Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Dunstaple or Bedyngham: O Rosa Bella

Is the Rosa of the title an actual rose, a rose seen as a symbol of romantic interest,
or the name of a young lady?

On a whim, I thought that I'd have a look at music written earlier in the Renaissance, and the name John Dunstable (or Dunstaple) (c 1390–1453) appeared. He composed mostly liturgical music, not really appropriate for the ukulele, so I chose this song, attributed to him. However, Wikipedia states:

"The popular melody O Rosa Bella, once thought to be by Dunstaple, is now attributed to John Bedyngham (or Bedingham)".

Bedyngham was an approximate contemporary of Dunstaple, and died c. 1460. I can find no images of either composer.

O rosa bella is a plaintive lament, appropriately in a minor key, but as was usual ending on the tonic major, the Picardy third. The first 7 bars seem to be an introduction, followed by the song, which starts in common time and ends in 6/4 time. Some of the words are spread over a lot of notes (melismas), but I have made no attempt to indicate them here.

This arrangement is made from a transcription for 3 voices by Elaine Fine here. In the original – you can find performances in various formats on Youtube – the voices interweave, and the first voice is not always the highest. In the arrangement I have indicated the first voice by upward stems, and the others by downward stems.

I have tried to imagine, possibly anachronistically, that the ukulele is a Renaissance (4-string) guitar, and tried to maintain as much of the original as possible in the idiom of the instrument. The music sounds a little strange to my modern ears, but I am not familiar with the music of the period – which, after all, was my reason for making this arrangement.

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.