Open Heads and Chromatics

[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. For more information on the source see the introductory entry to this blog series.]

One of the eye-catching features of the Wolfenbüttel Tablature is the striking shape of the note heads, which appears in a very similar fashion in the Kassel Collum Lutine. The note heads seem to only consist of two almost parallel lines—one of which will also constitute the stem when applicable—, thus leaving the top and bottom of the head open. Some heads of individual notes have a slightly tilted left line and one (in the centre of the example below) even (accidentally?) has a closed top:

D-Wa cod. VII B Hs Nr. 264 (Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature), fol. Ar—individual notes, not bound in "concordancie".

D-Wa cod. VII B Hs Nr. 264 (Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature), fol. Ar—individual notes, not bound in “concordancie”.

Many sources of the 15th century (especially the chansonniers) seem prefer a simplified form of the originally rhomboid shape of all notes below the value of the breve. This almost triangular shape appears to have been the basis for the font used in the Kassel-Wolfenbüttel system. Both, the triangular and the “open head” form may have developed because they were quick to draw. The latter is also slightly reminiscent of some note shapes in the Schedel [Sche] and Lochamer-Liederbuch—interestingly not in the tablature section, but in the song section—,  both of which have the most concordances with Wolf.

D-Bsb Mus. ms. 40613 (Locham Song Book), p. 89—partly open note heads.

D-Bsb Mus. ms. 40613 (Lochamer-Liederbuch), p. 89—partly open note heads.

D-Mbs 810 (Schedel Song Book), fol. 82r—open note heads.

D-Mbs 810 (Schedels Liederbuch), fol. 82r—open note heads.

In a search for a cause, which might have triggered the simplified shape of the note heads, the “concordancie” (as the Kassel Collum Lutine and the Buxheimer Orgelbuch put it) come into focus: Notes, which are bound in chords or dyads, are joined by a common stem and it might have been considered too time-consuming to lead the stem from tip to tip of a string of rhombuses, which would have resulted in multiple quill strokes. The Kassel-Wolfenbüttel system, however, reduces the number of strokes to an absolute minimum.

D-Kl, 2° Ms. Math. 31, fol. II—("ficta-less") concordancie.

D-Kl, 2° Ms. Math. 31 (Kassel), fol. II—(“ficta-less”) concordancie (reproduction with kind permission of Amadeus Verlag).

D-Wa cod. VII B Hs Nr. 264 (Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature), fol. Br—("ficta-less") concordancie.

WolfT, fol. Br.

At the same time, this pragmatic way of writing concordancie provides an easy method to notate musica ficta by using the space to the right of the stem for a “second note head”, which consists of another, simple stroke of the quill. This feature is not explained in the Kassel Collum Lutine but is completely obvious from the context of the Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature:

D-Wa cod. VII B Hs Nr. 264 (Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature), fol. Ar.

D-Wa cod. VII B Hs Nr. 264 (Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature), fol. Ar—ficta in concordancie (second note heads to the right of the shared stem).

However, the Kassel Collum Lutine explains a symbol designating musica ficta for notes, which are not bound in concordancie, in and it is very similar to the practice in German organ tablatures of the time[1], such as in Bux. It consists of an added downward tail to the note head:

D-Kl, 2° Ms. Math. 31 (Kassel Lautenkragen), fol. II—musica ficta

D-Kl, 2° Ms. Math. 31 (Kassel Collum Lutine), fol. II—musica ficta (reproduction with kind permission of Amadeus).

D-Mbs mus. 3725 (Buxheim Organ Book), , fol. 21r—musica ficta

D-Mbs mus. 3725 (Buxheimer Orgelbuch), fol. 21r—musica ficta.

The Wolfenbüttel Tablature adopts this sign, but amplifies the simple, elongated downward stem by a crossing stroke, such as it is used in the tablatures from Loch.

D-Wa cod. VII B Hs Nr. 264 (Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature), fol. Av—musica ficta.

D-Wa cod. VII B Hs Nr. 264 (Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature), fol. Av—musica ficta.

D-Bsb Mus. ms. 40613 (Locham Song Book), p. 60—musica ficta.

D-Bsb Mus. ms. 40613 (Lochamer-Liederbuch), p. 60—musica ficta.

According to the Kassel Collum Lutine a similar sign is reserved for ornaments: a downward stem, ending in a loop which crosses the stem. This symbol cannot be found in the surviving notation of WolfT but is common to German organ tablatures, such as Bux:
D-Kl, 2° Ms. Math. 31 (Kassel Lautenkragen), fol. II—ornaments.

D-Kl, 2° Ms. Math. 31 (Kassel Collum Lutine), fol. II—ornaments (reproduction with kind permission of Amadeus).

D-Mbs mus. 3725 (Buxheim Organ Book)—ornaments.

D-Mbs mus. 3725 (Buxheimer Orgelbuch)—ornaments.

So, while Kassel and WolfT share symbols and practices of a common system they also differ in detail. In so doing they show the same degree of variety that is found within another coherent corpus of parallel sources—such as the usage of German organ tablature in Loch and Bux—and which nonetheless belong to the same notational system. This diversity of a notational system between different sources is also proof of a living practice and directly indicates that the Kassel-Wolfenbüttel system of lute tablature might have been more common in the 15th century than the scarce sources imply. As has also been shown in this blog entry, the overlaps between Kassel-Wolfenbüttel and Locham-Buxheim are manifold and they give even more substance to the idea of a close relationship between organ and lute intabulation practices.

On a final note: Just as in Bux and Loch necessary musica ficta is not always notated in Wolf. While the slower moving lower voices usually (but not always) feature all the ficta, it is often missing in the upper part, especially in extensive fusa-runs.

Marc Lewon

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[1] Kirnbauer, Martin: “IV. The Earliest German Sources of Lute Tablature: The Kassel “Lautenkragen” (D-Kl, 2° Ms. Math. 31), the “Königstein Songbook” (D-Bsb, Ms. germ. qu. 719) and the Regensburg Drawing (D-Rp, Ms. Th. 98 4°), p. 180, in: Young, Crawford & Kirnbauer, Martin (eds.): Frühe Lautentabulaturen im Faksimile / Early LuteTablatures in Facsimile (= Pratica Musicale, vol. 6), Winterthur (Amadeus) 2003.

6 thoughts on “Open Heads and Chromatics

  1. Pingback: An Assessment of the Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature | mlewon

  2. Your examination of the tablature notational details is very interesting. Is it possible that as this early form of lute notation is better understood, other examples may be iidentified?

    • Dear Richard,

      Since the Kassel Lautenkragen shows a great deal of professionalism in its execution as well as covering a lot of details of the notation and since the Wolfenbüttel Tablature exhibits features of a seasoned expert who apparently was used to apply this notation, Staehelin in his article has already surmised that this system of lute tablature must have been more widespread before the advent of German lute tablature notation. I do agree with your assessment: With the intimate knowledge of these two sources it will surely be a lot easier to identify other similar fragments or even notational scribbles as the Kassel-Wolfenbüttel system – especially since the notation is mensural in esssence and could easily be confused with compositorial drafts or organ tablature. Let’s hope there will be more to find!

      Best, Marc

  3. Pingback: The Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature | mlewon

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