ABOUT MIGNARDA & MIGNARDA EDITIONS
The Early Music Revival & how we got started
The 'early music' revival is a phenomenon that gained both currency and audience in the last two decades of the 20th century. Listeners were treated to the results of scholarly research and performances by truly stellar performers, mostly through recordings that were financed by larger specialist record labels. With ample budgets and a growing market, performers were encouraged to explore and record lesser-known repertory, even to the point of financing finely made reproductions of older instruments.
Much emphasis was placed on curious old instruments that required special techniques just to play in tune. It was especially popular for ensembles in the 1970s and 80s to place undue emphasis on playing as many bizarre instruments as possible in concert, creating something of a whiplash effect for the audience. But as performers slowly began to eschew the 'sideshow' approach and delved into actually learning to play the instruments well, a new breed of performer came on the scene.
The lute was a something of a distant cousin to the other instruments capable of producing harmonic texture. Quiet, difficult to hold, hard to tune and impossible to play, the lute received quite a bit of attention in the 70s and 80s from classical guitarists. Those who were sufficiently drawn in by the instrument and its music soon discovered that a special technique not transferable to modern instruments was required. A notoriously obsessive sort, lutenists of today have nearly 500 years of catching up to do in terms of technique and repertory. Lutenists who were featured prominently on early revival recordings logically came from the classical guitar camp, invariably imprinting a guitaristic aesthetic on their approach to music for the lute.
Vocal performers in the early music revival come almost exclusively from the academic training institutions, where they have studied interpretatation, technique and style of music from chant to modern music. Unfortunately, singers rarely make a living as performers by singing early music exclusively, leading to a practical incorporation of art song, opera, musical theater and pop music to their repertories. The varied techniques involved in singing such a variety of styles, coupled with the demands of producing a robust sound of ample scale to fill a large hall, can result in interperative difficulty when the same singer turns to early music, which demands intimacy, clarity, focus, transparency and intent. Such a nuanced aesthetic is difficult to deliver convincingly using more contemporary techniques of vocal production.
We were both greatly influenced by the abundance of recordings and concerts of early music available to us over the last few decades in our respective corners of the US. We both felt the buzz of excitement and the sense of discovery when hearing and seeing fine musicians and scholars sharing the results of their study and their interpretations. But we, like many others, felt a little let down when early music began to enter the mainstream and fall victim to gimmicks: light shows, punk costumes, over-exaggerated gestures, and ridiculous tempi running roughshod over the music only to draw attention to the players.
Our primary goal in our approach to performing lute songs is to restore a sense of immediacy and passion to our chosen repertory by making ourselves transparent to the music and poetry. Our intent is not to tear down the good work of those early music revivalists who have come before us, but rather to build on their work to arrive at interpretations that leave audiences with a sense of the beauty of lute songs and the power and depth of their texts. We prefer to base our interpretations on our own readings of the sources, and our own understanding of the music as it was performed in its original context.
Who are we and how did we discover lutesongs?
Ron Andrico has devoted his considerable energies to historical music for more than 30 years as a professional performer. His first instrument was the banjo, to which he was drawn based on his interest in social music of the 19th and early 20th centuries. He soon became proficient in 19th century dance tunes, traditional ballads and parlor music on the guitar, mandolin and fiddle. Tireless reseach into techniques, styles, repertory and context led him to explore a diverse range of other types of popular historical music, always with a keen sense of how the music was used functionally. His accomplishments and flexibility led to his being in demand in ensembles, theatre, and in the recording studio. He still maintains an active teaching schedule, offering instruction in fiddle, mandolin, banjo and guitar, in addition to lute.
He discovered the lute while completing a bachelors degree in composition, promptly divested himself of all the trappings of a modern musician, and set about devoting his energy to understanding the shape, style, purpose, context and use of early music. His research has led to publication of a growing series of important music editions and scholarly articles that have to do with identifying, elucidating and performing the sources of 16th century lute music. Andrico's publications include an exhaustive errata list for the complete works for lute by John Johnson (Editions Orphee) in conjunction with noted Harvard musicologist, John Ward; several articles identifying new concordances published by the Lute Society (UK) and by the Lute Society of America, for which he served as a director from 2000-2002. He has published 5 editions of historical music for voice and lute, and edited and published the original lute solos of virtuoso lutenist Ronn McFarlane.
While he is mainly self-taught on the lute, Andrico has performed in masterclasses with Paul O'Dette, Hopkinson Smith and Ronn McFarlane, and he has received private lessons and coaching from McFarlane and Nigel North.
Donna Stewart has been singing ever since she can remember. She has performed and recorded on the Koch and Onda labels with Apolloís Fire, Clevelandís renowned baroque orchestra, and for twenty years has performed as a soloist and professional chorister in music ranging from 12th century chant through dozens of world premieres, appearing throughout the US and Canada, and at Englandís Canterbury Cathedral.
Her first exposure to singing early music was at Cleveland State University with Dr. William Martin, noted specialist in the sacred music of Orazio Vecchi and a pioneering devotee of Monteverdi. Attracted to intricate ensemble vocal music of all eras, Donna has premiered many new works for members of the legendary Cleveland Composers Guild. She was a founding member of Good Company, sang with the Case Western Reserve University Early Music Singers under the direction of noted musicologist Ross Duffin, has sung in masterclasses with ensembles Pomerium and Sequentia, and has appeared with the professional choruses of the Old Stone Church and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Cleveland.
Having had the rare benefit of singing for nearly a decade with a five-voice schola dedicated to providing liturgical music for the Latin Tridentine Mass, Donna has a thorough grounding in the practical application of Gregorian chant and polyphony from the middle ages onward. This unique experience affords a singer an understanding the use and form of historical sacred music, which lies at the very heart of the repertory of early music.
We met singing together in this schola, and it wasn't long before Ron had convinced Donna to give lutesong a try. Our first concert came a few months later, and almost before we knew it we had travelled tens of thousands of miles together in our enthusiasm to share this wonderful repertory with audiences across the US. We have performed music new and old in a trio with lutenist Ronn McFarlane, and have had private coaching sessions in interpretation of lute songs with Nigel North and Hopkinson Smith. Five CDs later, we are still bursting with ideas for new programs of old music.
How is our approach to lutesongs different?
We always feature rarely performed songs on our programs, and are often asked after concerts where we find lute songs in our repertory, and how we manage to convey them so movingly?
The short answer is research, and living with the music. Each year, we spend untold hours in libraries researching songs and lute solos that fit particular themes. When we choose a piece to include in our repertory, we subject it to several serious considerations. First and foremost, both poetry and music must have intrinsic value, and it must move us. We carefully analyze the piece and decide whether it fits our personal goals, and then set about the task of finding the correct word accents, distinguishing the polyphonic lines in the piece, judging the placing and importance of hemiolas and syncopations, false cadences and subtle word painting. We take the time to understand rhetorical gestures in the music and the poetry and then begin the process of rehearsal.
In terms of vocal technique, we feel that a natural singing voice is and always was appropriate for our chosen repertory. Donna's vocal technique is conspicuously void of vibrato and consciously eschews a production that is meant to draw attention away from the music and toward the musician. Ideals of vocal production changed significantly along with a new flamboyant and virtuoso style that developed during the 17th century. Even in the songs we perform from this later era, we choose songs that were meant for more intimate settings where an over-produced vocal technique would interfere with the message of the music.
What makes our approach convincing? Hard work and exceptional attention to detail. Our varied musical backgrounds share one unusual feature: we have both been steeped in the practical applications of historical music. We consciously attempt to remove modern gestures from our interpretations and succeed in making ourselves transparent, allowing the music to do the convincing. This is no easy task, and requires the removal of our own egos. But we feel strongly, and historical treatises are our guide, that this approach best serves the music. We aim to perform historical music that transcends history.
About Mignarda Editions
Performing editions of historical lute songs are very difficult to come by. Lutenists and singers have had to double as scholars and make their own editions, either from the original sources or by cutting and pasting from scholarly editions that are completely unsuitable for the performer in their published format.
What's more, even informed scholars and performers routinely make the grevious error of taking early manuscript and printed sources at face value by transposing lute parts to fit the written vocal line. This was never intended by the original performers of the music. The voice was always a transposing instrument and was pitched to a comfortable and pleasant range or, in the case of lute songs, to match the tuning of the lute.
We began publishing our editions of lute songs to share the results of our work with other musicians and academic institutions who wish to spend less time with research and would rather devote more of their time to refining their music. In some cases, the lute songs we publish have alternative versions that have been pitched in a range that best communicates the poety: In every case, our alternative versions are based on surviving concordances of a given lute song, including surviving intabulations for solo lute. We also present our own newly intabulated versions of part songs, always faithfully following the practice outlined in sources such as Vincenzo Galilei's Il Fronimo, or Adrian LeRoy's Les Instructions pour le Luth.
Our efforts in publishing Mignarda Editions are by no means financially rewarding. Typically, editions are priced at around $2 per piece, which barely covers printing costs. We publish our editions in order to share the results of our research with other lutenists and vocalists. We choose not to include a lengthy scholarly apparatus, which would increase the cost of each edition and also draw attention away from the intrinsic value of the music in favor of bolstering the scholar's CV. This is not to say that we are against such editions, and we apply the strictest musicological standards to our work. The difference is that we choose to print very brief notes in favor of more music in a format that is, unlike most so-called scholarly editions, suitable and indeed intended for performance. Our interest is in presenting the music in a form that enables more people to enjoy it.