Thursday, 8 March 2018

Colista: Passacaille dite Mariona

Johannes Vermeer: The guitar player (1672)
I couldn't find an image of Colista, or a facsimile of the original,
so here's probably the most famous painting of a baroque guitar

Here is another foray into the transcriptions, expertise and learning of James Tyler in his A guide to playing the Baroque guitar (see Resources page). The mariona of the title was a sort of raunchy, body-popping dance popular in the Spanish theatre; consequently, we are enjoined to play the piece with panache.

The graces, dynamics and accent marks are those recommended by Tyler. In particular, the hemiola rhythms (in effect, altering the beat in short passages from 3/4 to 2/4) are shown partly by accents, and partly by the relative strengths of the down strokes (strong) and the up strokes (weaker). The stokes are usually made with the backs of the finger nails, but a circled T indicates a softer down stroke with the pad of the thumb.

There are twenty 4-bar variations based on the harmonic movement I, V, vi, IV, V, I (C, G, Am, F, G, C). At first I thought that this looked like a fairly easy piece, but played at the speed recommended by Tyler I can assure you that some of the variations certainly aren't.

I must admit that I do find it difficult to enjoy even the easier parts of this piece, but it does come with the recommendation of Tyler; furthermore the composer, Colista, was highly regarded by Corelli, Sanz and Purcell – so who am I to judge? It seems to me like a series of worked examples of all the things that a Baroque guitar could do: well-spaced notes, rapid short notes, strumming, altered rhythms (hemiola), syncopation, and campanellas (which I have tried to reproduce as accurately as possible.)

My problem may be that the variations are only 4 bars long, and each whizzes past before you can get a mental grip on it. I find it helps to repeat each variation before moving on to the next. In the print copy I have made the lines 4 bars long, to make the structure more obvious.

Anyway, see what you think.

You can find the transcriptions here:


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I hope you enjoy these arrangements. I would welcome your views, and comments on possible errors or improvements.