[Top][All Lists]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: Lute tablature

From: William R Brohinsky
Subject: Re: Lute tablature
Date: Thu, 22 May 2003 00:58:25 -0400

Michal Seta wrote:
> On Wed, 21 May 2003 14:30:06 -0400
> David wrote:
> > tab only has *one voice*, and that is a
> > *serious* limitation in spite of all the braggadoccio coming from some
> > other lute players
> could we at least settle for *one polyphonic voice*?
> And I'm not a lute player.

Sure. What DRA said is "one voice", not "one polyphonic voice". He's
incorrect. If lutenists played only chords, it would still be possible
to identify homophonic voices as long as voice leading was followed. In
the medieval and renaissance, chord progressions grew from
interval-following, ie, an octave between two voices is approached from
a Major 6th, etc, rather than the more modern approach where the
harmonic structure is of major concern. This intervallic movement is
predicated on one voice, and 'forces' the other (or others) to follow as
voices. In short, just because it's a lute doesn't mean it is less
polyphonic than a keyboard; just because it's homophonic doesn't mean
it's just chords. 

But the lute isn't one-voiced, polyphonically speaking, either. The
dowland lute fantasias are full of multi-voice writing, three and even
four voices, polyphonically treated. It's harder for someone who isn't
familiar with lute tab to read polyphonic voicing from tab (and in fact
is difficult for someone schooled in one kind of lute tab to read
polyphonic voicing from another school's tab, ie english renaissance tab
vs. german baroque tab).

Polyphonic multivoicing didn't stop with the English renaissance,
either. Bach's lute partitas are very polyphonic. Fugues are polyphonic
by their nature, although the individual voices are far less independent
than, say, a josquin motet's voices would be. None the less, Bach wrote
lute tab for lute. He also wrote organ tab for keyboards, and if anyone
thinks it's hard to read lute tab and get the gist of polyphonicism, let
'em have a go at german keyboard tab!

The part that annoys modern musicians is that there is no clear
indication of when a note ends. The tab is specifically a notation of
which string to pluck and stop at what fret at some specific point in
time. Affixed to this is the rule of thumb (and four fingers) that you
hold a note until you can't hold it anylonger. This is another reason
why no lutenist would bother looking at a keyboard version of tab: it's
not for some keyboardist to figure out for us when to hold a note to and
when to drop it. This is a function of both the lutenist's physical
abilities and hand-structure, the continuing exposition of structure of
the music, and the lutenist's artistic interpretation.

Instead, tab shows when to start the notes for 'this event', and until a
new event comes along that either causes an unacceptable clash with the
notes being held (something that can only be properly discerned by
someone who's bothered to learn the rules) or makes it impossible to
continue to hold a note, that note will continue. (And, of course, it
will eventually die out anyway!)

Anyway, tab can portray more than one voice, and lutenists from Dowland
to Mace stress bringing out the individual voices and making them work
together, rather than shackling them at the heel and elbow and making
them shuffle along in mishmosh association...just as the Bachs did in
their notebooks and teaching methods.

> The thing is, as I see it, that performance technique on modern plucked 
> instruments has changed
from what was considered 'correct' technique on a lute (and other period
instruments), hence the confusion in interpretation of the notation
> But then, I'm not a scholar, either.

I'm not a scholar, by the scholar's standards, either. But I have done
plenty of research on the subject, and I have played lute, both solo and
continuo and accompanying tenor vocalists. The most significant thing
I've seen in plucked instrument technique has been the serious
application of tretises on how to pluck the strings, such as John
Dowland's introduction to Robert Dowland's book of Lessons. This
involves keeping the fingers fairly straight, putting the tip of the
littlest finger on the soundboard besides the first string, and rather
than pulling, plucking or striking the strings, setting the sides of the
fingers to the sides of the strings to be played, and sounding them with
a sidewards motion of the fingers. I originally considered this to be an
unlikely description of proper technique, something lost in the
translation, as it were. Instead, it makes a sweet, clear, penetrating
sound that will fill a room far better than the guitaristic fingernail

Who knows what other aspects of performance of that music we've lost,
whether because it wasn't written down at all, or has been interpreted
out of all meaning?

It does seem, though, that we've barely begun, once again, to comprehend
the amount of rules and procedures that were never committed to notation
from this period. Music Ficta is one such area: Ficta was applied, as
well as we can guess, in a manner that would make little sense to modern
musicians because the people who applied it were living in such a
different world. (ie, intervallic evolution, rather than harmonic rhythm
and modulation!)


reply via email to

[Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread]