This blog is the record of a learning voyage. I have long been intrigued by Renaissance music, and am slowly learning more about it. I am trying to get to grips with the tenor ukulele, which is not dissimilar to the Renaissance guitar.
Another piece from Sanz' Libro segundo de cifras sobre la Guiterra (1675), plate 3. It's not too difficult, and in many places could be made easier (if not quite so good) by playing F on the 2nd string rather than on the 3rd.
Sanz’ Baroque guitar was tuned rather like the modern guitar, but with the 4th and 5 courses (of paired strings) an octave higher – the re-entrant tuning. This means that there wasn’t really a bass line when played on a period instrument. Looking at the original tabs, however, the notation for the "lower" strings often gives the impression of a base line. This transcription is an experiment to see what happens when, where appropriate, they are treated as such – as if this were a piece for lute or vihuela. Not what Sanz intended, of course, but a perfectly acceptable arrangement.
In other places in the piece, the "lower" strings obviously contribute to the melody line. It was a peculiarity of Sanz’ tuning that the third course might have had a “requinta” string an octave higher than its “normal” partner, which could be preferentially plucked when contributing to the melody. All very confusing, and lots of scope for interpretation.
The Baroque tuning provides the opportunity for “campanella” playing, where successive notes are played on different strings and held down to give a ringing sound. Sanz used this approach in some places, but certainly not throughout the piece: in many places a line of notes is played on a single string. You will see that I have tried to set some campanella-style passages where they fit the low-G ukulele, but they are not necessarily where the composer put his.
There are four sections. Section A is arranged in “lute style”. In section B, the first 8 bars show the “high voice” option, the second 8 bars the “low voice” option. Section C emphasises the campanella style, so you will want disregard the shown note lengths and hold them for as long as possible. In section D, bar 53 is set high and bar 56 low.
Interpretation of graces follows James Tyler, p. 32. They may be omitted if desired.
You can find more information on the transcription process in my post here.
You can download the arrangements in the following formats:
Here are two pieces which are rather shorter than the fantasies I published recently, but still quite discursive.
It is clever how Le Roy manages to fit in up to three voices with such a limited range. I have set the middle voices mostly stem-down, but a few look better stem-up; this should not affect their interpretation.
There are some quite fast runs in the second half of the first prelude, so it might be a good idea not to start playing too rapidly. As these aren't for dancing or singing to, the player is free to change tempo at will.
Until recently I have ignored Le Roy’s indications of right hand fingering. Since, however, they were intended to emphasise the dynamics of the rhythm, I thought that I would have a go at including them.
The very simple system was to indicate (with a dot) only that the weaker notes were to be played by the (weaker) index finger (i). The other (unmarked) notes were stressed and played with the (stronger) thumb (P) and/or middle finger (m).
Runs of single notes would often have been played P-i, even on the top string.
When two notes are played together, the dot under the lower note means, I think, use i-m rather than P-i or P-m. Three-note chords were generally played P-i-m, and four-note chords either P-P-i-m or P-i-m-a (or even P-i-i-m). There was therefore normally no need to show the dots.
When I tried to use the more modern “P-i-m-a” system for the RH digits it made the score very cluttered and hard to read, so I have kept to the old dot system. It is unfortunate that this is not 100% compatible with on-the-line tabs.
I have gleaned much of this information from lute tutors written by Diana Poulton and Rob MacKillop, but it should apply also to Le Roy’s guitar works as he was originally a lutenist, and would probably played guitar in a similar way.
Available for free download in the following formats:
("Between the lines" means that, in the tabs, the spaces between the lines on the stave represent the strings, as in the Renaissance French system, which was used also in the UK. "On the lines" means that the lines represent the strings, which is the modern system. I find that the numbers are clearer in the former system, but fully understand that they are harder to play from if you're used to the latter. Hence, I've now started posting pdfs of both formats. If you have access to TablEdit, you can format as you wish.)
This one is from the Matthew Lodge Lute Book (Dd.2.11. f.75r/2) in the Cambridge University Library. You can read all about the composer using the link above.
Facsimile of the original. It's a really clear one, should you want to compare it with this arrangement, and see the compromises I made to fit it on the ukulele. Incidentally, the letters should be written between the lines, but Mr Holmes didn't always manage this.
All that I had to do was imagine my ukulele was a guitar and write down the tabs, though the bass line is rather modified. (I must admit that I find still it easier to read notation on guitar than on uke.) The key wanders between A major and A minor (whichever I choose gives a similar number of accidentals).
Available to download free in the following formats:
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Jane Pickering[e]'s Lute Book (1616) is a bound MS containing many quite challenging pieces , but between them the occasional "toye" or toy: short pieces that are normally pretty easy and fall under the fingers.
Many of the pieces that I arrange are quite difficult, and I thought that I would post some that I feel comfortable with. So, here are thirteen toyes, put together in a pdf book. All you have to do is to download it and start playing.
Download here. (19 pp, 1.4MB) If you want the TablEdit files of any piece, just get in touch.
It was the fashion of the period (mid-16th century) to follow a pavane with a galliard on (approximately) the same theme.
I am not sure what "de la gambe" in the title refers to. I think gambe in 16th century French means "leg", but apparently it was also an abbreviation of viola de la gambe (viola da gamba in Italian) just as we use "cello" to refer to the violoncello. Mysterious.
The PavaneThe pavane is written in two sections of 16 and 32 bars, each of which can be divided into lines of 8 bars, which are indicated in this score by double barring. Contrast this with the previous posting, a fantasy, which is much more free-form.
This piece is strongly chordal, so I feel no qualms in presenting the "modern" chord names. The harmonies in the variations vary slightly from those in the statement.
You will recognise the chord shapes, and get a lot of practice in jumping to a B♭chord in 3rd position. Indeed, the bars with Gm, F, B♭ and E♭chords can mostly be played at a fret-3 barré.
§A | D | D | D | D | Gm | Gm | F | F | | Bb | Bb | F | F | Eb | Eb | D | D |
§B | Gm F | Bb | F | Bb | F | Eb | D | D | ×2 | Gm F | Bb | F | F | Eb* | D | G | G ⫿ ×2
* or Ebsus2 or Cm
Le Roy presented the piece as a first statement of the two sections (A, B), followed by variations of the two sections involving divisions on the statement in some bars only (A', B'). You might want to play them in the order A, A', B, B'.
The first note in the upper voice in bar 10 and similar bars is not shown in the original, implying either an extension of the previous note or a rest. The former option is difficult to perform, so I have opted for the rest, even though for a stately pavane I would have preferred a smoother upper voice and less syncopation.
The GalliardThis piece is not merely a transformation of the pavane into 3/4 time. The statement of the theme in §A is reduced from 16 to 8 bars, with repetition, but maintains the original idea. In §B the structure is less rigid, and the harmonies – although belonging to the key of Gm – are much freer and more unexpected than simple substitutions of related harmonies (e.g. B♭for Gm).
The variations keep closely to the original statements, but involve some rapid divisions which you may want to simplify or shorten.
SourceTranscribed for Ukulele, low 4th, from Adrian Le Roy: Premier livre de tablature de guiterre (1551), ff 11 – 13. Facsimile at Early Music Online
DownloadsThe arrangements are available for free download in the following formats: Pavane
Being a fantasia, this piece (unlike an air or a dance) is not divided neatly into 4- or 8-bar segments. For ease of reference I have divided the 91 bars (note the prime number) into sections A to K, according to where I see a new idea emerging. You may hear the sections differently.
The first page of the original tablature: of "Fantasie Première" in Premier livre de tablature de guiterre, ff 2 – 3.
The piece consists mostly of two lines or voices, based mainly on overlapping scale fragments; these lines tend to start and stop at different places. There is also the occasional base note to add rhythm.
The key seems to vary at whim from G major to G minor (note the B-flats and F-naturals).
As with all music in French tabs, there can be problems in assessing whether an unoccupied space before or after a note represents a continuation of the note (sometimes ligatured across bars) or a rest. I have made a comment about this:
(a) between bars 33 and 41 (§ E), where I have inserted a rest in the bass at the beginning of each bar; and (b) between bars 76 and 81 (§ J), where I have I have opted for the ligature in the top voice.
Either option could be chosen, but the rest is obviously easier to play, and on an instrument such as a ukulele which has no great sustain, there is little difference in sound. There are other occasions in the score where this confusion occurs.
It is interesting to note that bars 7 to 9 are very close to what I have described elsewhere as John Dowland's "Solus cum sola motif", which appears in a number of his works about half a century later. The only difference is that in Dowland's version the third note on the top string (a D) would not be sounded, and the previous note would be held.
I am sure that a professional musician could interpret this piece at sight, but I find it helps to sit down with the score and mark out where the voices lie. The difficulty in performance is to maintain the lines when two lines are moving from fret to fret and string to string. The image below shows my own markings on an early draft of the tabs: you may have a different opinion. Incidentally, in some sections I can detect a hint of the campanella style.
My notes on an early draft of the first page of the tablature. The upper voice is in red, the others in blue and green. There is much scope for different interpretations throughout the piece.
This is a brief account of the process that I adopt in making my ukulele versions of this wonderful old music. Well, I say brief, but it is quite a long post now I come to think. I have also made a pdf version, which you can download here. Transcription involves getting the original copied as accurately as possible in a different, more appropriate, format. Arranging involves estimating the length of time that a note is sounded, fitting music for 6- (or more) course instruments such as lute or vihuela on a 4-string instrument such as the ukulele, and sometimes simplifying the most difficult parts. The most abundant music available (in print or online, transcribed or in facsimile) is for the lute, but there is plenty for the vihuela and Renaissance guitar as well.
We will start with the Renaissance guitar. It was a little larger than the tenor ukulele, and had 4 courses (of paired strings) tuned to the same intervals, if not to the same pitch, as the uke; this means that the first stages of transcription are relatively simple.
The available music by French composers, such as Le Roy, is written in tablature, and is clearly printed. In French tablature, also used in Britain, a indicates the nut (fret 0), b s fret 1, c is fret 2, and so on. The letter j was not used, so k = 8, l = 9 and m = 10. The first string is represented by the space above the top line of the stave, down to the 4th string at the bottom. The facsimile above shows one and a half pieces in Adrian Le Roy's Quart livre de tablature de guiterre, pub 1553. The letter forms are squashed but clear. The c has a flat top to distinguish it from the e. (When we get to manuscripts later, we will see that letter forms are not always so clear.)
The "flags" above the letters indicate how long a note sounds until the next note is plucked, but not necessarily how long the note should be held. See the table below.
Concordance of the various symbols used in Renaissance lute and guitar music in print and MSS (French format). One may need to halve the lengths of the notes in the originals, as Poulton and Lam did in most of their transcriptions.
In some setting styles, every note will be given a length flag, as in modern music. In others, as in the Le Roy example above, if there is a series of notes having the same lengths (or, strictly, are plucked at the same intervals), only the first note is flagged. This leads to a less cluttered appearance, but makes it harder to appreciate complex rhythms at a glance.
Having got the notes down in the right place on paper or in your favourite music setting package, you then has to decide how long a note should be held.
To set the music, I have been using the slightly idiosyncratic TablEdit app, which seems perfectly designed for setting this early music, because note fingerings are in effect entered into a tablature grid, with a regular time axis along the bottom. Once the notes are in the right place, their lengths can be easily adjusted.
Looking at bars 1 and 5 in line 1 in the facsimile above, it is pretty obvious that the notes on strings 2, 3 and 4 should be held through the bar whilst the melody is played on the top string. In line 4 bar 5, the melody is held on the top string throughout the bar.
When it comes to the base line on the 4th string in this bar, however, we have a problem. In this notation system, rests are implied by a gap, just as an extended note is. So, is there a minim (half note) rest in the first half of the bar, before we play two crotchets of c a, or do we extend the e from the previous bar? The obvious thing to do is to try it out on your ukulele and see what seems best. Or, you can find a recording online by an expert, and see what he or she does.
Valéry Sauvage is a really excellent and productive exponent of this music, and it is worth searching his YouTube channel.
There are occasions where a note followed by a space does not imply that it should be extended. In line 3 bar 5, for example, the a on the first beat on the first string is obviously part of a scale that continues down the second string (d b a) so the a will last just one beat. The notes on the third and fourth strings will, however, be held through the bar.
Here is a worked example of how I adapted a piece by Le Roy to be played on a ukulele with a low 4th string. I've used this one as it is one of the first that I worked on. You will see how compact the original format is. I read somewhere that in this period books were so expensive that they cost as much as a lute, so conciseness was obviously an imperative.
My version below should be self-explanatory, if not perfectly set. Note the attempt in places to discern three voices: melody on top, bass on the bottom, and filled out with harmonies in between. Understanding these is a great help when interpreting some complex lute pieces.
Arranging baroque guitar music for ukulele is a minefield. Different composers used different, often unspecified, tunings. The instrument has five courses, of paired strings, except sometimes for the first. The courses were often in octaves, or the lower strings could be re-entrant, like the modern ukulele. This can make the music seem rather jumpy in playing a particular voice. If you ignore the octaves, the tuning was like the first five strings of the "normal" guitar.
I have made a few arrangements and published them on this blog.
For more information I refer you to A guide to playing the Baroque guitar by the late James Tyler (Indiana University Press, 2011), which I found invaluable.
There is quite a body of lute music available: as facsimiles of MSS (more on reading them later), as transcriptions (tablature and notation), and as arrangements for guitar (some with the third string tuned a semitone flat to give the same intervals as a lute). I am assuming here that the French form of tablatures described above is used.
The first step is to transfer the fret/string positions in the lute as directly as possible to the ukulele. The difficulties include:
(a) The 3rd string on the lute is 1 semitone flat in comparison with the 3rd string on the ukulele or guitar. This is a pain because if there is an open 3rd string on the lute, this has to put on string 4 fret 4 on the uke, which can mess up the bass line. (b) The uke obviously has no 5th and 6th strings, so where possible we have to move notes on them up an octave and enter on strings 3 and 4, which might already be occupied.
The following equations (sorry if you hate algebra) summarise what I do in my head when transcribing. If U1 ... U4 = fret positions on ukulele strings 1 ... 4, and L1 ... L6 = fret positions on lute courses 1 ... 6, then:
U1 = L1
U2 = L2
U3 = L3 – 1
U4 = L4
U3 = L3 + 2 [8va]
U4 = L4 + 2 [8va]
The second step is to identify the voices. If you have a piano transcription in parallel with the lute tabs (as in Poulton and Lam, see below) this is quite easy. In general there will be a "melody" line on top, a bass line (guess where), and one or two middle lines or chordal harmonies, all rather like the Le Roy pieces mentioned above, but more complicated. It's probably best to metaphorically ink in the top voice first, then the bottom voice, and finally see what one can do to fit in the middle parts. It will never be as full a version as the original, but it does help in our understanding of the music.
The third step is to refine the arrangement by
(a) Playing it through, on the ukulele, adjusting the fingering and string on which a note is played to make it as easy and efficient as possible to perform.
(b) Listening to the piece played by a skilled performer on the lute, to get the feeling of the music, and to understand the structure and emphasis.
The table above shows a concordance of fret numbers, French tab letters, and examples from facsimilies of MSS around 1590. And here is the secretary hand from the fount "Secretary hand ancient":
The forms are pretty close to those used in fingering MSS scores. It is confusing at first that the c-symbol resembles r, the fcan look like ß, the ilike y, and the klike a mistake in writing an l. Even now, in my head, I say "r = 2" rather than "c = 2". Why they weren't written as clearly as those in Le Roy's books from the 1550s, I don't know.
By the 16th century the elegant Italian chancery hand (later to become "Italics" in print) was influencing handwriting, and the text in lute MSS was written in the more legible form, or a hybrid between the two.
An example: John Dowland's Lachrimae Pavan
The first 4 bars of Dowland's Lachrimae as transcribed and interpreted by Poulton and Lam. I think this must be a consensus version from a number of sources. A modified version of the Secretary hand is used for the tabs. The # symbol indicates an ornament of some kind (it's up to you), and the slanting lines indicate how long to hold the bass.
I have chosen this piece as it was enormously popular in his time and was his signature composition. Here we see the first four bars.
One of many MS versions of Lachrimae Pavan. Note that the second flag looks a bit like a ß with a long stem:this is a shorthand version of the crotchet (quarter-note)flag, which should look rather like an "F". The MS versions of even shorter notes are not always easy to interpret. In this style of flagging, the tails are joined as in modern notation, to give the "gate" or "grid-iron" format.
You will see that in the lute version there are as many as four voices, as in bar 3. In the uke version I have simplified this to two or three voices: the upper stems-up, the others stem-down. The tablature setting I have used is as complete as possible within the constraints of the format.
The same 4 bars in my arrangement for ukulele, with a low 4th string.
As promised yesterday, a version of Galliard to delight from the Weld(e) MS.
Arranged from a version on Sarge Gerbode’s website, attributed to “IRL-Dtc:Trinity College Library, Dublin John Welde Lute Book (1605), f.4. Encoded by Jason Kortis; edited by Sarge Gerbode”. I cannot find the Welde MS in Dublin as it is, apparently, in the private collection of Lord Forrester in Shropshire. (Dublin does have the Dallis MS, but that does not contain this piece.) In any case, I am very grateful to M Gerbode for his excellent site.
The Lute Society has published a facsimile of the Welde MS, which I may treat myself to one day.
This version is pretty similar to yesterday's: some of the divisions are different, and the home chord (D on the ukulele) is voiced with F# rather than D on the top.
Why not try them out and see which you prefer.
Available to download free in the following formats:
The first part of the original (from the Lute Society website)
Here, as promised yesterday, is an arrangement of John Johnson's Galiarde to delighte. Despite being a variation on the original, it is actually rather easier to play.
Unlike the Delighte, the Galiard is divided into 3 sections each of 8 bars, and each followed by a variation. The statement of §C is chordal, and if one filled in some of the harmonies one could strum most of it. How anachronistic that would be I could not say.
Available to download free in the following formats: