Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Holborne: Pavane The Countess of Pembroke's Paradise

Following the previous post of Holborne's "Countess of Ormonde's Galliard", here's another of his pieces dedicated to the nobility. I imagine that the Countess of Pembroke in the title was Mary Herbert (neé Sydney) (1561 – 1621) who was active in the world of letters at about the time this piece was written (v approx 1600).

The Countess of Pembroke, painted by Nicholas Hilliard.
From Wikipedia.

This arrangement is made from the digital facsimile of Matthew Holmes Lute Book Dd.9.33 f. 70 at Cambridge University Library. Sarge Gerbode (the Indefatigable) has published a transcription from the Welde Lute Book which is almost identical to this one, but with slightly fewer notes in the lower voice, and with ornaments indicated (which I have shamelessly copied from, using the symbol ⨳). Why these particular notes were chosen for decoration I couldn’t imagine. Perhaps they were used whilst playing the repeats.

This is quite a chirpy little piece, divided into three sections, with the penultimate bar in each using variations of the “riff” that I have associated in this blog with Dowland’s “Solus cum sola”, but which appeared in Le Roy about 50 years earlier. The third section is quite entertainingly syncopated, with the short scale-fragment D-C♯-B-A appearing three times, but not symmetrically.

Available to download free in the following formats:


Saturday, 30 May 2020

Holborne: The Countess of Ormond's Galliard

This is a not-too-difficult pavane written by Anthony Holborne (c 1545 –1602). Very little is known of him apart from a few publications. He was about 20 years older than John Dowland, and highly regarded by him.

There are two versions in the Matthew Holmes Lute Books at Cambridge University Library.
Facsimiles of the originals can be seen here: https://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-DD-00002-00011/148 and …/170

For the second version I was aided by a transcription by Sarge Gerbode.

The two versions are similar, and in parts of my arrangements the variations reflect not differences in the score but different decisions I made in trying to fit the music to the smaller instrument.

The dots under or over some notes in the second version indicate a lesser emphasis, possibly the use of the index finger. The # mark indicates an ornament of some sort.

Available for download in the following formats:

  • pdf
  • TablEdit
  • MIDI (I have made an effort to make this a little more musical than usual)

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Dowland: Fantasie (P7)

A drawing of Puck, Titania and Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream from Act III, Scene II; by Charles Buchel, 1905.
I wasn't sure how to illustrate Dowland's Fantasie, and then I thought of this play: it's rather jolly, like the Fantasie, and almost contemporary (even if the image isn't).

For several years Dowland's Fantasie (P7) seemed to have passed me by. Then, a couple of months ago, an anonymous reader asked if I'd ever transcribed and arranged it. At first glance I thought "no way": it's 75 bars long and covers the full gamut of the lute (including a diapaison on the 7th course): far in excess of what the poor little uke can achieve.

But, today, it's too hot for gardening, so I've had a go at arranging the piece it for the uke from the transcription by Poulton and Lam in The collected lute music of John Dowland, Faber & Faber, pp 31–36. I have followed it as closely as I can, but have had to omit some less important voices, and juggle with the octaves. Bars 42–43 were most challenging to manipulate.

Diana Poulton points out that this is the longest of Dowland’s fantasies, but not the most complex musically, and (to my ears) it's less discursive, melancholy and meditative. She refers to the “decorative melodic patterns” which are quite traditional in structure, often being based on scale fragments, rather like divisions but without the original theme.

On MIDI it doesn’t sound exceptional, but when you hear Nigel North play it on his lute it’s wonderful. It's good fun to play, and not quite so challenging as the chromatic fantasies.

I would not normally divide a fantasie into sections, but this one seems to be constructed largely in 8-bar units or a combination of them. In many cases the arrival of a new section is heralded by the “solus cum sola motif” indicating the arrival of the ultimate or penultimate bar. This occurs in bars 7, 15, 23–24, 35 and 56. There is a brief incursion of 12/8 time at bar 61.

The final bars are militaristic, with a trumpet fanfare, and the whole piece is quite sprightly.

Facsimile: GB-Cu:Cambridge University Library Dd.9.33(c) (1600), ff. 6v–7v.

The piece is available to download for free by clicking the links below:

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Le Roy: Tourdion

‘The tourdion (or tordion) (from the French verb tordre, to twist) is a lively dance, similar in nature to the galliard, and popular from the mid-15th to the late-16th centuries, first in the Burgundian court and then all over the French Kingdom.’ Wikipedia

I'm not really sure that this is a tourdion, but it does look good fun.

It was usually preceded by the much slower basse-dance, such at the "Semie basse-dance" that I blogged a few days ago. I was stimulated to examine the tourdion following a suggestion by correspondent Aaron who sent me this link of a fine performance on tenor performance  by Daniel Estrem:



“Tourdion” is based on two Renaissance grounds (chord sequences).

Passamezzo antico
i       |VII    |i       |V         |
III     |VII    |i,V     |i         ||

III     |VII    |i       |V         |
III     |VII    |i,V     |I         ||

In “Tourdion” these become, in the same format:

i       |VII      |i            |V        |
i       |VII      |III ,VII,i,V |I        |
III     |VII      |III          |V        |
i       |†VII,III |III, V       |I    ?   || 

We do seem, however, to be half a bar short.  The piece as published is only 31 bars long, equivalent to 15 and a half bars in the format in which the grounds are formally laid out above. My guess is that, in the bar marked † above, one bar of Le Roy’s tabs (i.e. half a bar in the format above) is missing; one would expect it to be be VII (the chord of G) throughout, if it followed the Romanesca model. Calmes ignores this defect; EGA1 extends the last note to fill out the final bar, which sounds a bit empty when played. I have taken the liberty of adding a new bar (28) to tidy things up in the last few bars – surely necessary in a dance. If you don’t like bar 28, just ignore it.

Here is my revised last line:

i       |VII      |III, V       |I        ||

The variations regard i (Am) as almost synonymous with its relative major III (C).


I have included all of Le Roy’s fingering indications, along the lines described here. He used the simple but elegant system of inserting dots under a single unaccented note to indicate plucking with a finger (preferably the index), and under 2 or 3 notes to indicate the use of the fingers only (no thumbs). I have spelled these out using the p-i-m-a system.


Guitar arrangements have been published in
Calmes, Guitar Music of the 16th century, page 94. Time 3/8.
Wolzein & Bliven, EGA1, page 89. Time 6/4.
(Just to be different I have set the piece in 3/4 time, which might be incorrect.)

A facsimile can be seen here:

Tiers livre de tabulature de guiterre, contenant plusieurs préludes, chansons, basse-dances, tourdions, pavanes, gaillardes, almandes, bransles, tant doubles que simples le tout composé par Adrian Le Roy, Paris, 1552.
Royal Holloway Digital Repository, permanent url: http://purl.org/rism/AI/L2045

The transcriptions are available to download freely in the following formats:

Hope you enjoy playing it!

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Le Roy: Semi Basse-dance

A stately dance written specifically for the Renaissance guitar (an early ancestor of the ukulele). It is translated from a facsimile of the piece in:
Tiers livre de tabulature de guiterre, contenant plusieurs préludes, chansons, basse-dances, tourdions, pavanes, gaillardes, almandes, bransles, tant doubles que simples le tout composé par Adrian Le Roy, Paris, 1552.
Royal Holloway Digital Repository, permanent url: http://purl.org/rism/AI/L2045

A couple performing the basse danse. [Wikipedia]

It's quite a simple piece, and fun to play, helped by the slow tempo. I have included all of Le Roy’s fingering indications, along the lines described in the article here. He used the simple but elegant system of inserting dots under a single unaccented note to indicate plucking with a finger (preferably the index), and under 2 or 3 notes to indicate the use of the fingers only (no thumbs). I have spelled these out using the p-i-m-a system. Thus in “duet “ sections (e.g. bars 21 – 23), the melody is played with a finger and the bass line with the thumb. This gives a different sound to using the two first fingers. The main decision you have to make about left-hand fingering is whether to play the G chord using the fingers o -1-2-1 or o -1-3-2, depending on context. (o = open string.)

The basse-danse or basse-dance was a slow, gliding dance set in triple time (6/6, 3/2) which evolved into the pavane (2/2 or 4/4). This piece is, however, in 2/4 time. According to Wolzein & Bliven, in EGA1, writing of a similar piece:
“LeRoy wrote his basse dance in duple meter, following the rhythm of the chanson; but this is problematic indeed, considering the fact that the basse dance was danced in triple, not duple time. Since the basse dance was archaic by this time, perhaps Le Roy conceived this piece as a pavan instead.”

I do not know the significance of “demie” (half): perhaps it is a diminutive.

The basse-dance would have been followed by a tourdion, such as the one in the next post in this blog.

A guitar arrangement has been published in Calmes, “Guitar Music of the 16th century”, page 93. The interpretation of voices here largely follows Calmes’.

Available to download for free in the following formats:

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Dowland: Corranto (P 100)

The Coranto (or Courante, or in the original MS Corranto) was an Italian "running dance" first mentioned in print in the mid 1500's. According to Poulton and Lam, this is Dowland's only courante, and it appears in the Lute Book of Margaret Board, who "must have been a player of considerable ability". The date of the MS appears to be 1621 or later, so we are at the Renaissance / Baroque boundary.

The version as it appears in the Margaret Bord Lute Book, from a facsimile at http://www.gerbode.net/facsimiles/GB-Lspencer_private_library_robert_spencer/margaret_board_lute_book/30.png. The MS was written after JD received his doctorate in 1621.
It is barred in simple triple time, probably equivalent to 3/8. The single and double dots under the upper notes represent the first and second RH fingers. The occasional dot to the left of a note (e.g. the first b in bar 3) probably indicates an ornament.

In its homeland in the Renaissance the coranto was apparently a quick dance, but in France in the Baroque period it became very popular and far more stately. Nigel North plays this piece on his lute at a cracking 80 bpm – phew!

The piece is set mostly in 6/8 time, but with characteristic hemiola excursions, most noticeable in bars 10 and 16.

I have followed both Dowland's MS, and Poulton and Lam's interpretation, as closely as I can in this transcription, but there have been compromises, especially in bars 19 and 20 where the lack of lower strings makes voicing difficult.

It looks at first sight very easy, but in the second part the change in rhythm means I have to concentrate really hard. You can find versions set in 3/4 time on the wonderful PDF Minstrel website, which make an interesting comparison with the 6/8 version here.

FINGERED VERSION: the (partial) fingering for index (i) and middle (m) fingers is derived from that on the MS (see image above), which appears to have been used as a teaching aid. I imagine that the fingerings would apply to the uke as well as to the lute.

The interpretation is considered in detail in this blog post. One can regard the strength of the digits as being ranked thumb > middle > index, so “i” indicates the use of a lighter touch than “m”, to give the desired pronounced rhythmic pattern. It is worthwhile noting that the starred notes in the transcription, which Poulton & Lam allocated to a second voice, are shown in the MS as being plucked by "i".

I must admit that I find it non-intuitive to use the first finger on a higher string and the second finger on a lower string when adjacent notes are played.

I have not presumed to provide fingerings for the other notes.

The transcriptions for low-G ukulele are available to download free in the following versions:

Have fun!

Thursday, 17 October 2019

The new index page

Now there's an easy way to find your way around this blog, using the new index page.

Just click on the right-hand tab in the navigation bar above, and you will find alphabetical lists of links to general articles and to composers and their works.

(All I have to do now is to decide whether to index this post. I think that mathematicians would call this the Russell paradox.)

Happy hunting!