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Lute Matters

October 19, 2011

This post is directed without apology towards lutenists and may be of less general interest to readers who visit for our weekly quotes.  However,  the quote below from Thomas Mace may help explain our fascination with finding, dissecting, discussing and playing this music.

…My 1st and Chief Design [is] to Discover the Occult Mysteries of the Noble Lute, and to show the Great Worthiness of That too much Neglected and Abused Instrument…

Lute tablature was presumably devised sometime in the 15th century, and its format is attributed to Conrad Paumann, blind organist and lutenist.  The intent of tablature from its inception was to create a complete condensed score of polyphonic music, otherwise available in separate part-books.  This was the norm of the time, and singers or instrumentalists were required to read their part individually and interact aurally without the advantage of seeing the visual cues of the other parts, as is common in today’s open score format.  Tablature was a score format used for keyboard, harp and lute and is not just a simplified system of putting one’s fingers down.   In polyphonic music, it requires an advanced ability to identify and track the horizontal parts of a piece condensed into this form.

Now that we have that out of the way, we offer lutenists pdfs of the following lute pieces, transcribed and edited from English manuscript sources.

Galliard by John Dowland, Hirsch manuscript, folio 7

This galliard has many of the characteristic hallmarks of Dowland’s best lute pieces.  Identified by Robert Spencer as a Dowland piece in his editorial notes to the Boethius/Severinus Press facsimile of the Hirsch manuscript, the galliard was not included in my copy of The Collected Lute Music of John Dowland edited by Diana Poulton and Basil Lamm, published by Faber Music (2nd edition, 1978).

Courante by Gaultier, Herbert manuscript, folio 40v.

Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s Lutebook, Fitzwilliam Museum Ms. Mus.689, is a wonderful manuscript source of early 17th century lute music written in the old tuning.  There are several pieces in the manuscript attributed to ‘Gaultier’, faithfully indexed by John H. Robinson here.  Exactly who was ‘Gaultier’ is still uncertain.  Since Jacques Gaultier spent some time as an exile in England, it was previously thought he was responsible for most of the lute music attributed to ‘Gaultier’ (in its various spellings) in English manuscript sources.  There is reason to question the attribution of the more delicate examples of these pieces to Jacques Gaultier, whose reputation was for playing in a ‘thundering’ style, and also as a French fugitive escaping a murder rap.  François-Pierre Goy makes a case for attributing much of this music to Ennemond Gaultier in the recently published journal of the (UK) Lute Society, The Lute, vol. XLVIII, 2008 (p. 78).  I agree fairly strongly on stylistic grounds that most of the pieces attributed to ‘Gautier’ from the Herbert ms. are probably by Ennemond.

The elegant and graceful Courante featured in the link below consists of two short sections that are meant to be repeated.  I have added ornamented repeats in the characteristic arpeggiated style of the period.

You can find pdfs of the two lute pieces here, where they will remain for a limited time.

UPDATE: 14 May 2016.

All links to pdfs on our blog have been disabled for logistical reasons.  If individuals contact us through the link at the top of the page, we are always happy to send the pdfs.  Thanks for your patience.


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  1. David Mount permalink

    Great post, Ron, even though I’m not a lutenist. But viol players are nearly as geeky, right? And English teachers are maybe worse than either. In that spirit, I just wanted to mention – and apologies if you know this already – that in the great quote you begin with, Mace would have been using “discover” in a different way than we understand it today. At this time, it almost always meant “reveal,” or “un-cover.” Changes the meaning a bit: he’s showing, rather than investigating – and he uses the word “show” in the next sentence in a parallel way to “discover,” so that’s one hint. This old meaning of the word puts him in the privileged position of being the one who understands those “occult mysteries” already and is explaining them to us, who don’t. In the modern meaning, he would simply be leading us on an inquiry.

    Okay, just had to get that out of my system. Keep up your good work, Mignarda!

    • Thanks for your comments, Dave. You may think viol players are as geeky but at least they need to interact with others from time to time to make music – except for that solo lyra viol rep.

      Your elucidation of Mace’s meaning is what I had in mind when I posted the quote. But when one spends too much time digesting archaic English it’s easy to forget that word meanings migrate, and not everyone keeps track of the change of address. One of my favorites is the old meaning of the term, artificial.

      It great to know you’re reading these rants. We’re on TV tonight in Binghamton, NY but we don’t have TV. Here’s the station promo:

  2. David Mount permalink

    Also, thanks for the info on tablature. Very interesting. Was also used for viola da gamba, lyra viol style, of course.

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