The Queen and the Sage

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Northampton musician Christopher Stetson inaugurates the Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies’ First Sunday Concert Series on Sunday, October 4, with “The Queen and The Sage: Music of the Sixteenth Century from Europe and China.” Stetson will play songs from England, Italy, France and Germany on
the lute (The Queen), interspersed with pieces from 16th century China played on
the guqin (The Sage.) The lyrics of the songs will be read in their original languages and then in translation by native speakers. The concert begins at 2 pm at the Renaissance Center, 650 East Pleasant Street, Amherst. There is no admission charge, though donations will be welcome. Visit or call 413-577-3600 for further information.

The phrase, ‘the Renaissance’, generally refers to the span of European history between 1400 and 1700, a period during which merchants, traders, mapmakers and explorers were rapidly expanding the boundaries of the world known to the English and Europeans. Though often experienced as exotic and curious by Westerner travelers, the traditions of the performing arts of the East were highly developed. The instruments being played side-by-side in this concert, listeners will experience the contrast of the sounds of the two traditions of string and vocal music.

The guqin is the most revered of all the Chinese music instruments. Remains of the guqin have been found in ancient tombs (500 to 200 BC). The instrument was matured nearly 1,600 years ago. Guqins exist today from the Tang Dynasty (700 AD) in museums. The guqin consists of a long, narrow upper wooden board made from the tong tree (or other trees of the pine family) and a lower board made from the catalpa tree or other hardwood. Lute is a general term for a plucked string instrument with a neck (either fretted or unfretted) and a deep round back, constructed from hardwoods such as maple, cherry, ebony, rosewood or other tonewoods. Characteristic of Renaissance lutes are their ‘bent’ necks, though that feature is not universal. The lute was the premier solo instrument of the 16th century, but continued to be used to accompany singers as well.

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