Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Last week we talked about the printing of lute tablature and lute song for Michael O'Connor's class called Books, Media, and Music at St. Michael's College. I'm going to break the talk into two blog entries because it's too long and I don't want you to say tl/dr.

We started off by showing an example of guitar solo music from 1980. In this line from Peter Maxwell Davies' Farewell to Stromness the arranger and editor, guitarist Timothy Walker, has fingered at least one note in every chord. Some notes even have two fingerings for a note, one for the finger and one for the string to play it on, though the string is implicit anywhere he tells you what finger to use.

So you have to think if Timothy Walker thinks that a plucked string player needs that much more information above and beyond the dots and lines of staff notation he, and he would never think this out loud, must think that staff notation is not adequate for notating plucked string music. 

One group of people who are not encumbered by the snobbery of having to 'read music' (ie. dots in staff notation), who thus think the 'music' is the sound waves, the performance, not the piece of paper with dots on it which we also call 'music', are classic rock fans. They know that tablature will give you the information you need more efficiently. There are thousands of tablature sites out there with the first bars of this famous piece. This example of Stairway to Heaven is from Reading tablature never really went away, Guitar World magazine would have examples in the back, but the new medium of the internets has certainly boosted it. 

This tablature has six lines representing the strings of the guitar with the top sounding string nearest the top of the page. The numbers on the lines are the frets of the guitar, 0= open string, 1= first fret 2= second fret, etc. 

Modern tab readers though, have not started using the rhythm signs that lutenists and guitarists used from the 16th to the 18th century, maybe because they will always have heard the song they are learning, so they'll know to play the Stairway in four square time, not swung. 

The Thibault Manuscript (Blibliothèque Nationale, Paris. Rés. Vmd. Ms. 27), probably started around 1502, has that sense of a lute player jotting down some reminders of pieces he knows already. There are no rhythm signs, but the rhythms can often be reconstructed (click on the link above) from the right hand fingering signs; when there are two thumb plucks in a row followed by a forefinger designated by a dot under the note you know the rhythm is 'taa-ti-ti', because strong beats always get the stronger sounding thumb downward pluck. The rhythm signs in the example of a decorated version of the famous Fortuna desperata are jotted in by me because I don't know the piece as well as the first person who owned the manuscript. Here the top sounding string is nearest the bottom of the page because, obviously, that string is nearest the ground when you are holding a lute or guitar. This is called Italian tablature and was used in Italy, parts of Germany and, mostly, in Spain. 

Next I played a piece from the first printed book of specifically instrumental music. Ottaviano Petrucci didn't invent music printing, but was the first successful publisher. In 1507 he printed Intabolatura de lauto libro primo and secondo of music by or arranged by Francesco Spinacino. The technique Petrucci used was to print the lines, then go back and print on the fret numbers and rhythm signs. What a beautiful job he does considering the complexity of that technique and that it is the first time anyone had ever printed lute music. And what an honour for Spinacino to be the first musician to have his instrumental works published. How strange that we know little more about him beyond his name. 

But of course, tablature is not telling you about pitches, only about where to put your fingers. I had brought three lutes, one with the top string at E, one at G and one at A. Hallie sang this song, printed in 1509 (Franciscus Bossinensis’s Tenori e contrabassi intabulati col sopran in canto figurato per cantar e sonar col lauto), with each of them. The rubric at the beginning says 'the voice of the soprano is at (ie. starts on) the fifth fret of the canto (top string)'. So, though the staff notation first note in the says she sings a D, so to harmonize with that note the top string of the lute must be an A, I can give her the first note on any of the lutes and put my fingers in the same place and she transposes up or down to where it's comfortable, depending on which lute I am playing. We agreed this song sounds best with the lute in A, but some of the ones which are for a lute in E sound better up. Maybe Petrucci was just avoiding ledger lines. Around 1500 Isabella d'Este, Marchesa of Mantua, wrote to her instrument maker Lorenzo di Pavia 'Make is a lute that is two steps smaller than the viola you made, which we find a little too low for our voice.' 

Petrucci does a beautiful job of printing, but still can't compete with the detail that you can include in a manuscript. In 1517 Vidal starts his manuscript, now in the Newberry Library in Chicago and writes this at the beginning: 
Considering that several divine works have been lost by the ignorance of their owners, and desiring that this almost divine book written by me will be preserved forever, I, Vidal, have adorned it with such noble paintings, so that if it should be owned by somebody with no knowledge in (the musical field), he would keep it for the beauty of the pictures. Surely, the things written in this book have as much harmony as the art of music may express.

In this example of Capirola you can see where to put ornaments (fret numbers in dots and slashes through fret numbers), signs that tell you where to hold and release notes (not so important on the lute which makes the very short 'plink', and you will need that finger somewhere else soon.) and of course bunnies. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Here's the program for the Rosary concert tonight at 100 St. Joseph St. Toronto. Map on how to get there at bottom. 

The Christianty and Culture program at St Michael's College in the University of Toronto 

The Musicians In Ordinary for the Lutes and Voices


The Rosary Sonatas – The Glorious Mysteries 

Fr. Madden Auditorium, Carr Hall 
100 St. Joseph St. 
St. Michael’s College
Oct. 11, 2013
Lecture by Rev. Lisa Wang at 7:30PM, Concert at 8PM

The Resurrection Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704)
Domine in adjuvandum Maurizio Cazzati (c1620-77)
O Lord, make haste to help me. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost: As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.
(Text – Response from the beginning of each of the Hours )

Click on the photo to get a closer look at the crossed strings

The Ascension Biber
Vocem jucunditatis Alessandro Grandi (c.1580-1630)
Declare it with the voice of joy, and make it known, alleluia.
The Lord hath delivered His people, alleluia.
Christ has ascended on high. He has led captivity captive. He has given gifts to mankind, alleluia.
(Text – Excerpt from the Introit for the Fifth Sunday after Easter)

Pentecost Biber
Veni sancte Spiritus Giovanni Pozzo (fl. 1610)
Come Holy Spirit, you who are with the Father and the Son, one God through the ages; kindle in the depths of our hearts the flames of love, enliven us that we, loving the Lord, may enjoy you forever. O sweetest Spirit, I ask that you remain with me and keep watch over me always, so that, in the mouths of those celebrating you in song, you may be praised forever.
(Text – Free, with phrases from Sequence and Alleluia for Pentecost and Credo)

The Assumption of the Virgin  Biber
Prudentissima virgo Grandi
Virgin most wise, where are you going, Daughter of Sion, shining out as brightly as the dawn? You are most comely and merciful, beautiful as the moon, excellent as the sun, alleluia.
(Text – Magnificat Antiphon, First Vespers of the Assumption of the BVM)

The Coronation of the Virgin Biber
O Quam speciosa Grandi
O how beautiful have you become, O Mary, thou lovely, thou kindly, O Mary, sweet rose.
O Mary, sweet rose, pray for us to Jesus Christ our Saviour, that he may protect and free us. O Mary, sweet rose, thou lovely, thou kindly, thou beauteous, thou glorious mother. O Mary, sweet rose.
O Mary, sweet rose, pray for us to Jesus Christ, Son of God, to preserve us in God’s love, thou beautiful, decorous, chosen mother of God. O Mary, sweet rose. Alleluia
(Text – Free, after the Song of Solomon)

Program Notes by Christopher Verrette
Biber’s Rosary Sonatas were a product of a culture that believed in using all the senses and all available media to contemplate the divine. This included visual art, music (both in sound and notation), dances (with which his audience would have been physically familiar) and in this particular case, unorthodox tunings of the violin. Here are some concise thoughts on how these things work together to contemplate the Glorious Mysteries.

The tuning of the Resurrection sonata is arguably the most expressive in the set, because it requires the player to cross the middle strings of the violin creating a visual symbol on the instrument, while disorienting the player's right arm as much as his left hand. The opening makes extensive use of the echo, perhaps suggesting the empty burial cave. What follows is the only reference to actual sacred music in this cycle: a set of variations on the hymn Surrexit Christus Hodie, written in gigantic, antique-style note values in the Trinitarian meter of 3/1, a visually stunning notational choice. The violin is heard playing in parallel octaves, like congregational singing, which is facilitated by the unusual tuning. After a final statement of the hymn in three octaves, the sonata ends with an introspective coda.

The picture of the Ascension in the score shows only Jesus' feet disappearing upward, which is mirrored in fast rising scales in the music, but the composer is clearly showing us His arrival in heaven to trumpet music. The tuning of the violin in a C Major chord makes this possible using a maximum of open strings. Two dances follow, of which the second is especially significant: Biber uses the courante exactly three times in the cycle. Dance historian Wendy Hilton has characterised the courante as "the dance of kings", and here it affirmatively expresses the triumphant fulfillment of something hinted at in earlier mysteries, in moments of humility and humiliation.

The sheer wildness of the writing in the sonata for Pentecost may betray Biber's birth in Bohemia. He quoted genuine folk music in other works and may have called upon his experience of folk fiddlers to suggest the winds and tongues of fire. It uses a brilliant tuning allowing for swirling passages in thirds and sixths.

The Assumption of the Virgin is some of the most light-hearted music to be found in the cycle. The opening passagework ends somewhat abruptly on a high note, indicating the direction of her travel. Most of the piece is a playful set of variations on a ground bass, though the whole story is told in a nutshell at the end: the violin disappears in mid-phrase leaving the continuo players alone on earth to contemplate the empty tomb.

The Coronation of the Virgin uses the most relaxed tuning to be found, creating a warm, deep sound. More formal counterpoint is used than in the other sonatas, but dance gets the last word: a saraband with a particularly delicate – even feminine – variation.