lute, musical instrument that has a half-pear-shaped body, a fretted neck, and a variable number of strings, which are plucked with the fingers. The long lute, with its neck much longer than its body, seems to have been older than the short lute, existing very early in the Egyptian and Middle Eastern cultures, whence the word lute derives. The short lute was known in Spain as early as the 10th cent., having been brought there by Arabs. Its greatest development came in the 15th cent. The lute was the most popular English and European instrument of the Renaissance. During these periods it amassed a vast literature. In the 17th cent. a larger form (the archlute) was developed; it gave rise to the theorbo and to the chitarrone, which was supplanted by the Spanish vihuela and the modern guitar. Lute music is notated in tablature.
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