The repertoire of music for lute duet has a long history from the instrument's early development in medieval times through it's swan song in Mozart's day. From the Middle Ages and into the early Renaissance (ca. 1300-1450), the lute was played with a pick, usually a bird quill. The lutenist played a single musical line as an equal partner in ensembles which included bas (soft) instruments such as the vielle and rebec. As the medieval era drew to a close, lutenists began to perform in a new way: two lutenists performing together. One lutenist would generally play the superius (top) line from a well-known piece of vocal music and add spontaneous and virtousic improvisations in the form of passaggi, or rapid scalar passages to the part. The other lutenist, called the tenorista, would play the supporting role performing the generally slower moving tenor and contratenor voice parts, playing either with a quill or bare fingers. This was the beginning of the lute duet. Toward the end of the 15th Century as the age of Renaissance polyphony came into full bloom, the lute became the preiminent musical instrument. Composers for the early Renaissance lute played increasingly without a quill, taking full advantage of the new finger-style lute to perform polyphony of two, three, and even four voices on a single lute. This recording contains a cross-section of lute duets taken from manuscripts and printed books of tablature, published from the early Renaissance period up to the early Baroque era. Chronologically, the earliest duets are the La Spagna and Canona by the Italian lutenist Francesco Canova da Milano, and the latest are the two courantes and almand by the English composer William Lawes. Polyphony, or counterpoint, is at the core of music for Renaissance lute duet and in fact, the entire musical vocabulary of the 16th century. As such, it is the predominate musical style heard on this recording. Yet, within the formal 'strictures' of Renaissance counterpoint, there is great variety. On one end is Francesco da Milano's "simple" Canona (track 24). Comprised of a single melody, it only forms a polyphonic piece as the second lute exactly imitates the first lute's melodic statement at a distance of four measures. The classic simplicity of Francesco's solo ricercares, some of which are performed on the recording, are followed by dense contrapuntal versions of those same pieces when performed with Johannes Matelart's duet part, which were an homage to Il divino composed many years after Francesco's death. Compared to it's career on the Continent, the lute bloomed late and faded early in England. It was an impressive if brief flowering. Several duets by Elizabeth I's court lutenist John Johnson (whose post at court the great English lutenist John Dowland famously coveted, yet never obtained) are included as is one by the master Dowland himself (track 2). Unlike their continental peers, English lutenists favored dances over contapuntal fantasias. These dances gained great sophistication and at their height became, like J.S. Bach's dance suites, art music in fact and dance pieces in name only. Toward the end of the recording, one can detect the new vocabulary of the Baroque era in Piccinini's Toccata a diu liuti, William Lawes' short set of dances, and Besard's setting of a Branle de Village. It seems appropriate to close with Branle de Village, a French dance from a French source. Both the English and the Italians largely set aside the lute as a solo and duetting instrument in the later 17th century. It was the French who carried that torch through the remainder of the 17th century.