The Earliest Source for the Lute: The Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature

The blog series at hand on the Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature has since its publication received wide acclaim, was cited in Victor Coelho’s and Keith Polk’s new groundbreaking work on “Instrumentalists and Renaissance Culture, 1420–1600” (Cambridge University Press, 2016; p. 238), and the Journal of the Lute Society of America in 2015 had asked for this chapter of my dissertation to be pre-published as an article. That article has now been published and on its 70 pages it combines all the different strands of the blog series plus a number of additional observations. It also includes a full colour facsimile of both the Kassel Collum Lutine and the Wolfenbüttel Fragments, thus complimenting my previous publications of a commented playing edition and a complete premiere recording.

Cover Journal (Wolfenbüttel)

Lewon, Marc: „The Earliest Source for the Lute: The Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature“, in: JLSA 46 (2013) (2017), S. 1–70 & Plates 1–6

 

 

 

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A (Re-)Construction of the Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature-Fragments

As announced, the commented playing edition to the Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature (WolfT) was published with the Quarterly of the Lute Society of America in 2016. The article includes a short introduction to the fragments, based on the research that is layed out in the blog series at hand and which is forthcoming as a separate article with the Journal of the Lute Society of America, shortly.

The five surviving pieces are discussed individually and then given in French tablature notation for the five-course lute (i.e. with five staves), which represent the top five courses of a traditional six-course lute. Below the tablature is a polyphonic transcription, assuming a lute in nominal A tuning. Missing parts were reconstructed using parallel transmissions of the model songs and by ornamenting them in the style of the source. These bits are of course subjective to some degree, which is the reason for the parentheses in the title:

Marc Lewon: „A (Re-)Construction of the Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature-Fragments“, in: Quarterly of the Lute Society of America, vol. 51, No. 1 (2016), pp. 12-25.

A (Re-)Construction of the Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature Fragments (Quarterly of the LSA, 51-1)

Cover of the Quarterly of the Lute Society of America (Volume 51, No. 1, Spring 2016).

A Premiere Recording of the Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature

October 2014 saw the release of Ensemble Dragma‘s first CD, a recording with German sacred songs by Heinrich Laufenberg (c1390-1460)—many of them première recordings—as well as instrumental music from his time. The ensemble consists of Agnieszka Budzińska-Bennett (voice, harp), Jane Achtman (vielle) and Marc Lewon (voice, lute, vielle). Guest musicians are Elizabeth Rumsey (vielle) and Hanna Marti (voice). The CD was released with the label Ramée. More information on the CD, including an online booklet that can be browsed was published online with the distributor Outhere Music.

The recording also contains the world première recording of the five partly fragmented arrangements from the “Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature”, performed soloistically on the plectrum lute by Marc Lewon. Reconstructions of the missing parts by imitating the style of the tablature and using parallel transmissions of the songs were made for the three tablatures that remain incomplete in the source. The reconstructions will be published in the Quarterly of the the Lute Society of America, shortly.

"Kingdom of Heaven - Heinrich Laufenberg", Ensemble Dragma (Label Ramée, 2014). This recording contains the premier recording of the 5 pieces from the "Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature".

“Kingdom of Heaven – Heinrich Laufenberg”, Ensemble Dragma (Label Ramée, 2014). This recording contains the premier recording of the 5 pieces from the “Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature”.

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Finding the Fingering

[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.]

In contrast to other known lute tablatures the Wolfenbüttel-Kassel system seems to be the only one that does not provide definite instructions for the left hand fingering. Lute tablatures usually work like coordinate systems, where the strings (or rather: the courses) are represented by a range of parallel, horizontal lines while the intended fretting is indicated on said lines by letters or numbers. German lute tablature admittedly looks very different but employs the same system, in essence, combining both the information for the horizontal (which string) and vertical position (which fret) into one symbol that represents both. These systems do not tell us which finger should be put there, but they convey information on where on the fingerboard the intabulator intended a certain note to be fretted. Continue reading

Clefs and Tuning

[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.]

The Wolfenbüttel Lute Tablature features an array of 5 keys at the beginning of each system of notation (g-c-f-cc-gg):

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

WolfT—clefs

The clef to the lowest line is slightly misleading in that it is a lowercase “g” instead of a capital “G” or better even: a “Γ” (“Gamut”). Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading