Monday, November 4, 2013

Here's part two of our talk on lute tablature and printing for the class Books, Media, and Music at St. Michael's College. Part one is here.

We dealt with German lute tablature pretty quickly. I have never met a lute player who reads German tablature; it's straightforward to decipher it, but reading it is a bit complicated. German lute tablature is said to have been invented by the blind organist Conrad Paumann at the end of the 15th century, when most lutes would have only had five pairs of strings (or 'courses'). So, starting with the fifth course open, and going up the strings, then up to the first fret and so on, German tablature has a letter or cipher for each intersection of string and fret. Here's a diagram from Sebastian Virdung’s Musica Getutschta book describing musical instruments published around 1511.

You can see that the open strings from the (in 1490) lowest to highest are 1 to 5, then the first fret from the (in 1490) lowest string to the highest is a to e, the second fret from f to k (i and j are the same letter in 1511) and so on up the neck. Once you pass z, you double the letters up. To read fluently up to the seventh fret on a five course lute, you need to memorize and react instantly to 35 symbols. But then, complicating things further, the sixth course gets added. Virdung here uses, at each fret on the sixth course, a capital of the adjacent fifth course, but other systems were used by other printers. Rhythm signs, which look like grids of 16th notes without their 'dots' at the bottom, were put over the ciphers, which are stacked up in chords. Here is a very simple little two part dance from Hans Neusidler’s Ein Newgeordent Kuenstlich Lautenbuch (1536). You can imagine how a big complicated piece like Capirola's version of a Josquin mass movement would look.

As I say, we got through German tablature pretty quickly, and so did German lute players. By the beginning of the 17th century they were all using Italian or French tablature. 

French tablature uses the same principal of having lines representing strings and ciphers representing frets as does Italian tablature, except the highest sounding string is at the top of the page and the ciphers are letters instead of numbers. The open string is 'a', the first fret 'b' and so on up the neck. Pierre Attaingnant uses five lines for the strings which implies that even in 1529, the sixth course was still thought of as 'extra'. Or he was just used to five lines from printing staff notation? Anyway, Other French publishers soon started using six lines for their tablature prints.  Here's Claudin de Sermisy's chanson, Tant que vivray arranged from four voices for one voice and lute from Attaingnant's Tres breve et familiere introduction. Compare Attaingnant's 'one stop' block method of printing with Petrucci's much more beautiful two or three pass method from the previous post. (He has also left off a nice illuminated capital T at the beginning of the type you see at the beginning of A Shepheard in a shade below.)

We can see that, nominally at least, Attaingnant's arranger thinks of his top string as G, since the singer starts on a C which means the first chord has to be an F chord. (The clef in the singing part shows that the bottom line is middle C.)

Look at the last note in the third bar of Tant. Should be a B flat right? Well, maybe not, because scribes and printers in the 16th century and earlier were not always careful about putting in what we would call 'accidental' sharp signs. The music reader, using the 'sol-fa' theory of the day and his ear, would 'just know' whether to sharp a note. This editorialising by the performer on the fly is called 'musica ficta'. Many hours have been lost in modern rehearsals with singers arguing 'No, the editor of this modern edition shold (or should not) have sharped this.' Below is the lute solo version of the same song from the same book. (The tune is a little decorated for the lute player to show off his licks.) 

That B flat in the third bar of the song (sorry, no bar lines in the lute version) is very clearly an E fret, that is the fourth fret on the top string, which is a B natural. In the case of this musica ficta problem of left out sharps, naturals and flats, then, lute tablature is more accurate than the staff notation system of the time and can give clues and examples to singers for what to sharp when. (Spoiler alert: sharp much more often than you'd think, if the lute solo versions of chansons, madrigals, motets and mass movements are to be believed.)

After spending much of the 16th century occupied with deciding whether to be Catholic or Protestant, the English were blessed with Queen Elizabeth the First, who stablized things and, importantly for us, gave a monopoly for music printing to the composers Byrd and Tallis. For some reason, perhaps they misjudged the market with their first choice of repertoire printed, they let the monopoly lie there till it ran out in 1596 so there was a giant pent up demand for lute songs and solos. A man named William Barley printed a book which pirates a French lute method and then has some very mistake prone lute solos (John Dowland describes them as 'false and unperfect') in that year and then the monopoly is renewed, this time with the much more clever Thomas Morley. Morley would take £10 off you, give you a license for you to print some music and take the risk as to whether there was a public for it yourself. 

John Dowland's First Book of Songs or Ayres to the Lute... came out in 1597 and was reprinted several times in the next few years, so about 3 or 4 thousand copies of this book were floating around in a city of maybe 300,000 where only a minority could read words, let alone lute tablature. His Second Book of Songs came out in 1600. Luckily for us, because of the success of the First Book there were some shenanigans with secret copies being printed to be sold down the pub under the table and the publisher sued the printer. Because of the court case we know all kinds of details about how much Morley got for the monopoly license, how much the dedicatee of the book, Lucy, Countess of Bedford (who funded all kinds of darkness and melancholy themed arts at the time), chipped in, how much Mrs. Dowland got for the manucript etc. This is all detailed in Diana Poulton's book on Dowland (see page 245). 

Here's the two pages of A shepheard in a shade from that book. You can see that the foolscap sized page has the optional singing parts set up facing different ways on the page so that the singers can put the book in the middle of the table and all read off the same copy. This book is printed for intimate music making at home.

Here's a closer look at the first couple of lines of that song. Again the lute comes out, nominally, as having a top string at G. The letters of the French tablature are the same (but lower case). The dropped in type blocks are the same method as Attaingnant. There are sort of 'ledger lines' for the recently adopted seventh course of the lute. 

As we saw with Italian tablature, a manuscript can have a lot more information for the player than contemporary printing methods could provide. Here's an example from Margaret Board's Lutebook. She was a lute student of John Dowland in about 1620. There are loads of marks to show you what to hold, what ornaments to use etc. See that manuscripts often use the grid system of rhythm signs that we saw in German tablature too. This is Dowland's most famous piece Lachrimae Pavan which was quoted for a hundred years after its composition when you'd have the word tear, or wanted to represent melancholy.

Dowland recycled the tune into his song Flow my teares which you can download us singing here. 

Around 1600 music publishers started using a new method of engraving the score backwards onto a copper plate and printing from that. With a skilled engraver, then, printed music could now have all of the little commas, swooping curves for phrasing, fingering dots for right hand strums that had previously only been available in manuscript. Here's the air de cour En fin la beauté by Etienne Moulinie from Airs avec tablature de luth premiere livre published by Pierre Ballard in 1624. 

The composer, then, has gained more control over the performer. When I as a lute player occasionally get to play modern music I often find myself resenting all the information the composer has put in with regards to tempo, phrasing etc. 'How dare he tell me how to play it? That's my job!' I wonder if lute players in 1620, picking up Ballard's engraved songbooks felt the same?

No comments: