Dotted Rhythms and all the Rests

[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.]

Even though the organ tablatures of the time customarily feature dotted rhythms on all mensural levels, the Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature does not seem to use them. When having a closer look, however (see the blog entries to the individual intabulations: WolfT 1, WolfT 2, WolfT 3, WolfT 4, WolfT 5), dotted rhythms do occur. On the level of semibreve-minim[1] these are clearly intended even if not marked. In the case of WolfT 4, which is in triple metre, one could argue for perfection rules to be in effect, even though tablatures do not tend to apply these refined rules of mensural notation. In all other cases I presume that the scribe was either working under the tacit assumption of a sort of “minor color” or that the context was sufficient enough to imply a dotted rhythm. The latter would be in line with a quotation from Newsidler in Kirnbauer regarding the difficulty to count a dotted rhythm, in that the added note value “is half as short as the previously mentioned rest / this is difficult to describe or measure / as when one takes a breath / in order to suck in a spoonful of soup”[2]. Newsidler addresses not the professional musician, but the aspiring amateur when he adds this colourful description of a “spielvorgang” to his definition. He calls these added values “suspiria”.The same term appears in the Kassel Collum Lutine next to the associated symbol of a little hook, resembling a semiminim rest. Rests are sometimes used in Bux and Loch instead of the punctus additionis. The example of a practical application of suspiria in “Wilhelmus Legrant” (Loch, pp. 889, Bux, fol. 61v) by Young/Kirnbauer (p. 179-80) points to a function similar to that of a punctus additionis. However, since they only seem to apply to the level of minim-semiminim they appear to be little more than relabled semiminim-rests, in essence.

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

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

D-Bsb Mus. ms. 40613 (Locham Song Book), p. 88—suspiria "in action".

D-Bsb Mus. ms. 40613 (Lochamer-Liederbuch), p. 88—suspiria “in action”.

D-Mbs mus. 3725 (Buxheim Organ Book), fol. 61v—"suspirium" or rest?.

D-Mbs mus. 3725 (Buxheimer Orgelbuch), fol. 61v— “suspirium” or rest?

An abundance of convincing cases of suspiria (and in a lute source, no less), is given in the early 16th-century tablature book of one Stephan Craus (A-Wn 18688—Ebenfurt/Austria):

Stephan Craus-Lute Tablature (A-Wn 18688, fol. 62v (6v)—Ebenfurt/Austria, early 16th century)—"suspiria" in action.

Stephan Craus-Lute Tablature (A-Wn 18688, fol. 62v (6v))—”suspirium” in action (blue circle).

Despite the fact that the tablature system appears to allow for suspiria, the Wolfenbüttel source—at least in its surviving parts—does not make use of them. Instead, the necessity of the sign is circumnavigated by a clever placement of hoqueting counter-rhythms in the individual voices, thus giving the effect of dotted rhythm without having to notate it. As the Kassel Collum Lutine demonstrates the standard rests from mensural notation are also part of the tablature syste but—curiously enough—they do not feature at all in the surviving parts of the Wolfenbüttel Tablature:
D-Kl, 2° Ms. Math. 31 (Kassel Lautenkragen), fol. II—rests.

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

Marc Lewon

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[1] Which according to the Kassel Collum Lutine would be „brevis-semiminim“—for the curious omission of the term “semibreve” and the conversion rates from mensural to tablature notation, see the discussion in Young/Kirnbauer, pp. 182-3.

[2] See 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. 179, in: Young, Crawford & Kirnbauer, Martin (eds.): Frühe Lautentabulaturen im Faksimile / Early LuteTablatures in Facsimile (= Pratica Musicale, vol. 6), Winterthur (Amadeus) 2003.


2 thoughts on “Dotted Rhythms and all the Rests

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

  2. Pingback: The Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature | mlewon

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