John Griffiths on Renaissance Singer-songwriters

JohnGriffithsSingerSongwritersRenaissance art is scattered with paintings of singers accompanying themselves on the lute.  The practice of accompanied solo song, however, is a genre that is largely ignored in studies of early modern music. Solo song usually surfaces in relation to English lutenist song writers such as John Dowland, and in connection with the Florentine Camerata and the birth of opera in the same years around 1600. John Griffiths’ new study, Singer-songwriters, the Lute, and the Stile nuovo, is the third of a series of seven that question this view. He links the unique repertory of Spanish accompanied solo songs from the 1530s to a long tradition that has remained in the shadows.

The argument is based on the fact that the narrative of contemporary music history is built on the study of extant musical sources —predominantly vocal polyphony— and that other forms of evidence revealing unwritten and extemporised traditions have largely been ignored.

The author presents a chain of evidence from throughout the sixteenth century that points to this tradition. He proposes that the song style of early opera is part of a long continuous tradition and not the radical new invention that it is usually drummed up to be. The article is a provocative introduction to a volume dedicated largely to seventeenth-century travellers whose cultural education took the form of the “Grand Tour”. Passaggio in Italia: Music of the Grand Tour in 17th-century Italy, edited by Margaret Murata and Dinko Fabris was published by Brepols in July 2015.