Professor Boris Šinigoj is a Slovenian philosopher (specializing in Slovenian philosophy, Christian existentialism, metaphysics fused with theology, philosophical anthropology, music philosophy, esthetics and general philosophy) a licensed classical guitarist, and an all-round knowledgeable musician, who not only plays various lute-type instruments, but also a number of other plucked instruments. Up to the present, he has released two CD’s, and besides philosophy, he also teaches the lute at the Vič-Rudnik school in Ljubljana, and conducts the Early Music Ensemble, “Nova Schola Labacensis”, the World Music Ensemble, “Vagantes” and the JazzOud Quartet.
You are the most prominent lute player in Slovenia. Can you briefly tell us how you were introduced to it, and where you were born?
Perhaps it would be best for you not to describe me in that way. In Slovenia there was already a generation of lutenists before me in the 70’s and 80’s of the last century living and working, such as Pavel Šraj who was also a lute maker, but emigrated to Australia and only returned two years ago, and unfortunately died shortly after that, leaving behind all his instruments in Australia. A decade before (around the 70’s), the lutenists Primož Soban (who was also a viola player in the Slovenian Philharmonic) and Tomaž Šegula played in the first Slovenian Early Music ensemble “Schola Labacensis”. Even though the instruments they played were very heavy and not really authentic, one has to recognize the pioneer spirit in them. And when I, in the same manner, began to play the Renaissance lute along the classical guitar, I was almost totally alone, but Tomaž Šegula und Primož Soban helped me somewhat with literature and suggestions, even though they no longer had their instruments. In addition, on my mother’s side I have forebears from the island of Brač in Croatia, from an old aristocratic family by the name of Cerineo, and have Slovenian roots on my father’s side, my father had a musical career and is a former director of the Slovenian philharmonic.
How do you view your music studies? Was the guitar your first musical instrument, and when and how did you begin to play the guitar?
I started with the trombone at the age of 9-10 when I began to play with my father, and at 14, I discovered the classical guitar. But then, after a few years, I discovered the Renaissance lute in the second semester at the middle school of music, when my father found it in the music shop in the center of Ljubljana.
From whom did you learn the guitar before the music academy?
My first guitar teacher was Professor Čare who as our first guitar player had been granted a diploma in the class of Stanko Prek at the music middle school in Ljubljana. He was also a violoncello player with the Radio Symphony Orchestra. He truly inspired me, to the point that I was even able to play my own composition in an examination. This type of approach motivated me more and more to play the guitar, and I then began to have less interest in playing the trombone since it is somewhat difficult to play the trombone without accompaniment. Subsequently, with the help and support of Professor Tomaž Šegula, I developed a better technique, and when playing Renaissance repertoire, I was stimulated toward the lute. Up to the present time, I have continued to concentrate on the lute and the guitar.
Once it happened that they invited me to present a musical duel on the radio against the former-Yugoslavian ‘Nestor’ of the classical guitar, Jovan Jovičić, after they could not engaged one of the already established musicians. Jovičić was supposed to participate with Serbian poets at a Belgrade studio. This event was so stimulating for me. It really moved me, when he performed live his well-known compositions “Milkina kuća na kraju” (“Milka’s house at the end”) or the “Makedonska rapsodija” (‘The Macedonian Rhapsody’) and led me to play my own guitar compositions. In the musical sense, however, I learned the most from the violinist Tomaž Lorenz in the chamber music class where I played duet with the flautist, Barbara Velikonja, who could have been the new Irena Grafenauer. Unfortunately, she died tragically in her first year at the Academy.
With whom did you study, and receive acknowledgment, on the classical guitar at the Music Academy?
At the Ljubljana Academy I studied with the Professor Igor Saje in the new department for the classical guitar where I successfully finished my studies as the first of all the selected students from the entire former Yugoslavia, even though I had studied the guitar along with philosophy at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana, and thus justified the opening of the department for the classical guitar studies which was very much disputed at that time.
In spite of having acquired the highest mark and the double commission evaluation, I had to wait a good two decades to work on my diploma for the second level, which they didn’t want to open during the time of my training. So after my first music diploma, I learned mostly from the most prominent flautist, Rudi Pok of the Slovenian Philharmonic, who was also the first teacher of Irena Grafenauer. With him I played some rewarding compositions in a duet with guitar from Telemann, Bach and Händel, to Villa-Lobos, Ibert, Johann Cilenšek and Eugène Bozza.
When and how did you learn about the lute, which type, and who taught you?
As I mentioned earlier, the lute found me when I was still in the music middle school. But that was a very heavily-built lute by an unknown lute maker of the former DDR, with eight courses, tied gut frets, figured wood patterns and with quite a beautiful sound.
How did you evolve with this and with whom did you first learn to play the lute? Were you self-taught or did you have a teacher?
It seems to me that the first lute I got came to Ljubljana along with some kind of theorbo and a lute-guitar from display windows of an East German enterprise in Belgrade. When I started to work with it, I began like all other lute-playing self-taught pioneers (as with other instruments – the pioneers always start as self-taught: an example is Julian Bream who taught himself on the classical guitar). Soon, however, I went to Grožnjan in Istria/Croatia to further my studies and began to work in concentrated way with the members of the Dufay Collective. Soon I went solo giving concerts in Belgrade and Ljubljana and with Marjan Trček in a Duet Jubilet.
When I met Andrea Damiani in Venice some years ago, he recommended to me Ivo Margherini as the best archlute (Arciliuto) maker, from whom then I really purchased the instrument and learned a lot during our many years together of work and friendship. Ivo introduced me to Paul O’Dette, Lynda Sayce, Hopkinson Smith and also the French lute player, Pascale Boquet and sent me a numerous facsimiles, as well as hand-written tablatures, and in the following years Ivo made marvellous new instruments for me: a theorbo, a Renaissance lute, a vihuela, a Renaissance and a Baroque guitar, and a Baroque lute from the original model of Andreas Berr (also known as Count von Losy’s most beloved lute player) from the state museum in Ptuj. A few years ago, I made a recording of the only Baroque tablatures that were discovered in Slovenia, located among the pages of the Passion of Škofja Loka on the lute he had made.
How did things progress with the lute; which were the next varieties of lute that you turned to and how did you learn how to play them, self-taught and/or in classes? It sounds as if you studied each instrument alongside philosophy.
Slowly, but with persistence, I made progress along with independent research of the surviving works and through the study of various historical sources, from which I then attempted to create actual music on historical instrument copies using the most authentic technique possible. This I followed with studies of types ornament, diminution and improvisation on the Renaissance lute (Dalza, Spinacino, Capirola, F. da Milano, Dowland); the archlute, the theorbo (Piccinini, Kapsberger, Zamboni); the baroque lute (Weiss, Kellner, Gaultier, Bach); the vihuela (Milan, Narvaez, Mudarra, Pisador, Fuenllana); the Renaissance guitar (Le Roy, Morlaye, de Rippe); the Baroque guitar (Foscarini, Sanz, F. Campion, S. de Murcia), and by listening to the best interpreters of early music, especially the lutenists and the singers. But what I learned the most from was from practical research of the vocal music of Caccini and Purcell, performances of whose music I, in a duo with the singer Marjan Trček, developed together over decades, named after Monteverdi’s Motet Jubilet (tota civita …). We gave innumerable concerts over three decades, in Ljubljana, Belgrade (with the music of Dalza, Dowland, Gastoldi, and van den Hove) and Zagreb (where we gave the modern premiere of G. Puliti’s, Armonici Accenti of 1621) and later producing a CD version of the repertoire, Sacri & Armonici Accenti (with music by Montverdi, Caccini, Puliti, Piccinini, and Purcell). And we had concert tours abroad as well as in Slovenia. Finally, we concluded our tour a couple of years ago, once again in Belgrade at the NYMBUS Festival (where we were moved by the welcome given by a former member of David Munrow’s circle which was gathered around the prominent English master of Early Music).
Maestro Milan Horvat also gave me very strong encouragement in my early days when he praised me for my part in the Slovenian Philharmonic performance of Bach’s Johannes Passion with the Baroque lute, which I played many more times on other occasions as well as at the 80th birthday of the Maestro at the Baroque festival, “Varaždinske barokne večeri” (“Varaždin Baroque Evenings” – the oldest Baroque music festival in Europe), which was recorded on HRT (Croatian television) in Croatia.
With this, many questions surfaced which directed me toward friendly discussions with Michael Freimuth (the lute player from Lübeck), with whom I had played some little-known works of Carl Orff in Germany with the Slovenian Philharmonic, and who in Austria later discovered some Weiss compositions for the historical lute which he then recorded. There were further discussion with Hopkinson Smith (concerning improvisation in Baroque music and with Bach’s works for the Baroque lute), Lynda Sayce (regarding compositions of Francois Campion for Baroque guitar) and with Peter Grijp (the Dutch lute player and conductor of the Camerata Trajectina Ensemble), with whom I played within the framework of SEVIQC (“Semper Viva Quam Creata”) festival of early music in Slovenia and at the Baroque music festival in Zagreb, performing 17th century Dutch music in arrangements suggested by the paintings of this period.
Then I also begin to research into the music of the Orient for the Arab lute. I got some friendly and generous support with donations of wonderful instrument and transcribed materials from Mr. Joukhader of Aleppo, who worked and lived as the director of medical company near Zagreb in Croatia. Also, he later helped me to record my CD solo work “Lutnje-Lutes” with representative compositions and improvisations on the Arabic lute (Oud), Renaissance and Baroque lute, Archlute and Theorbo (Chitarrone).
Yes! Even alongside all of this I studied philosophy. We can relate this to Socrates thinking and come to understand, as Plato says in the Phaedo, that the most noble philosophy (in other words, the most revered) is music. We can also impute this view to Boethius, who said that the Musica instrumentalis can induce us to knowledge, to bring us to its discovery, in other words, bring us to loftier planes: Musica humana and Musica mundana. Moreover, in Pythagorean philosophy the way of being of the universe is nothing more than music! All of this was known as Musica speculativa during the Middle Ages, as regarded in the treatises of Zarlino, Mersenne, and Kirchner as well as by Dowland, Caccini, Pulitti, Händel, Bach and Mozart, also the Ljubljaner Academia Philharmonicum (1701); a spiritual tradition of music that extends all the way from Hindemith, and Messiaen to our own renowned composer Primož Ramovš. And to all of these we can still include Schopenhauer: music would exist even without the world.
When did you begin to teach the lute and who was your first pupil? How many pupils have you had since then?
I began to teach the lute about two decades ago, with Alenka Bagarič who was working on her doctoral thesis on Gorzanis, and offered her lessons in the readings of the tablature and also taught the Renaissance lute. Later, she met Hopkinson Smith, received her PhD and prepared modern edition of several works of Gorzanis music for the lute (Napoletane and solo works) for ZRC Sazu (Slovenian Academy of Arts and Sciences). In my class she also played some Renaissance lute duets with my classical guitar and Renaissance student, Marko Angelski, who today plays the Theorbo in our ensemble “Nova Schola Labanciensis.”
Ivo Magherini helped me the most with my teaching method providing excellent study material, that at that time was still handwritten – arranged by the French lutenist Pascale Boquet, whom we later met in person in Ljubljana.
Thereafter, everything came about on its own: new students arrived, firstly, my former guitar pupil Minja Zorc and Žiga Kroflič (who still plays together with us in the Nova Schola Labacensis) and then also the others who had already surpassed the academic level of the classical guitar: James Bowen from San Diego in California (who previously received his diploma in Pepe Romero’s class), Maruša Mirnik (having acquired her diploma from the Music academy in Ljubljana in the class of Tomaž Rajterič), Erazem Grafenauer (acquiring his diploma in Andrej Grafenauer’s class at the Music academy in Ljubljana, where he now teaches lute as a secondary subject for the classical guitarist, which I myself did previously) and his colleagues from the Music academy who are now studying in my class, the academic guitarrist Matjaž Piavec (from Laško) and Danijel Jurišić (from Zagreb) who both now enthustiastically study Baroque lute (especially Weiss and Bach).
How long did it take you to establish the lute in your public school?
Well, life is much too short for all this bureaucracy, I did not waste my time with the „establishment“, and thanks to the understanding of the director of the music school and his welcome support, I found it easy to teach the lute and all the variants as the close relative of the guitar, which all would-be guitarists should know, which made it possible for many to learn and play this seriously. However, I also had many students who were not guitarists, but were piano or violin players. Many began with the Renaissance or with the Arabic lute, or even with the Portuguese guitar, which is very similar to the Renaissance lute.
It sounds almost unbelievable: you play 15 different plucked instruments brilliantly. How did you develop your skills on these instruments? Other than the various lutes, which instruments did you begin with? Which ones came afterwards, and how was all this achievable?
It seems to me that we can compare this to the learning of a foreign language. Indeed when a person learns another language, the next ones always become easier even though in the end one will never be able to fully command them.
But that is human fate and the truth: we must always endeavour to learn and to become knowledgeable about something, to learn through life and experience, although we may know the facts, but in the end, we will never fully comprehend them. God alone knows everything. This was also articulated by the ancient Greeks, who called themselves philosophers (the lovers of wisdom). Therefore, God is the only true path for those seeking and striving for true wisdom.
I travelled a lot and I was always inspired by string instruments (but also by many other musical instruments, such as the Morrocan trumpet, the Nfar, and the Jewish Shofar), which I discovered along the way. Slowly, I began to collect many more of them and I even learned to play in concert. An example of this is the Guitarra portuguesa or the Fado guitar (actually, a modern Cittern) that is designed with six metal courses. There are two variants: one from Lisbon and the other from Coimbra. Both are played in an ‘archaic’ manner, in the same way that Fuenllana described in the 16th century for the vihuela, not in the two fingered (dos dedos) technique, but only with the thumb and the index finger, so the thumb is accompanying the melody but the index finger plays the melody in two directions over the strings, (the instrument from Lisbon with the ‘Tirando-technique’ and the other with the “Apoyando-technique”).
The Arab lute, however, is played with the Risha, which is a type of plectrum (originally made from bird feathers, which is also the meaning of this word). With a similar technique one can also play the lute from the Yemen, the Quanbus; likewise, the Tar from Iran, the Afghan Rubab, the Indian Sarod, the Turkish Saz baglama and the Mizrapli tambur, as well as the Rabab from Kashgar (in the Uighurian Autonomous Area of Xinjiang in China), and so on. The Bolivian charango is played in a similar way with the fingers to the Renaissance and Baroque lutes. That is to say, one could learn in a similar way even how to play the Indian Sitar and the Saraswati veena, being aware that as with the Fado guitar the nails must be used.
But all this refer to technique that one can acquire somewhat rapidly and conveniently. The understanding of the authentic music traditions of musical instruments, however, is much more difficult, and many years of learning are necessary. We must be aware that even after many years of endeavour, the Maqamat-System for instance (similar in the Arabic and the Turkish traditions, although with some differences) or the Dastgah (in Iran, from which all oriental music originates, as well as Afghani and North Indian music) we will never be able to fully acquire this knowledge.
That is a true challenge. These traditions can be regarded as classical in their own cultural traditions – as we hold Beethoven in high esteem and thus we don’t categorize his works as Ethnic or World Music. To many in the Western World it seems somewhat ingenuous to try simply to imitate the sound of Eastern, “Ethnic Music” only by ear but in fact it is a fatal misunderstanding.
If you really take up this challenge, the following will happen: after several decades you yourself will also confess, that in music, as in spiritual life, you are a constant beginner, a student that only knows that he doesn’t know. Such is the case as described by Khalil Gibran, a Jewish poet who in the time of Christ met the Lord and suddenly stop to sing. He was speechless standing before the incredible beauty of the Lord’s song. You will also find reference to this in my song, “El Nuevo Orfeo”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuEqXv-Pk.
What can you finally tell us about the lute and what how does it comunícate with you?
Edin Karamazov has said that the lute is a song. And truly, we can hear it and mentally see it with our own eyes, while it resonates beautifully and softly throughout our universe. The Arabs had earlier designed this type of lute which around the rosette circle placed directions for the four cardinal points: East and West, North and South.
The early Christians created their community of love analogous to a particular well-sounding instrument, which is built upon the love of God.
For this reason it is no accident that the lute was used during the Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance and in the early Baroque as the most important musical instrument. It is still considered such in the Arab countries. It is interesting where one can find all of this and in what form. From the Persian Barbat up to the Indian Sitar and Veena, from the Yemeni Quanbus to the Chinese Pipa, the Greek Bouzuki and the European lutes. The lutenist who is aware of this can travel around the world with lute’s song and ultimately embrace the whole world.
At the end of the 15th Century in his tractatus Complexus effectum musices Tinctoris stated that there were twenty effects from music that can also arise from the lute, which in Latin is referred to as Testudo or turtle. In his Tesoro de la lengua Castellana (1611 – Treasury of Castilian or Spanish Language) Sebastian Covarrubias Orosco held that (differing from the standard etymology of the Arabic Al-Oud, meaning the wooden one), the name lute comes from the Greek word for fisherman or for the small bulbous fishing boat (Ha-Lieut: Ha-lieutika sc. Barka), from which the Croatian/Italian Leut originates, as it still appears today as the name of some Istrian/Croatian taverns. With the lute, therefore, we can begin as the fishermen of Jesus’ to fish the men of benevolent heart, and at the same time to celebrate the true banquet of life, meditating on that which is everlasting, (as is expressed in the first lovers of harmony from Ljubljana, the Philharmonici in its Leges from 1711). Stravinsky stated in an interesting way that the lute is the most intimate human musical instrument. If we immerse ourselves in the deepest silence of its sound, we then can feel the heavenly echo of the eternal beauty which appeared in Plato’s Phaedrus. Then we understand the reason why all of Count Losy’s lutes, while their master lay dying, were turned to face away. Thus, when referring to the secret of the afterlife, the lute must also be silenced.
And what remains for us is the belief that “there” “on the other side” – music will still be even more beautiful and softer than that which has ever come from the most beautiful and best lute.
Thank you for the conversation.