Hopkinson Smith


Born in New York in 1946, Swiss-American lutenist Hopkinson Smith graduated from Harvard with honors in music in 1972. The next year he went to Europe to study with Emilio Pujol in Catalonia and Eugen Dombois in Switzerland. He then became involved in numerous chamber music projects, including the founding of the ensemble Hespèrion XX. Since the mid-80s, he has focused almost exclusively on the solo repertoires for early plucked instruments, producing a series of prize-winning recordings for Naïve. These feature Spanish music for vihuela and baroque guitar, French lute music of the Renaissance and baroque, early 17th-century Italian music and the German high baroque.

Hopkinson Smith’s many recordings have been widely praised. The press universally acclaimed the CD of his lute arrangements of the Bach solo violin sonatas and partitas, released in 2000. Gramophone called it “the best recording of these works on any instrument.” His recording of John Dowland’s music, issued in 2005 won a Diapason d’Or (a monthly recommendation of outstanding discs given by reviewers in the French magazine Diapason), and a New York Times review noted it as “wonderfully personal.” His recording of music from the world of Francesco da Milano, a Milanese lutenist, 1497-1543, who worked in Rome, was honored with a 2009 Diapason d’Or de l’Année — a more prestigious, yearly award, the French equivalent of a Grammy. It was called “the first recording to do justice to Francesco’s reputation.” In 2013 a CD with the first three Bach cello suites played on the German theorbo also won a Diapason d’Or, and BBC Music Magazine called it “totally riveting.” “Mad Dog,” which highlights the Golden Age of English lute music, won another Diapason d’Or, and the BBC called it “mesmerizing.” CSEM presented Hopkinson Smith in a concert of this music several years ago. Finally, Mr. Smith’s most recent recording, “Bright and Early,” has just been released. It is devoted to the very first sources of Italian music for the Renaissance lute, with works by Spinacino and Dalza printed in Venice in 1507 and 1508. These will be the focus of CSEM’s concert on April 19th.

Hopkinson Smith has performed widely and given master classes in Eastern and Western Europe, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Korea and Japan, sometimes combining the lifestyle of a hermit with that of a gypsy. In 2007 and 2009, he gave concerts and workshops in Palestine under the auspices of the Barenboim-Said Foundation and the Swiss Arts Council. He has also been honored with many awards. In 2010 he received the music prize from the Italian Region of Puglia, with the inscription “maestro dei maestri, massimo interprete delle musiche per liuto dell’antica Europa Mediterranea.” He was the 2015 winner of the music prize from the city of Petrer in the province of Alicante, Spain. In 2018 he was honored by the International Festival of Taxco in Mexico, and in 2021 he received the Chitarra d’Oro award from the Convegno Internazionale de la Chitarra in Milan. He teaches in Basel, Switzerland, at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis.

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Bright and Early

The First Sources for Renaissance Lute

Hopkinson Smith, 6-course lute

Joan Ambrosio Dalza (Intabulatura de Lauto, Libro IV, Venice, Ottaviano Petrucci, 1508)

  • Pavana alla venziana (Dalza)
  • Calata ala spagnola ditto terzetti

Francesco Spinacino (Intabulatura de Lauto, Libri I & II, Venice, Ottaviano Petrucci, 1507)

  • Recercare 15
  • Recercare 23
  • Recercare 12

Dalza (1508)

  • Caldibi castigliano
  • Caldibi Saltarello (reconstruction)

Dalza, Franciscus Bossinensis and Spinacino

  • Poi che volse la mia stella (Dalza, 1508); intabulation of a frottola for 4 voices by Bartolomeo Tromboncino (in Frottole, Libro III, Venice, Ottaviano Petrucci, 1504, fol. XIX)
  • Io non compro più speranza (Franciscus Bossinensis, Tenori e contrabassi intabulati I, Venice, Ottaviano Petrucci, 1509, fol. XLV); intabulation of a frottola by Marchetto Cara (in Frottole, Libro I, Venice, Ottaviano Petrucci, 1504, fol. X)
  • Recercare 6 (Spinacino, 1507)
  • Piva alla veneziana (Dalza, 1508)

**** Pause ****

From the Parisian prints of Pierre Attaingnant, 1529 and 1530

  • Tant que vivray
  • Sauterelle
  • Branle de Poictou
  • Destre amoureux
  • Branle gay — Cest mon ami

Dalza and Spinacino

  • Recercare 4 (Spinacino, 1507)
  • Recercare 9 (Spinacino, 1507)
  • Piva alla ferrarese (Dalza, 1508)


Renaissance lute by Joel van Lennep, Boston, 1977 :
Six courses with octave stringing on the 3rd to 6th courses,
for "ringing clarity and brighter resonance"
The original sources for this program may be seen online at IMSLP.

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Bright and Early - Notes to the Concert

Italian and French Lute Music

From the Beginning of the 16th Century

The lute books of Francesco Spinacino (1507) and Zoan Ambrosio Dalza (1508) are milestones in the history of music. From the press of Petrucci in Venice, they contain not only the first lute music to be printed, but, apart from some tablature fragments, also the very first sources of music for the instrument that have come down to us. Both give testament to a true flourishing of lute culture in Italy at the dawn of the 16th century.

But Spinacino’s tablatures are full of mistakes. There are passages of great coherence where one can clearly sense elements of a charismatic genius; and then there are absurd non-sequiturs, missing measures, and loose ends begging to be reconnected. (I have a theory as to how this might have occurred.) The narrative aspects of his Ricercare seem to evoke tales of soldiers and sailors in far-off lands or the pains of love and loss through an improvisatory style coming out of the polyphonic practice of the late 15th century. The challenge for the interpreter here is first of all to reconstruct a coherent text where the lacunae are filled out and disparate ideas are clarified and reconnected.

The music of Zoan Ambrosio Dalza is the perfect complement to the free-form Ricercare of Spinacino. Most of his pieces are directly inspired by popular dances arranged in suite-like groupings. His energy, invention and virtuoso flourishes are always present, and aficionados of Country Music will find some passage-work here that has an occasional hint of Bluegrass. Dalza states that his printed pieces are often somewhat simplified versions and that he would publish more elaborate variants in a later book. [There is no trace of this]. Taking the lead from Dalza, I have felt free to add diminutions and variations to most of his pieces.

Alternating with Spinacino and Dalza will be music from the first French lute tablatures. The two collections printed in 1529 and 1530 by Pierre Attaingnant contain improvisatory preludes, dance music—some requiring great lightness of touch, others with clear Celtic roots—as well as some of the most beautiful chanson settings ever.

The program will be played on a six-course lute with octave stringing on the 3rd through 6th courses. This solution, with its ringing clarity and brighter resonance, comes out of a late 15th-century tradition and is implied by the music itself.

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Critical Reception

See the Hopkinson Smith web site: hopkinsonsmith.com

"Hopkinson Smith is without doubt the finest lute player in the world today..."

San Francisco Chronicle

"The lutenist Hopkinson Smith is one of the most spectacular instrumentalists of the present time."

Der Standard, Vienna

"Hopkinson Smith is the supreme 'poet' of the lute."

Gramophone, London

"...a major artist of our time"

Répertoire, Paris

"Hopkinson Smith is surely the most charismatic lutenist in the world today."

Kronen Zeitung, Austria, January 3rd, 2018

"Lute player Hopkinson Smith is still a phenomenon at the age of seventy. No one can bring the Renaissance to life in a way that is as sprightly, as crisp and with as much melancholy as he."

De Standaard - Cultuur en Media, Belgium, July 26th, 2017

"Hopkinson Smith himself is still at the top: technically more confident and mellowed than ever, intellectually razor-sharp and clear-sighted."

BR-Klassik, Germany, July 2nd, 2017

"Smith’s approach is the same: locate the soul of each piece through the most sophisticated and subtle use of extemporized embellishment you’ll ever hear. Yes, it’s that good."

Gramophone, England, Sept. 2017

"Impeccable technique... serenely expressive... a world class performance."

— New York, Classiclite

"Hopkinson Smith ist der unumstrittener Lautenmeister unserer Zeit"

— Graz, Kleine Zeitung

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Concert Information

April 19, at 7:30 PM

Christ Church Annex
Zero Garden St.
Cambridge, MA 02138

Reception follows.
Masks required.


Tickets are available here on our website until the end of the concert, and they may be purchased at the door with a smart phone. Checks and cash will also be accepted at the door.

  • General: $35
  • Seniors: $30
  • Students: $15