and fresh that Corbetta was in a position to contribute to the bleeding edge of music. I can imagine that would be an exciting position to be in.

As to the similarity of sounds for the different instruments, I guess that's a matter of detail and opinion. From my perspective, the baroque guitar is very different in sound from the vihuela and lute. Claiming otherwise to me is like claiming the harpsichord and pianoforte sound roughly the same. But maybe I'm just a freak.

Now, Monteverdi was neither a barber nor a barkeep. I think he used the guitar in his compositions...
Adding some links for different sounds of the instruments. I just think the guitar has a more chrystaline sound. The lute and vihuela are closer in sound I think, but that's probably partly because they're closer in intent. All this said, I have to admit that I'm no expert on ancient instruments or their construction (even if I do know a few expert makers). And of course, all this is centered around modern interpretations. We can't take too much for granted. But I think if you play the music you realize that its native logic asks for different instruments, and its right and good that th instruments would sound differently.

Anyway, the links...

Xavier Dias Latorre -- Guitar... Just some great playing in this collection. I can't help adding him -- he must be my favorite. But I can't find any lute or vihuela comparisons (although I'm sure he's recorded viheula).

Hopkinson Smith - Vihuela:

Hopkinson Smith - Guitar:

Hopkinson Smith - Lute:

Paul Odette - Lute:

Paul Odette - Guitar:
Thanks, Chris, for the reference to the Craig Russell essay. I'm not too clear about this progression from "simultaneous linear statements to harmony for its own sake" but there's a lot in the piece I find valuable. I would be curious about HOW the baroque guitar differs in sound from the lute for you. Highly subjective impressions accepted! Russell refers to light-tension gut strings of the baroque guitar producing "translucent sparkle" and "crystalline sonorities." That, in my vocabulary, would be a sound a lot like that of the lute.


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