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SATB: with Lute

Dear listers,

Here are the results of the lute as accompaniment query. Some pointed out
that 18 singers were too many for the lute to be heard. Right you are! I'm
actually using 8.
My normal number of singers for the Washington Singers is 18. Sorry - force of

Here follows the responses. THANKS to all who responded. The information was

Donald McCullough
Music Director
The Paul Hill Chorale and the Washington Singers
Washington DC


Many Dowland songs can be performed with lute and 4 part chorus.
An 18 voice chorus would need to sing softly in order for the lute to be


At least one (and I suspect more) of John Dowland's songs were published in
a format intended to make them very flexible in use. The solo part with
lute tablature is printed on the left page. On the facing page the alto
part is printed at the bottom, the tenor part at the top, upside down, and
the bass part to the right, facing to the right. It's designed to be put
down on a table with people singing (or playing) as they sit around the

Since the solo with lute is complete in itself, this suggests a very
flexible range of performance options, with the AT&B parts omitted, sung,
played, sung and played, etc. It would certainly be appropriate for your
chamber choir to sing all the parts to the lute.

I know these books are published in facsimile. I'm not sure who the
publisher is, and I don't know about modern editions (although a modern
edition is likely to have the lute tablature realized for piano or guitar).


Go to your local music library at a Univ and look for volume 6 of the
Musica Britannica series. It contains many Ayres for 4Voices by John
Dowland ( and a few others). You may certainly use lute with these, as
they are simply arrangements for four voices of his lute songs. Of
course, the lute will simply double the voices, but they are wonderful,
and it employs all performers. You may also check into Monteverdi. His
madrigals are effective if sung with continuo, however it is usually done
with theorbo, instead of lute. The lute may have problems carrying.


In the sixteenth century it was very common to double parts or even fill in
missing vocal parts with instruments. It would be very appropriate to sing
madrigals or Dowland part sonds and double with lute, recorders, viols or
else you have on hand. Sounds like a great concert. Good luck.


perhaps you already know, but many of John Dowland's works were set, by
him, for both SATB and solo with lute. You might consider alternating
verses, using lute on occasion, or singing solo with lute on v. 1, solo
quartet with lute on 2, all singing v. 3, etc. I believe this would
be appropriate with lots of other work of the style and period.


I just happen to have been teaching lute song in my vocal literature course
here. There are a few arrangements of lute songs for SATB here and there, but
comprehensive source that I know. Dowland's "Fine Knacks for Ladies" is
available for SATB in The King's Singer's Book of Madrigals (vol. 1).

The best overall source for lute song has to be the editions by Stainer &
London, with the series title "The English Lute-Songs" (Edmund H. Fellowes,
editor, revised by Thurston Dart). This series includes all of the Dowland
songs, among those of other composers. The first edition of these came out in
the 1920s, but they have been reprinted at least through the late 70s. They
distributed in the US by Galaxy Music Corporation, New York (or were in the