Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Dowland: Mr Dowland's midnight (P 99) [low 3rd]

(thanks to an unknown source for this image)

I have already posted a version of this piece here, but transposed to a higher key to fit more of the music in. It is one of Dowland's easiest pieces, but the transposition made it a little more difficult in execution. I have therefore produced the present version using as far as possible the native lute fingering.

One minor annoyance in making uke versions of lute music is that the note A3 (alias a) on the lute becomes B3 (= b) on the uke, which means that it has to be played on the 4th string, which is then not be available for a lower voice. In this arrangement, I have assumed that the 3rd string is tuned to B3, so you will have to lower it by a semitone to play the piece.

In previous posts I have refrained from asking you to retune your instrument, in case it puts you off playing the pieces; but then I noticed that guitar adaptations of lute music often specify "3rd to F#", so I thought "if guitarists can do it, so can we".

You can find the transcriptions here:
You will probably want to add your own graces or other ornaments on the repeats to add a little variety – there is plenty of space to spare.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Dowland: Mrs Vauxes Gigge, preceded by A Coy Joy (P 57, P 80)

Will Kemp dancing a jig (gigge) from Norwich to London, 1600
(From Wikipedia)

Well, my last four postings were pretty hard to play, so I thought I'd go for a few Dowland pieces that were more accessible. When I played through the lute tabs of the first, Mrs Vauxes Gigge (on an old uke with the 3rd string lowered a semitone to match the intervals on a lute) it all seemed rather familiar. Looking back through my transcripts, I found that it was an elaboration of A Coy Joy, aka A Coy Toy, which I had posted here earlier.

So, what I have done is to combine the two pieces to make it clear how Mr D developed a simple piece by adding new divisions (runs of short notes) and by varying the harmonies. I have made a stab at indicating the main chord names above the tabs, which may be anachronistic but does help analysis of the harmonic structure.

There are two main themes:
a, a 4-bar theme, set in Dm,
b, a 4-bar theme, set mainly in the relative major (F), and
c, a 6-bar theme mostly in F but ending in D.
In A Coy Joy we have sections a1, b1 and c1
In Mrs Vauxes Gigge we have sections a2, a2', b2, b2', c2, c2'.
(The primes indicate variations.)
In the score I have indicated section names above the notation.

Please don't let this analysis put you off. The Joy is pretty easy, and the Gigge not too bad as one knows where it comes from. As usual, one has to work finding the most efficient fingerings, which are not always obvious. I haven't indicated them here as we all have different preferences, and I must admit that I find it hard enough to take in the notes without looking at all those extra little numbers in the score.

You can find the transcriptions here:

I hope you have fun playing them.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Dowland: Fantasie (P 6)

Facsimile of the first four lines of P 6 in the Matthew Holmes Lute Book in Cambridge University Library.
Not an easy read: all respect to the transcribers own whose work I have drawn.

Well, there seems to be quite a theme developing in recent posts: transcribing fantasies by Dowland that are not amongst the easiest to play. This is the last fantasie that I'll do for a while: in future I'll search Mr D's oeuvre for pieces that are less challenging and more fun (?).

If you are at all familiar with Dowland's work, you will notice a motif that he used in many pieces transcribed here in bars 5/6, 7/8, 14 and 40.

The first 22 bars fitted well onto the ukulele, but in later sections I had to do some jiggery pokery. So, in bar 23 I had to end with a rising scale so that I could then start the 2-octave descending scale in bars 24 and 25 an octave higher than the lute version and fit the full run on the uke. Then, in arranging bars 30 – 35 I had to mess around with the octaves and swap the voices, and I must admit that I'm not too enamoured of the result.

As in the previous fantasie we have a section (pp 37 – 39) of arpeggios (or partial ones), although they do not always lend themselves to being played by just holding down a chord. In bar 44 I am very tempted to leave out the second voice, as the piece concludes with a sort of cadenza all on the top string, before ending on an A-major chord.

Available free in the following formats:
  • pdf (quick preview.)
  • pdf (instant download)
  • TablEdit
  • MIDI (very unsubtle, but don't let this spoil your appreciation of Dowland's composing.)
Good luck!

Monday, 25 September 2017

Dowland: Fantasie (P 5)

The last 4 lines of the beautifully clear calligraphy in the Cosens Lute Book in Cambridge University Library.

Having essayed JD's challenging chromatic fantasies in the previous two posts, with mixed success, I thought I'd have a go at transcribing this diatonic fantasy, which has less surprising harmonies. It is quite short, just 35 bars. The original was set in Dm/D, but as I have maintained the original fingerings as much as possible it is in Em/E in this transcription.

The first theme consists of 2 bars of descending scale, 2 bars ascending and then 2 bars descending again. The rest of the piece includes, according to Poulton, of "fragments of the scale in decorative patterns". In some places (bars 18 – 20) the notes are doubled, which does help us in the execution. In bars 21 – 23 we have arpeggios which can be played (almost) by holding chord shapes. In bars 26 – 28 the rhythm changes to 12/8 time - this is not very obvious in the tabs. Bars 33 & 34 are good fun to play.

Transcribing the piece was not excessively challenging as much of the upper two voices fitted on to the top four strings, although I did have to do some octave jumping to fit in the lower notes when the arrangement seemed thin.

I had made a resolution to make simpler versions of the arrangements, but found that with the fantasies in particular there is not the familiar pattern of:
   (a) a plain statement of each theme and accompaniment, followed by
   (b) a more elaborate development on the theme, often with rapidly-played divisions;
   (c) and sometimes further themes following the same pattern.
In pieces in other formats (dances, songs, etc.) this allows me to transcribe the main statements, sometimes in simplified form and omit all the twiddly bits. The looser structure of the fantasies (or fancies) does not really lend itself to such treatment.

In trying to simplify this piece, I found myself merely deleting the second voice, and then it occurred to me that (with few exceptions) for a simple version one merely has to play only those notes with stems pointing up. Indeed, this is what I do to familiarise myself with a piece, and sometimes as far as I can get with difficult pieces. However, I think that if not played too fast this fantasy should be possible with enough practice and patience.

Available free in the following formats:
  • pdf (quick preview.)
  • pdf (instant download)
  • TablEdit
  • MIDI (very unsubtle, but don't let this spoil your appreciation of Dowland's writing.)

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Dowland: Forlorn hope (P 2)

John Dowland wrote two extraordinary pieces that are unusual in being based on fragments of the chromatic scale. My previous post included a transcription of Farwell (fantasie), in which the notes ascended. The present transcription is of Forlorn hope (fancye), in which the movement of the chromatic scale is downwards.

The first few bars are not too difficult. But, bars 28 – 35 are very challenging (in the lute transcription each bar takes up a whole line), so I have done some simplification by eliminating what appeared to be the least significant notes,  although all the notes shown are Dowland's own and in the right order. I have appended a fuller version after bar 36.

Played on the lute, this piece really lives up to its name. It starts with a wistful melancholy, which progresses to a frantic despair, the bass notes and discordant harmonies going straight to ones guts.

The arrangement for ukulele, try as I may, fails: I publish it here as a curiosity.

I think that the problem is that Forlorn hope depends much more on the resonance of the bass strings than does Farwell, and the harmonies really need the full voicings of the lute version to be appreciated. Also, the discordant wide intervals, so moving on the lute, sound awful when compressed to make them fit on the ukulele.

Well, you can't win them all!

Matchlock Musketeer: Elizabethan infantry, 1588-1603, Stephen Walsh

By the way, in Dowland's period (according to http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/forlorn-hope.html) the phrase "forlorn hope" meant
"... a robust and gung-ho band of soldiers. 
Each troop in the British Army had a hand-picked group of men, chosen for their ferocity and indifference to risk (and occasionally by using that tried and tested military method of "I want three volunteers. You, you and you."). They were the army's 'attack dogs' who risked all in reckless death or glory raids on the enemy."
(Come to think of it, perhaps I was reckless in trying to transcribe this piece.)

So, which interpretation do we go with: the literal or the military?

If you're still curious you can find the piece in the following formats:

  • pdf (quick preview.)
  • pdf (instant download)
  • TablEdit
  • MIDI (the intentional discords sound very harsh, but don't let this spoil your appreciation of Dowland's writing.)

As time goes by, and I get more familiar with the piece, I may well tweak the tabs further.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Dowland: Farwell (fantasie) (P 3)

Image of Matthew Holmes' MS of the lute original of Dowland's Farwell
The last two lines of Matthew Holmes' neatly written manuscript of John Dowland's piece for lute Farwell.
At the bottom is a rare example of Dowland's signature, presumably indicating his approval.
They must have been wonderful players to give a performance from such a compressed and enigmatic tablature.
John Dowland wrote two extraordinary pieces that are unusual in being based on fragments of the chromatic scale. In Farwell (his spelling), set for the lute in G, he chose the 6 notes ascending from A to D. In this ukulele version I have maintained his fingering on the top 4 strings as closely as possible, so the scale goes from B to E on the 1st string. This fragment is used throughout the piece: Diana Poulton (in John Dowland, 1982, Faber & Faber, p 115) counted 14 instances.

Transcription for the ukulele presented more than the usual problems in reducing from 8 courses on the lute (unusually, JD specified fingerings on the 7th and 8th courses) to 4 strings. Fortunately, Sarge Gerbode has published a fair copy online, but there were so many unexpected notes and harmonies that I also referred to facsimilies of the the MS in the Matthew Holmes Lute Book in Cambridge, and there the notes really were. (The oddest note is the D at the end of bar 30, but the task of harmonizing the chromatic figures leads to interesting voicings throughout.)

I transferred all the notes I could into TablEdit, moving the lower notes an octave higher where I could fit them in. Once they were in the right position on the "timeline", I then had to decide on lengths. (I have mentioned elsewhere that lute tabs at this time showed where to put your fingers, and when to pluck, but not when to take your fingers off.) The next decision was to sort out the 4 voices and reduce them in number to something fingerable on the ukulele. Fortunately, I then found a transcription made by the English composer Peter Warlock in the last century, and this helped a lot.

Finally, I listened to Nigel North's performance repeatedly, and then removed as many less important notes as I could, to help distinguish the voices with the most melodic lines that carry the piece. Thus, what we now have is basically a two-voice arrangement, with bass notes added to emphasise the rhythm and enrich the harmonies. It just needed minor adjustments to make the score reasonably playable, but I still find it very challenging.  Poulton does say that the lutenist requires "superb technique" to play this piece, so I wonder if I will ever be able to do it justice.

I have also suggested fingerings where they're not immediately obvious, but it's all a matter of personal preference.

By the way, you may think that a tempo of 36 bpm is very slow at the beginning of the piece, but just wait until you get to the meaty bits!

You can find the piece in the following formats:
pdf (quick preview.)
pdf (instant download, tabs only, 4 pp.)
pdf (tabs and notation; this file is longer, but having the notation makes it easier to get a feel for what the music is doing, 9 pp.)
MIDI (the intentional discords sound very harsh, but don't let this spoil your appreciation of the writing.)

As time goes by, and I get more familiar with the piece, I may well tweak the tabs further.

Have fun!

Friday, 28 July 2017

Ammerbach: Passamezzo Antico

A woodcut illustration from the book in which this organ piece was published.
The organist looks very laid back with his stockinged leg and uncomfortably long sword.

I transcribed this piece for low-G ukulele from an arrangement by Paul-Gustav Feller for organ, from the original in Orgel oder Instrumant Tablatur, Pub. Leipzig 1571. I believe that the original was written in a kind of tablature.

Elias Nikolaus Ammerbach (c 1530–1597), according to the brief article in Wikepedia, was a German organist and arranger who worked in Leipzig.

This arrangement contains:
(a) two simple versions of the passamezzo (4/4 time);
(b) a rather more difficult but fuller passamezzo;
(c) a reprisa, which is mostly simple block chords;
(d) a saltarella (3/4 time)

According to my musical dictionary, a passamezzo ('half-step') was a fairly lively dance in duple time, popular in the late 16th century. The bass line (in Gm) of passamezzo antiqua was: G | F | G | D | G | F | G:D | G , and passamezzo moderna was similar but with F replaced by C. So, the first section in this piece looks more moderna than antiqua – or am I showing my ignorance here?

The saltarello or saltarella was a kind of after dance played following a passamezzo, in triple time, with a jerky, syncopated feel, so perhaps the dancers had to do a bit of jumping (saltere = to jump). Some regard it as a kind of galliard.

The arrangement is available in various formats here:
pdf (quick preview)
pdf (download)
MIDI (rather slow and expressionless)