Some Renaissance Lute Music Arranged for the Classical (nylon-stringed) Guitar

Even before the first day I started studying classical guitar, I have a love of music written during the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, roughly spanning the years from 1100 to 1400 AD and 1450 to 1650 AD, as per musicology texts. However, there is no exact date time periods changed. For example, I’m sure that on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1650, at precisely two seconds after midnight, a town crier came out somewhere in Europe ringing his bell and announcing, “Hear ye, hear ye, the Renaissance is over, let the Baroque period begin…hey Johann Sebastian, welcome Bach.” Be that as it was, I still love to listen to and play the music from that era.

In my personal opinion, some of the finest music composed during the Renaissance came from Great Britain, with Italy and Spain coming in at a distant second. If one were to study English music from the period, be it secular or sacred, it proves to be adventurous both rhythmically and harmonically. I’m not going into a diatribe on music theory here, but if were to listen to an array musical samples from each area of Europe at the time, you might agree with me. If not, there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it, nor would I want to do anything.

One of the most noted and somewhat prolific British composers and performers of the era was the lutenist John Dowland (1563 to app. 1626). Allegedly, he had a descriptive phrase we liked to go by, a sort of a nickname that went: “Semper Dowland, semper dolens.” This simply translates into “Ever Dowland, ever doleful.” He definitely wrote a doleful tear-jerker or two, but many of his solo lute pieces were quite joyful and feisty. Which suggest he may not have been a stranger to mead and wine.

At any rate, John Dowland’s lute pieces are very popular with modern lutenists and classical guitarists alike. And I’m no exception, evidenced by the videos below. Just a few quick definitions:

Galliard: a form of Renaissance dance and music popular throughout Europe in the 16th century. It can be found in dance manuals of the period from England, Portugal, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy.

Alman: Actually a permutation of allemande, which is French fo German dance), the allemande was a popular Renaissance and Baroque dance, and one of the most popular instrumental dance styles in Baroque music.

The Round’ Battle Galliard” by John Dowland, performed on guitar by Mat Dirjish

“Queen Elizabeth’s Galliard” by John Dowland, performed on guitar by Mat Dirjish

“Tarleton’s Resurrection” by John Dowland, performed by Mat Dirjish

“As I Went To Walsingham” – Setting of popular English folk song for lute by John Dowland. The song lyrics refer to a traditional pilgrimage to the Church of Our Lady at Walsingham, Norfolk. The shrine of said church was famous for miracles. The lyrics, as given in Popular Music of the Olden Time by William Chappell are:

As I went to Walsingham,

To the shrine with speed.

Met I with a jolly palmer,

In a pilgrim’s weed.

5. “Lady Hunsdon’s Alman”


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