Looking at the music of Dutch rock band Focus, started in the late sixties by Thijs Van Leer (b /31/03/48) with Jan Akkerman (b 24/12/46). Van Leer still performs and records under the name today (official site here). Akkerman's site here.




Track by track 22 Elspeth of Nottingham

Archive number: 22
Title: Elspeth of Nottingham
Main Album: Focus 3
Track number: 7 (CD version, 8 on the LP)
Genre: Elizabethan Instrumental
Studio: Olympic Studios 'B', 117 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 9HL
Length: 03' 07”
Composer: Jan Akkerman (Mike Vernon gave it the title)
Musicians: Jan Akkerman – Lute; Thijs van Leer – Recorders; Pierre van der Linden – Drum
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: George Chkiantz
Label: LP – Imperial, Polydor, Sire CD – EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet
Date of recording/release: July 1972/November 1972 CD - 1988, 1993, 2001
Notes: This is the first of two Focus tracks to feature Akkerman on the lute, although it does feature on some of his solo albums and was even used in live gigs of the time. This Akkerman penned piece in Elizabethan style is mainly lute but van Leer briefly adds recorders and van der Linden beats a drum at three points (01:02-01:11;01:57-02:16;02:37-02:57). The whole is enhanced throughout by Mike Vernon provided outdoor country sounds, mainly twittering birds but also a cow mooing (at the end)!
Note on the lute (from Wikipedia)
Lute can refer to any plucked string instrument with a neck and deep round back or a specific instrument from the family of European lutes. These and the Near-Eastern oud descend from a common ancestor (both words may be from Arabic al‘ud, the wood, though recent research suggests ‘ud may be Arabised Persian rud [string, stringed instrument, lute] or from Greek, Frankish or Slavonic words, meaning boat or ship). The lute is used in a great variety of instrumental music from early renaissance to late baroque. It is also an accompanying instrument, especially in vocal works. Lutenist, lutanist or lutist - Lute player. Luthier - Maker of lutes (or any string instrument). Lutes are made almost entirely of wood.
Soundboard: teardrop-shaped thin flat plate of resonant wood (usually spruce) nearly always with a single (sometimes triple) decorated soundhole under the strings (
the rose). It is covered with a grille in the form of an intertwining vine or decorative knot, carved directly out of the soundboard.
Back (shell): assembled from thin strips of hardwood (maple, cherry, ebony, etc) called ribs glued edge to edge to form a deep rounded body for the instrument. There are braces inside on the soundboard to give it strength.
Neck: light wood with hardwood veneer (usually ebony) providing durability for the fretboard beneath the strings, which is mounted flush with the top.
Pegbox: before the Baroque era it was angled back from the neck at almost 90°, presumably to help hold the low-tension strings firmly against the nut, which is not traditionally glued but held in place by string pressure only.
Tuning pegs: simple hardwood pegs, somewhat tapered, held in place by friction in holes drilled through the pegbox. With such instruments choice of wood here is crucial. As the wood suffers dimensional changes through age and loss of humidity, it must as closely as possible retain a circular cross-section in order to function properly, as there are no gears or other mechanical aids for tuning. Often pegs were made from suitable fruitwoods (eg European pearwood) or similar. Matheson (c 1720) wrote that if a lute-player who lives 80 years, will spend 60 tuning. [Why Akkerman practically gave up on the lute in the end].
Belly: its geometry is relatively complex, involving a system of barring in which braces are placed perpendicular to the strings at specific lengths along the belly's overall length, the ends of which are angled quite precisely to abut the ribs on either side for structural reasons. It seems ancient builders placed bars according to whole-number ratios of the scale length and belly length. The inward bend of the soundboard ('belly scoop') is probably a deliberate adaptation by ancient builders to afford the lutenist's right hand more space between strings and soundboard. Belly thickness varies, but usually is 1.5-2 mm. Some luthiers tune the belly as they build, removing mass and adapting bracing to ensure proper sonic results. The belly is almost never finished, though a luthier may size the top with a very thin coat of shellac or glair in order to help keep it clean. The belly is joined directly to the rib, without a lining glued to the sides, although a cap and counter cap are glued to the inside and outside of the bottom end of the bowl to provide rigidity and increased gluing surface. After joining top to sides, a half-binding is usually installed around the belly's edge. It is approximately half the thickness of the belly and is usually made of a contrasting colour wood. The rebate for the half-binding must be extremely precise to avoid compromising structural integrity.
Bridge: usually of fruitwood, it is attached to the soundboard at 1/5-1/7 the belly length. It does not have a separate saddle but has holes bored into it to which the strings attach directly. Typically it is made such that it tapers in height and length, with the small end holding the trebles and the higher and wider end carrying the basses. Bridges are often colored black with carbon black in a binder, often shellac, and often have inscribed decoration. The scrolls or other decoration on the ends of lute bridges are usually integral.
Frets: made of loops of gut (or nylon) tied round the neck, they fray with use and must be replaced. A few additional partial frets of wood are usually glued to the body, to allow stopping the highest-pitched courses up to a full octave higher than the open string, though not on original instruments. Many luthiers prefer gut to nylon, as it conforms more readily to the sharp angle at the edge of the fingerboard.
Strings: historically of gut (sometimes in combination with metal) gut is till used or nylon, with metal windings on the lower-pitched strings. Gut is more authentic, though more susceptible to irregularity and pitch instability due to changes in humidity. Nylon, less authentic, offers greater tuning stability but is of course anachronistic.
Of note are the "catlines" used as basses on historical instruments. Catlines are several gut strings wound together and soaked in heavy metal solutions which increase string mass. They can be quite large in diameter by comparison with wound nylon strings for the same pitch. They produce a bass which is somewhat different in timbre from nylon basses.
The lute's strings are arranged in courses (usually 2 strings each, though the highest-pitched course usually consists of only a single string, the chanterelle). In later Baroque lutes 2 upper courses are single. The courses are numbered sequentially, counting from the highest pitched, so that the chanterelle is the first course, the next pair the second course, etc. Thus an 8-course Renaissance lute usually has 15 strings; a 13-course Baroque lute will have 24.
The courses are tuned in unison for high and intermediate pitches, but for lower pitches one of the two strings is tuned an octave higher. (The course at which this split starts changed over time.) The two strings of a course are virtually always stopped and plucked together, as if a single string, but very rarely a piece calls for the two strings of a course to be stopped and/or plucked separately. The tuning of a lute is somewhat complicated. The result of the lute's design is an instrument extremely light for its size.
Medieval lutes were 4- or 5-course instruments, plucked using a quill for a plectrum. There were several sizes, and by the end of the Renaissance, 7 different sizes (up to the great octave bass) are documented. Song accompaniment was probably the lute's primary function in the Middle Ages, but very little music securely attributable to the lute survives from the era before 1500. Medieval and early-Renaissance song accompaniments were probably mostly improvised, hence the lack of written records.
In the last few decades of the 15th century, in order to play Renaissance polyphony on a single instrument, lutenists gradually abandoned the quill in favor of plucking the instrument with the fingertips. The number of courses grew to 6 or more. The lute was the premier solo instrument of the 16th century, but continued to be used to accompany singers as well.
By the end of the Renaissance the number of courses had grown to 10. During the Baroque era it continued to grow, reaching 14 (occasionally 19). These instruments, with up to 26-35 strings, required innovations in structure. At the end of the lute's evolution the archlute, theorbo and torban had long extensions attached to the main tuning head in order to provide a greater resonating length for the bass strings, and as human fingers are too short to stop strings across a neck wide enough to hold 14 courses, the bass strings were placed outside the fretboard, and were played "open", ie without fretting/stopping them with the left hand.
Throughout the Baroque era the lute was increasingly relegated to continuo accompaniment and was eventually superseded in that role by keyboards. It fell out of use after 1800 but enjoyed a revival with the awakening of interest in historical music around 1900 and later. That revival was boosted by the 20th century early music movement. Important pioneers in lute revival were Julian Bream [an influence on Akkerman] Hans Neemann, Walter Gerwig, Suzanne Bloch and Diana Poulton.

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