The American lutenist, Hopkinson Smith, began as a teenager he began to study the classical guitar and in his early 20's, he became acquainted with the lute which he started to learn by himself. He majored in musicology at Harvard and graduated with honors in 1972.
In 1973, Hopkinson Smith came to Europe to devote himself to the lute in earnest. He worked in Catalonia with Emilio Pujol, a profound pedagogue in the 19th century tradition who instilled in him a sense for higher artistic values, and in Switzerland with Eugen Dombois whose sense of happy organic unity between performer, instrument and historic period has had a lasting effect on him. From the mid 1970's, he was involved in various ensemble projects including the founding of the ensemble Hespèrion XX and a ten-year collaboration with Jordi Savall. This collaboration led to important experiences in chamber music which were a creative complement to his work as a soloist.
Since the mid 1980's, Hopkinson Smith has focused principally on solo music for early plucked instruments. These include the vihuela, Renaissance lute, theorbo, Renaissance and Baroque guitars and the Baroque lute. In so doing has delved ever deeper into rediscovering the legendary powers of persuasion of the lute in former times: its noble eloquence and rhetorical clarity arising not only from great beauty and purity of sound, but above all from an infinite variety of nuances of touch and color of tone that gives its voice the immediacy of the spoken word. Smith's playing is frequently noted by reviewers for its tastefulness and expertise, while also being warm and always consciously expressive no matter what type of piece he is playing.
With his recitals and a series of over 20 solo recordings, Hopkinson Smith continues to rediscover and bring to life works that are among the most expressive and intimate in the entire domain of early music. These include Renaissance fantasies, variations and dances of the vihuela and lute repertoires (Milan, Narváez, Mudarra, de Rippe), the avant garde contrasts of early Baroque Toccatas (Kapsberger), the super-refined 17th century French lutenists (Denis Gaultier, Vieux Gaultier, Mouton, Dufaut, Gallot, de Visée), Spanish music for S-course guitar rising directly from the popular tradition (Sanz) and from court circles (Guerau) and the flowering of the lute in central Europe in the high baroque both as a solo instrument (Sylvius Weiss), and in concertos with string accompaniment (Johann Friedrich Fasch, Hagen, Haydn, and Kohaut). Projects involving the music of J.S. Bach have been a recurring theme for Hopkinson Smith. His recording of the official lute works has been complemented by his own lute arrangements of the cello Suites (1992) and of the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin (1999). The latter recording has been called 'arguably the best you can buy of these works - on any instrument' by Gramophone magazine.
Internationally recognized as a leading personality in the field of early music and one of the world's great lutenists, Hopkinson Smith gives concerts and master-classes throughout Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, Australia and North and South America. He currently lives in Basel, Switzerland, where he teaches at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis.