Hopkinson Smith has been called the most moving of present day lutenists...he approaches the lute's universe with a musicality which goes far beyond the seemingly limited voice of his instrument. We invite you to explore on this website the magic of his lute and its music.

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San Diego Early Music Society Scores Again

But it is Smith's mastery of early lute music, his meticulous technique, elegant phrasing, emotional involvement and engaging writing (he wrote the program notes) that inspire this: "As we grow into a repertoire and ingest its language and freedoms, a process of entering the creativity of an époque gradually takes place." True for the artist--and certainly true for the audience.

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Mad Dog (Hopkinson Smith, Lute)

Puzzling title: genius or something else? Given Hopkinson Smith’s long track record for well-thought-out and expressively realized performances, he is on firm ground. Mad Dog is actually a galliard by Anthony Holborne. Presented here are a number so so-called orphan pieces, many unnamed or variants of the same piece, that appear in numerous English manuscripts during the reign o Queen Elizabeth. “Wards Repose” is a title given to a John Johnson piece to honor Smith’s influential musicology professor at Harvard, John Ward. Ward considered this unnamed pavan one of Johnson’s best.

The CD focuses on the works of John Johnson, Anthony Holborne, William Byrd, Gregorio Huwet, and, of course, John Dowland. Lute manuscript books of hat time included a diverse collection of composers and styles copied by many scribes. The layout here follows similar suit. The three opening Johnson pieces range from a light and airy galliard to a melancholy pavan/galliard’s reserved and pensive journey through unusual modulations. “Ward’s Repose” is a fitting tribute to John Ward and beautifully rendered.

The following Holborne works are lighter, dancelike, and the “Fantasy” is a wonderful realization of imitative counterpoint. “Pavan Bray,” a keyboard work by William Byrd, is presented from a reworked arrangement by Francis Cutting. Dowland’s cheerful tune “The Shoemaker’s Wife” is ironic considering the old English tale that the shoemaker’s wife was the worst shod of all. The Holborne pavan/galliard returns to a more somber note.

The “Fantasy” by Gregorio Huwet, included in A Varietie of Lute Lessons, may have been Dowland’s connection with “the most famous Gregorio Huwet of Antwerp,” along with a possible connection during their service to the Duke of Brunswick. The likely reworking is considered to be unmatched in eloquence and mastery. Smith follows tradition with creative restructuring of the form and a marvelous interpretation of the flowing counterpoint and imitative lines. It is a consummate performance.

Selections alternate between composers: Dowland’s “Midnight” is peaceful while Holborne’s “Mad Dog” has an energetic dance nature. While one is tempted to lump all Elizabethan lute tunes in three as galliards, Smith sees the Holborne pieces (“Fare Thee Well,” “Passion,” and “My Selfe”) as miniatures with a more lyrical focus. Johnson’s “Days End Pavan” is just the sort of tonic you need at the end of a stressful day: peaceful, melodic, and very relaxing. “Carmen’s Whistle,” a popular melody used by many composers, has a relaxed, dancelike feel. It also refers to the “whistle” that carmen (carters) used to manage their horses.

Hopkinson Smith’s list of awards, CDs, and performances represents a lifelong quest. Past interviews reveal a passion for finding the spirit of the music beyond the tablature. Immediacy, clarity, technique, and language of the day combine the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual essence for interpretation. He focuses on the moment at hand; each performance is its own creation and never considered a definitive version. And so his creative search continues to explore and find meaning in a vast store of lute music. To that end he chose to use a lute tuned a step lower because of the gravity and melancholy nature of most of the works performed here. A great example is Holborne’s “Last Will and Testiment,” with a somber, stately character played to perfection.

This CD is a shining example of how recording techniques have continued to improve. Recorded at the Cloister Beinwil in Switzerland, where the recording engineer used a combination of mics, the highly regarded DPA 4003 known for its transparent, dynamic range and the Neumann M149 tube mic was chosen for added warmth. The Paradox Studio software used for editing and mix down is known as the preferred tool for reproducing classical and acoustic music. The clear, lifelike performance is captured and beautifully rendered.

Hopkinson Smith is an impressive man with and awe-inspiring body of work who continues to search for that “musical spirit” each time he picks up the lute. If this CD represents the state of lute performance and recording, let the madness continue!

by Frank DeGroodt, (LSA Quarterly, Summer & Fall, 2018)

Hopkinson Smith : Mad Dog

The American lutenist Hopkinson Smith was born in 1946. This beautiful album of lute works melancholy and spry was recorded in 2015 but released only now. A 70th-birthday present to himself, perhaps? Certainly the continued presence on this earth of an artist such as Smith, whose recordings over the years of the rich German, French, Italian, English and Spanish repertoire for guitar, vihuela and lute are surely one of the greatest musical ornaments of our own age, is worth celebrating.

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Hopkinson Smith, Beyond the Instrument

HOPKINSON SMITH ’70 describes J.S. Bach as a musical ecologist. “He recycled so many of his own works,” Smith explains. “He never stopped trying to adapt what he’d written.” It was an accepted musical practice at the time, but one imagines the composer was driven at least in part by pragmatism: his posts in a number of German cities required him to produce new compositions at a fierce pace. Refashioning musical materials helped him keep up with those demands. “Even so,” Smith adds, “writing a cantata a week would not have been a manageable task for the rest of us mortals.”

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A Duo, a Trio, a Quartet, and a Lute Recital: Diversity Rules

Philadelphia, December 4th, 2015

[...] An elegant and genial figure on the platform and a master of his instrument, Smith not only achieved prodigies of prestidigitation in the faster pieces, but in the slower ones, his superfine delicacy of touch evoked just the kind of magic that so much of Shakespeare’s work shared with his contemporaries in that same golden age of English music, drama, and literature. 
The spell Smith cast over his listeners assured him of an enthusiastic ovation. This he rewarded with an additional piece by Anthony Holborne, aptly choosing that composer’s Fare thee well. [...] 

by Bernard Jacobson (Seen And Heard International)

Strings Attached - May 2015 - The Whole Note

There are more Bach transcriptions available in a 4 CD box set of the works for solo violin and solo cello, Sonatas & Partitas, Suites, this time in transcriptions for lute and theorbo by the American lutenist Hopkinson Smith (naïve 8 22186 08939 2). The set is a reissue in box form of Smith’s previous CDs; the Violin Sonatas & Partitas were recorded in 1999 and the Cello Suites in 1980, 1992 and 2012. A theorbo is used for the first three cello suites and a 13-course baroque lute for the violin works and the cello suites four to six.

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J.S. BACH: Suite No. 1 in G Major; Suite No. 2 in d minor and Suite No. 3 in C Major – Hopkinson Smith, German Theorbo – Naïve

J.S. Bach’s collection of suites for solo cello stand alongside his greatest creations, monuments to his genius for musical composition. Lutenist Hopkinson Smith has transcribed the first three Bach’s Cello Suites for the German Theorbo, a large Renaissance lute. While these adaptations are not by the composer, certainly they fall into the realm of acceptability. At least that is the way I listen to them. Bach is known as a recycler of material previously composed by himself and noted for borrowing from other composers.

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J.S. BACH: Suite No. 4 in B-flat Major; Suite No. 6 in D Major; Suite in g minor (Suite No. 5 in c minor) – Hopkinson Smith, Baroque lute – Naïve

Lutenist Hopkinson Smith successfully completes his remarkable survey of the cello suites in his arrangements for lute of Bach’s fourth and sixth cello suites, plus Bach’s own arrangement of the fifth suite on this vivid sounding compact disc. Smith transcribed the Cello Suites four and six for a 13-course Baroque lute. Smith uses Bach’s transcription of the Fifth Suite, but with a transposition down for the Baroque lute.

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Review: Hopkinson Smith

[...] The audience was dropped into the musical world of the time - a fascinating experience more intense than in a choral or instrumental group experience.

We were guided by the masterly playing of Hopkinson Smith, one of the great lutenists who is also, quite clearly, a master of the baroque guitar. [...]

The large audience loved it all, not the least Smith's lovely dry explanations of just what he was going to play. [...] 

by John Button (The Dominion Post, Wellington, NZ)

Bach: Suites Nos. 1, 2 & 3

Like many other composers of his time, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) reused and rewrote much of his earlier material, often transcribing entire works for new instruments. So it probably would not have surprised him that musicians today are doing the same things with his music. Theorobist Hopkinson Smith follows up his successful album of Bach's Cello Suites 4, 5 & 6 transcribed for lute with the present disc of Nos. 1, 2 & 3, saying he transcribed the latter for theorbo because he finds the instrument more ideally suited in sound and aesthetic to the first three suites.

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Hopkinson Smith, Bach: Suites Nos. 1, 2, 3 (Naïve)

Bach's cello suites are particularly well suited to these transcriptions for the German theorbo by master lutenist Hopkinson Smith: the instrument's longer strings, combined with the full, resonant quality of its dozen double-string courses, allow for a much more satisfying representation of the lower registers than a standard lute could afford, and more ably realise the chordal intimations of the cello parts. In some ways, they improve on the originals, the nimble interplay of plucked lines imparting a rolling momentum to the performance not possible on the cello. This is especially evident in the Suite No 1, which includes the most natural and satisfying transcriptions in the Prelude and Gigue sections, which bookend the piece with its most potent melodies.

by Andy Gill (The Independent)

An Afternoon with Hopkinson Smith

HOPKINSON SMITH is involved with music in such a pure and direct manner that he might best be described as a composer’s performer, viewing each musical text as a hermetic entity demanding questions, discovery, analysis, sensitivity, and intimacy from the performer in order to unlock its secrets. There may be no other performer on the early music scene who has a broader mastery of plucked strings as well as a deep knowledge of the literature for each: 11- and 13-course Baroque lute, Renaissance lutes of all types, vihuela, Baroque guitar, Renaissance guitar, and theorbo.

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On the frontispiece of many an early edition of Dowland’s works you can find Musica seated on a cloud, lute in hand, while Mercury gestures towards her from a fluffy promontory. It’s a nice image, and while I might be inviting a hail of feminist vituperation, there’s no question that the softly swelling curves of the lute reinforce its Renaissance reputation as the Queen of Instruments to the Kingly organ.

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