BOOKS (reviews below)

PERFORMING BAROQUE MUSIC ON THE LUTE & THEORBO: a practical handbook based on historical sources, by Peter Croton

Today more and more instrumentalists wish to perform baroque music in an expressive manner reflecting stylistic practices of that era. The purpose of the present handbook is to help lute and theorbo players discover the most important tools for achieving this goal. We will never know precisely how baroque music was played, but can come closer to understanding the priorities of the time. A key to performing music of the baroque era is rhetorical expression. While striving to play in a stylistic manner we must keep in mind the purpose of rhetorical performance: to communicate passions and elevate the lives of our listeners. It is with this in mind that Performing Baroque Music on the Lute & Theorbo has been written. 

PERFORMING BAROQUE MUSIC ON THE CLASSICAL GUITAR: a practical handbook based on historical sources, by Peter Croton

As we go further into the 21st century, more and more classical guitarists wish to play baroque and galant music in a manner reflecting stylistic understanding of those eras. We will never know precisely how the music was played then, but can come closer to understanding the priorities of the time. The common denominator of music in our chosen period is rhetorical expression. Historical Performance Practice, by bringing us closer to the essence of the music, gives us not only more understanding but - above all - more possibilities for moving our listeners. While striving to play in a stylistic manner, we must never forget the goal of performance: to communicate passions and elevate the lives of our listeners. It is with this in mind that the present book has been written. 

This tutor, written by an experienced performer and teacher (Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, Basel Conservatory of Music, Bern Conservatory of Music), presents the classical guitarist with the tools to understand standard harmonization and style in the Baroque period. Its purpose is to help guitarists develop the resources to play continuo in a manner that is expressive, effective and stylistic.

Dieser Lehrgang, geschrieben von einem ausführenden Musiker und erfahrenen Lehrer (Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, Hochschule für Musik Basel, Hochschule für Musik Bern), bringt dem Spieler der klassischen Gitarre Kenntnisse für Standard-Harmonisierungen und für stilistische Eigenheiten der barocken Musik nahe. Das Ziel ist, die Fähigkeiten von Gitarristen beim Continuo-Spiel in einer Weise zu entwickeln, die zugleich ausdrucksvoll und stilistisch angemessen ist.    



Hopkinson Smith writes

“A wealth of information and insight” 

Lute Society of America Quarterly, Joe Harris (Fall 2016):

… This book, as stated in the introduction, is meant to help lute and theorbo players learn how to perform 17th and 18th century music in an expressive manner, reflecting the stylistic practices of that era, and providing the most important tools necessary for achieving this goal. As I have read and referenced this book over many months, I would say that this book achieves its goal not only due to its exhaustive use of original source citations, which are meticulously documented, but moreover because of its interpolation of these source materials with the vast real-world experience of the author. We know that having original documented sources of historical performance practices are critical to being able to create legitimate and informed musical interpretations. One of the things that these source materials cannot give us is the perspective of a modern musician who has had a vast amount of experience in their field applying this knowledge over the course of many decades. This is where the book is most useful and excels in its mission to be “practical” as stated in the title. … 

I have to conclude that this book is one of the most useful, easy to read and thoughtful texts written on baroque-performance practice.  What makes this book special is the exhaustive use and citation of original sources juxtaposed with the authors personal experience from his life as a player of historical-plucked instruments. We know that music is a living art form and accordingly there is only so much information that can be learned from a text compared to a live lesson with a teacher. In my experience, an in-person lecture and demonstration on performance practice in a classroom is the most ideal way to learn the intricacies of historical performance practice, but barring that, I have to say that this book might be the best alternative.  I whole heartedly recommended it to anyone interested in the subject. 

The German Lute Society - Lauten-Info, Markus Lutz (3/2016):

In his book Peter Croton passes along many tips and thoughts leading to an historically appropriate but individualized approach to baroque music. Despite its orientation to historical sources, this well-grounded handbook points us above all toward an informed, yet passionate and simultaneously effortless performance. Between the lines we sense time and again the engaged musician and teacher who wishes to share his knowledge of this music and the joy it gives him. Indeed one cannot thank Peter Croton enough; in my opinion, this essential book belongs in the hand of every musician, professional or amateur, interested in baroque music on instruments of the lute family.

French Lute Society, Pascale Boquet (Autumn 2016):

“Strong points of this book: review of the fundamental characteristics of each lute-type, the numerous quotations and the author’s commentary thereon, the charts outlining very clearly the characteristics of French and Italian style, the affects of intervals (melodic and harmonic) and of different keys, the numerous musical examples, the references to past centuries (in particular regarding improvisation and ornamentation) …

A fascinating section of Peter’s book: an evocation of Sprezzatura in Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries (the art of ‘being’ or of acting without apparent effort) and of the parallel between Sprezzatura and Tao (i.e. the concept of ‘non-action’ in common to both), in the form of an imaginary dialogue between Castiglioni (The Book of the Courtier) and Herrigel (Zen in the Art of Archery).

To finish up, a chapter about basso continuo (examples of realization, a survey - according to country and epoch - of plucked instruments appropriate for continuo). Basso continuo would merit an entire book of its own, which Peter has already written: for guitarists! (Figured Bass on the Classical Guitar, Amadeus Verlag).

A reference work, clear and lively, that doesn’t demand too high a level of English from us French-speakers!

Newsletter of the Lute & Early Guitar Society of Japan, 

David van Ooijen (January 2017):

“… Peter Croton has a very clear way of writing about how to use the tools at our disposal to play Baroque music with rhetorical expression. Because to play Baroque music in a stylistic manner, Croton argues, we must play with rhetorical expression, that is, we must communicate passions to our audience. … All quotes of historical sources, and all examples, are given relevance for modern players by Croton’s explanation on how to apply the knowledge to your own playing. Croton is an experienced teacher and explains his points very clearly. For me this book is a gem, it’s a joy to find all relevant information in one volume, clearly explained, with a practical aim and always focused on the one overriding aim: playing with rhetorical expression. If you didn’t buy the book for classical guitar players because you are a lute or theorbo player, then do buy the book for lute and theorbo players, you will not regret it.

THE BELGIAN LUTE ACADEMY- Geluit-Luthinerie, (09/2016):

This interesting book offers a wealth of historical and practical information on the baroque period, in particular regarding lute and theorbo. Numerous treatises are cited and interpreted, and in the appendix one finds the original texts – the book being, of course, in English. Topics including inégalité, tempo rubato, dynamic indications, timbre, ornamentation (also from harpsichord music) and the affects are illustrated with a wealth of examples, often with scores. Differences between the Italian and French styles are made clear by a table juxtaposing their respective characteristics. The emotional significance of the intervals and of the different keys – let us not forget that equal temperament had not yet generalized things – is much more far-reaching than we now realize. By feeling the life and immersing ourselves in the customs and ways of thinking of the period, we can – partly thanks to this book – pursue in our music-making an historical approach which is as appropriate as possible.


David Russell writes:

“Congratulations on this fabulous book. It will be a great help and inspiration to many guitarists.”

Paul Galbraith writes

“This handbook is a distinguished addition to the ever-expanding body of instructional literature for guitarists. In effect, we're treated here to a guided tour through a wealth of selected historical quotations and information, under the experienced supervision of Peter Croton, who offers his considered opinion at every step. A highly stimulating, provocative and educational read!”

Oscar Ghiglia writes

“A very precious collection of musical wisdom, in the words of Peter Croton and from the heritage of ancient living documents expressing profound opinions of historical writers, on their contemporary art of feeling and performing their music.” 

IL FRONIMO, Lorenzo Micheli (January 2017):

“[This] work by American lutenist and guitarist Peter Croton undertakes to shed light on the current state of study on the subject, and provides essential tools for orientation in the universe of baroque and galant music. The text is the result of the research and extensive teaching experience of the author, who is teacher of lute and basso continuo at the Schola Cantorum in Basel and at the Music Conservatories in Basel and Bern. The subject is vast and perilous, but Croton unravels a jungle of sources with skill … In the third chapter, the treatise gets to the heart of the matter; it explains extensively and in depth the new musical sensibility … characterized by a strong rhetorical system in which the understanding of the text … acquires new importance and priority. Croton writes: ‘With this music, tools (or ‘weapons’) such as phrasing, articulation, slurs, punctuation, tempo, rhythmic inequality, emphasis, agogic, rubato, dynamics, timbre, improvisation and ornamentation were used by singers and instrumentalists to enhance the rhetorical effect of a performance’. …

Thanks to the universality of the concepts and the wealth of historical and bibliographical references, the usefulness of ‘Performing Baroque Music on the Classical Guitar’ goes far beyond the narrow world of the six strings, and to some extent transcends also the limited chronological period of the baroque period and galant, because the book insists on the idea of music as a rhetorical narrative, with ample room for improvisation and for the interpreter's subjective intervention, stretching almost to embrace the entire repertoire of almost all cultures and eras (as witnessed by the substantial number of examples from jazz music). … 

Croton asserts that he considers rhetoric to be ‘the central point around which all the expressive devices revolve’; and indeed, his book devotes ample space to the identification and discussion of the main issues of musical rhetoric, beginning with the theatrical power of the conflict between dissonance/consonance and the rhetorical-expressive meaning of melodic and harmonic intervals. … A text that, in little more than two hundred pages, aims to outline a panorama of themes which for decades bitterly divided musicologists and musicians from around the world can seem like an act of presumption, or – simply – an experiment destined for failure from the start. Instead, the synthesis accomplished by Croton, clear and balanced, hits the target. With great intelligence, he does not avoid giving his own interpretation of subjects or expressing an opinion about central questions of interpretation, but manages to avoid falling into the trap of sterile dogmatism. Lining up the sources, ‘sewing them’ historically into a tapestry that knows no chronological boundaries nor stylistic rigid boundaries, and leaving open all the doors inviting the reader to form their own mental representation of the problem and possible solutions. He does not say ‘do it like this’, but rather ‘among the many ways that you could do this, this seems the most appropriate to me.’ The impatient reader might get to the end of the book with the uncomfortable feeling of having made two steps back rather than one forward, but those backward steps are essential to have a more comprehensive view of the majestic and immense cathedral that is the interpretation of music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.”


“… Peter Croton, early music performer on guitar and lute (and more), and teacher at the world-renowned Schola Cantorum Basiliensis as well as at the Conservatories of Basel and Bern has tackled the task of making a handbook that will bring the new and old worlds together. In his book, Croton has the best of both worlds: a wealth of period sources and universal musical knowledge as well as specific reference to lute, Baroque guitar, and other plucked instruments and composers of the era. The combination of both elements will greater allow guitarists to make informed musical decisions… I love the massive amount of footnotes, references, and index. The footnotes alone would make me happy to recommend this book. If you haven’t read books such as this before you can expect a great deal of period quotes, that is, writings and examples from the time period. This offers us first-hand information about music performance of the time. With these quotes Croton offers the reader discussions and arguments that will inform interpretative decisions. It’s academic but also reads nicely with Croton telling the reader the significance of the quotes and developments in the instruments or musical styles and the how this might be useful to the modern guitarist. He even offers some specific tips and personal opinions for us to ponder.

Highly recommended. This is an important book because it puts Baroque music into perspective and offers guitarists a legitimate source of information on historical performance practice.”

SOUNDBOARD, David Grimes (March 2016) 

“Peter Croton has done a great amount of investigation into the sources that cast light upon the subject, and this book is a compendium of what he has discovered. Central to the book is the principle that rhetorical presentation of the music was the desired ideal, relating constantly to vocal models. This has very important implications for the issues of how to use phrasing, shaping, articulation and dynamics to produce the desired ‘affect’ and to evoke specific emotional responses in the listener. … Topics that will be of special interest, of course, are notes inégales, dance styles and tempi, and ornamentation. All of these are treated extensively and thoughtfully, and everything is supported by a large number of citations from the period. ... I found this to be a most valuable presentation of useful information, and I am very pleased to recommend it as essential reading for all those playing Baroque music on the guitar.”