[The Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature is arguably the earliest extant source for lute music in Western Europe and, even though it survives merely as a fragment, the only known specimen of the tablature system described in the Kassel Collum Lutine. In his article “Norddeutsche Fragmente mit Lautenmusik um 1460 in Wolfenbüttel” from 2011 Martin Staehelin presented this tablature and concluded that it was intended for the lute. The fragment, which Staehelin dated to c1460, survived as a pastedown on a host codex from St. Cyriacus in Brunswick and is now at the Staatsarchiv Wolfenbüttel under the shelfmark cod. VII B Hs Nr. 264. For more information on the source see the introductory entry to this blog series.]
A note from Johannes Schedel—brother to the famous Hartmann Schedel, whose personal song book survives to this day and who later in his life authored a widely-distributed and comprehensive “Chronicle of the World”—informs us that he had learned to play the song “Mein traut geselle” on the harp on the 18th or 19th of November 1463. This fact nicely places an arrangement (for an instrument other than the organ) in exactly the same period that Staehelin dates the Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature, which contains a version of that very song on fol. Av. Unfortunately, only the beginning of the lute version survives here. This fragment, however, still holds important information concerning intabulation techniques and the realisation of song form, because it comprises not only the entire prima pars but also includes the bridge to the secunda pars.
The diplomatic transcription below provides a general view of the extant parts of “Myn trud gheselle” and points to a problem in the tablature notation: There seems to be no sign designated to represent the punctus additionis. The Kassel Collum Lutine has no mention of this feature and, therefore, is of no help here either. It would have been only natural to use the dot from mensural notation, but maybe that could have been confused with the “double note-head”, which is reserved for indicating musica ficta within chords. One could have also employed rests to designate a dotted rhythm, as is occasionally done in the Buxheimer Orgelbuch, but the Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature features no rests at all, even though the Kassel Collum Lutine clearly describes rests for this kind of tablature notation. It could be assumed that much like a minor color (only without any colouration whatsoever) a dotted rhythm had to be applied to the occasional combination of a note with its next lower value according to musical context. This situation occurs only with the combination of semibreve and minim (all other dotted rhythms in the music are expressed by a clever distribution of the rhythms of the individual voices):
The text to “Mein traut geselle” was written by the Monk of Salzburg (fl. 14th century) who had set it monophonically to a different melody. The younger polyphonic arrangement at hand, however, is musically independent from the version by the Monk and is elsewhere transmitted only (anonymously) in the Lochamer-Liederbuch (Loch 40; D-Bsb Mus. ms. 40613, pp. 38–39), and the Buxheimer Orgelbuch (Bux 21; D-Mbs Cim. 352b, fol. 9v) in almost identical three-voice settings, though it is also cited several times in other works. The Wolfenbüttel version of this piece is based on the same cantus-tenor couple and only occasionally includes additional notes or chords, which are idiomatic for lute technique and help to thicken the texture:
The following synopsis demonstrates how closely the Wolfenbüttel setting follows the original cantus and tenor up to the point where it breaks off:
The most curious observation vis-à-vis this synoptic transcription might be that the song version in Loch explicitly calls for a repetition of the prima pars (a fact which is substantiated by the poetic form of the song text, although it is not underlaid in the source) while the Wolfenbüttel arrangement clearly continues directly into the B-part, even ignoring the musical metre. This is remarkable insofar as the system of tablature notation does have a sign to denote a repetition as the intabulator seems to be aware of and to observe musical form in the case of “Cum lacrimis” and “Gruß senen Ich im hertzen traghe” (see blog entries WolfT 1: “Cum lacrimis” and WolfT 3: “Gruß senen Ich im hertzen traghe”).
Like “Cum lacrimis” the Wolfenbüttel setting can easily be transferred to a specific fingering, which works perfectly on the five-course lute, all chords falling on neighbouring strings, avoiding “splits”:
A new problem, however, occurs when one attempts to reconstruct the missing secunda pars, using the Loch and Bux versions as a basis: As it turns out the several places in this second half of the composition ask for a note below “Gamut”, which by definition (“Gamut” stands for the lowest open string in this notation) does not exist on the instrument. Admittedly, most of these occurrences merely consist of ornamental notes, which can be omitted or realised differently. One of them, though, concerns a cadence on the note below Gamut and therefore cannot be avoided. One solution could be a scordatura for the lowest string in this piece. Another solution could be a sort of “workaround”—an approach that can be encountered in the practically minded Wolfenbüttel Tablature whenever things get tight on a technical level. A similar situation was gracefully handled in bar 12 of “Gruß senen Ich im hertzen traghe” (see next blog entry for an analysis of this place), which gives us some sense of the problem-solving potential of the intabulator. The same pragmatism can be seen in Bux: when the bass note of a penultimate chord would end up below the range of the instrument it is always transposed up an octave, creating the contrapuntally wrong interval of a fourth to the tenor, but the resulting chordal progression must have been sufficiently recognisable to allow for this lapse in voice leading. Likewise, the Wolfenbüttel solution might have been to substitute a chord that satisfies the hearing expectation but at the same time avoids the impossible note. I have applied this approach in my own reconstruction of the piece. It would have been most interesting to see how the original arranger had dealt with that situation.
[2014-10-25] PS: The première recording of this tablature (along with the other 4 arrangements from the source) has just been published as part of the CD “Kingdom of Heaven – Heinrich Laufenberg” with Ensemble Dragma (Ramée, 2014). All arrangements from the Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature are recorded soloistically on the plectrum lute by Marc Lewon. Missing parts were reconstructed using parallel sources of the model-chansons and arranging them in the style of the surviving parts of the tablature. “Myn trud gheselle” can be found on track 02. Check out this blog entry to find out more about the CD.
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 Staehelin, Martin: “Norddeutsche Fragmente mit Lautenmusik um 1460 in Wolfenbüttel”, in “Kleinüberlieferung mehrstimmiger Musik vor 1550 in deutschem Sprachgebiet”, Series IX, “Neue Quellen des Spätmittelalters aus Deutschland und der Schweiz” (= Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Neue Folge, Band 15), Berlin 2012, pp. 67-88 (text and edition) and pp. 141-144 (facsimile).
 A comprehensive list of all concordances can be found in Fallows, David: A Catalogue of Polyphonic Songs, 1415-1480, New York (Oxford University Press) 1999, pp. 467-8.
 For a discussion of the implications of the „fourth-cadence“ in Bux, see Lewon, Marc: Das Lochamer-Liederbuch in neuer Übertragung und mit ausführlichem Kommentar, vol. 2, Brensbach/Deutschland (Verlag der Spielleute) 2008, vol. 2, p. 5.