Saturday, 25 February 2017

Luis de Narváez: Diferencias sobre "Guárdame las Vacas"

Woodcut of a vihuela player
Vihuela player

Last week I posted variations by Alonso Mudarra (Romanesca) on the same piece, namely Guardame_las_vacas. The present variations (Diferencias) were written for vihuela* by Narváez in the second quarter of the 16th century. The variations are built on the 8-chord sequence:

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

whilst Romanesca adds an extra 2 bars (| IV | i |) at the end.

This is a popular piece, and there are loads of versions on YouTube. The indefatigable Luthval has loaded a performance on vihuela here.

It looks like being a good exercise for enthusiasts of arpeggios and scales. I transcribed it from a notational transcription of the vihuela original, published by Bernd Goldau here. Where there was an open 6th string (E) in the original, I have substituted low G# in the uke version.

At first sight I thought that this would be a nice easy one, but keeping a smooth line at speed is a  challenge. I have tried to finger the scales so that if there is a change in position there is an open string between positions to give me a chance to jump there. You may well have your own preferred way of moving around the fingerboard.

The piece does involve the full range of the uke (well, up to fret 15 on the 1st string), and can sound a bit plinky on the top notes. One has the option of dropping an octave in some places, but it could then sound disjointed. My main stumbling block is the pair of chords in the second half of bar 35: my best way of dealing with this is: to form a second barré; finger the frets 3-5-4-2; play strings 1, 2, 4; finger off string 1; play strings 1, 2, 3. If you find any difficulties, it's always possible to simplify – I try to make the arrangements as full as possible so that you (or I) can do just that.

Most performances seem to be about 130 – 140 bpm (otherwise the final bars of each section seem too long), but I have set the MIDI version at 120 bpm, which is minimally less scary. Even so, it remains an aspiration.

It's available in these formats: pdf (preview), pdf auto download,  TablEdit and MIDI.

* The vihuela was essentially a guitar strung and fretted like a lute – I hope this description doesn't offend any vihuelistas.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Trad: Watkins Ale

Wood cut: couple expecting Watkins Ale
A delivery of Watkins Ale is expected.
And now a song for low-G ukulele with a strong, bouncy melody line. I noticed this piece (taken from the Weld MS, c 1600) in Diana Poulton's Lute Tutor, and thought it should be easily playable on the ukulele, with fewer than the usual number of compromises in transcription. To put the arrangement in context, I have included the bawdy song on which it was based; all the words (taken from here) are at the end of the file. Looking at the image above and reading the first verse will give you the general thrust of the piece, and a good guess at the metaphorical meaning of 'Watkins ale'.

    The structure of the song is a a b b c c, and of the arrangement a a' b b' c c', where the primes indicate more elaborate variations. As a beginner, I found comparing a with a', etc. to be a useful introduction to the construction of divisions (decorative short runs) in the late 16th century.

    The melody of the lute version is not identical to the song (it's rather less interesting), so I've done a bit of tweaking, particularly to the 1st and 3rd bars of sections b and b' of the arrangement. The basic harmonies are quite simple, and there are a few trivial chord substitutions.

   This piece was used by Poulton as an exercise in ornaments (mordents, appogiaturas, shakes, slides, etc), although no-one is certain exactly what the symbols in the original MS meant. Rather than prescribe any kind of treatment I have used the mordent symbol (a short zig-zag) to indicate the position of an ornament (to be applied to the top note), and leave it to your skill, dexterity and judgment to add the twiddly bits as you wish. After all, we're only in this for the fun.

   All in all, this is an easy piece (which I at least find reassuring), but as with everything I post it's just a starting point for your own simplifications or elaborations.

   As usual available to download in these formats: pdf (preview), pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI. Before you print the pdf file, you might like to know that on pp 1–2 is the song, pp 3–4 the arrangement, p 5 the words (they just about fit); p 6 is a phantom blank page.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Alonso Mudarra: Fantasia facil

Image of title page of Mudarra in Tres libros de musica en cifras para vihuela, Libro I, Folio VII. Sevilla, 1546
The title page of Mudarra's Tres libros, including a jolly little graffito
From Wikipedia
If you want to know why I chose this particular fantasia, just look at the title. Some of Mudarra's fantasias I've watched on YouTube are really quite challenging. It was published in Tres libros de musica en cifras para vihuela, Libro I, Folio VII. Sevilla, 1546.

I derived this version from a transcription for guitar by Thomas Könings available here. As far as possible I have followed TK's formatting – so much easier than working out note lengths, ligatures and stem directions for oneself. There have been the usual compromises in going from 6 to 4 strings, but it still sounds OK, I think.

This being a fantasia, there is no rigid structure such as in a song or dance, and therefore no repeated chordal pattern. I have therefore abstained from inserting modern chord names into the score, as they don’t really help in understanding how the music works. Also, this being polyphonic music, the chords made by the overlapping lines often merge into eachother. Consider bars 2 and 3: there is a chord change from Dm to A(major), where the note of D carries over from the second half of bar 2 to the first half of bar 3, giving us a chord of 'A add 4' (ugh!), resolving to A in the second half of the bar. Again, there is a lovely dissonance in bars 52 and 53, where an insistent F natural is sounded against a chord of Amajor, which gives us something like A+, but doesn’t sound like it.  I don’t find that knowing the chord names in such a context helps me – they just clutter up the score. Something else I've learned.

Available to download in the following formats: pdf (preview), pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Alonso Mudarra: Pavana de Alexandre

Another (shorter) piece from Mudarra, arranged for low-G ukulele, derived from an arrangement for guitar by an anonymous setter here.  About half of the piece can be played in second position with whole or partial barrés. It is just about possible to sustain the longer notes whilst playing the runs, and I have indicated the fingerings that I find most comfortable – you may prefer your own.

image: 2 dancers dancing the pavane

The pavane was a slow, stately, processional dance; this means one can take ones time playing it.

Here are the links to versions in these formats: pdf (preview), pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI.

Have fun!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Alonso Mudarra: Romanesca, o guárdarme las vacas

Image of Alonso Mudarra, from

Alonso Mudarra

Alonso Mudarra (c 1510 – 1580) was apparently the first man to set down guitar music on paper. The Spanish are justifiably proud of him – he has an extensive web presence, should you want to learn more.

This version is made for the low-4th ukulele from a transcription for lute published by Wayne Cripps here.

Available in the following formats: pdf (preview), pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI – just click the links.

About the piece

The title translates as Look after the cows for me.

There are 5 variations. Most of the lute work is on the upper 4 strings, which made for easy transcription, but bars 35 to 39 involved runs on strings 4, 5 & 6, so I have had to take greater liberties to maintain the lines. The most efficient fingerings are not always the most obvious, but I found that including them the score made it cluttered and difficult to read, so I leave the choice to the player.

Some years ago, Michael Parmenter made a transcription for low-G uke of Mudarra’s original version for Renaissance guitar, available here. It is in the same key as this one (though in 6/2 time) so one version might well be played after the other.

There is a fine uke version played by the fretted instrument performer Jocko MacNelly here.

The format

Romanesca, also known as "Guárdame las Vacas", is a form of song that was very popular in the Spanish Renaissance on which many composers made different versions and series of "differences" (variations).’ [Quoted from this blog] There is more information and an image of the composer here.

According to Wikipedia: ‘Romanesca was a melodic-harmonic formula popular from the mid 16th to early 17th centuries’, following this 8-bar sequence:  III–VII–i–V–III–VII–i-V–i'. The present version is, however a 10-bar sequence:
III – VII – i – V – V – III – VII – I-V – i – IV – i,
with sometimes ♭VI substituted for i in bar 3, III for V in bar 4, and I for i in the final bar of the piece.

The words

Guárdame las vacas,
carillejo, y besarte he;
si no, bésame tú a mí
que yo te las guardaré.

Keep my cows for me,
darling boy, and I will kiss you:
or else, you may kiss me
and I will keep the cows for you.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Le Roy: Fantasie, des Grues

This fantasy is the first in Adrian le Roy's volume of Renaissance guitar music: Quart livre de tablature, 1553. Transcribing it for ukulele appealed to me for two reasons. First, I managed to play much of it (admittedly badly) directly off the facsimile, though I do have trouble with the B♭ chord in bar 16 [see footnote]. Second, I checked the definition of 'grues' in a modern French dictionary: it currently means either 'cranes' or 'ladies of the night'. Either way, it gives one an image to ponder whilst playing the music.
Facsimile: First 5 lines of the tablature by Le Roy: Fantasie, des Grues
Facsimile: First 5 lines of the tablature by Le Roy: Fantasie, des Grues

    My music dictionary tells me that, in the 16th century, 'fantasia' applied to compositions of very contrapuntal nature: the combination of two or more parts or voices to form a harmonic whole. It evolved into the fugue. The form was freer than a dance or song, and for purists an instrumental fantasia had to be extemporised and not written down.

   The present piece consists of overlapping lines, punctuated or accompanied by chords. As usual, my problem has been to determine which note falls into which category, because the tablature shows only when to pluck the note, but not how long it is to be. The convention I have used is to have the stems of bass and harmonising notes pointing down, the stems of the top line pointing up, and where other lines overlap to direct the stems in the least confusing direction. It's easier to see the structure in the notation than in the tabs. Apologies if I have transgressed any norms of music setting, but I'm learning this as I go along.

   At first sight this looks undemanding, but I found maintaining the line(s) and keeping the long notes ringing a bit of a challenge. Part of the trouble is that with a percussive instrument like the uke, the notes don't last all that long. The Renaissance guitar was double strung, and I wonder if it had more sustain than the uke. If you can, try changing the MIDI instrument to 'recorder' or 'string ensemble' to hear the lines more clearly.

The arrangement is available to download in pdf (preview), pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI formats. Have fun!

Footnote added later. I was having trouble fingering the notes around the Bflat chord (I have converging middle and ring fingers) so I have simplified bars 14 – 18 (see below). You'd hardly hear the difference. The brilliant Luteval has loaded here on YouTube his performance of this piece (with variations) on Renaissance guitar, in which he plays this section with misleading ease whilst holding a 3rd barré, so it is possible! Many thanks to 'Ukatee" for the link.

music Les Grues bars 14 - 18