Thursday, 30 November 2017

Purcell: Dido's Lament

Another excursion from the Late Renaissance into the early Baroque. I recently transcribed two of Dowland's chromatic lute fantasies for ukulele, but found the format a difficult one, so I thought I'd have a go at a piece with a chromatic element but with a strong melody.  And what better than Dido's lament from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas?

Dido lamenting Aeneas' departure.
Source of image here.

Transcription. As always, there were problems in making this transcriptions: but then, this blog is the record of a learning process. Firstly, the piece is mostly played legato in both melody and accompaniment, and the ukulele is decidedly not a legato instrument. Secondly, the strongest element in the accompaniment is the ground bass, largely consisting of a descending chromatic scale fragment from the tonic to the dominant – in this arrangement from C to G. The uke has a limited range of pitch, and it is not easy to fit in the melody line (representing the soprano's part), the ground bass, and all the notes in between.

What I have done is: (a) transpose the piece from Gm to Cm, (b) score the top and bottom voices, and then (c) add such playable notes that contribute to the harmonies but do not compete with the other voices. Where I couldn't set the bass on the 4th string, I have raised it another octave, where it may be embedded in chords. Therefore, this is not a full representation of the music, but makes a ukulele piece that works reasonably well in its own idiom, I believe. One can think of some of the open chords as contributing to the sense of emptiness and desolation.

Playing does involve some challenges. There is a big stretch in bars 16 and 26 that I can just about manage. At the other end of the fingerboard, one has to play top C, at the 15th fret on string 1. And how to achieve the melismas (a series of notes sung on one syllable)? I have not indicated them in the score to avoid clutter, but you can see from the libretto where they lie; I try to play them smoothly and, where notes are on different strings, allow them to overlap slightly.

Musical Analysis. Dido and Aeneas must be one of the most analysed and dissected pieces of English music, and you can find lots of info online. A useful reference I found late in the day is here. Below is a brief summary of what I have read or discovered for myself.

The piece is a passacaglia with a basis of (unusually) 5 bars, the motif in the ground bass (and associate  harmonies) being repeated throughout the aria. The fancy term for the gradually falling bass line is passus drusiculus. (Incidentally, the passacaglia was originally a strummed interlude between songs or dances, so etymologically the uke may not be such an inappropriate instrument.)

I have divided the score into seven sections, all except the first including the ground bass motif. In pdf format, I have formatted 5 bars per line, to make the pattern more visible.

§A: declamatory recitative, with figured bass.
§B: the first occurrence of the ground bass played on the lowest instrument only ("tasto").
The aria:
     §C1: "When I am laid ...": length 10 bars having 2 repetitions of the bass motif
     §C2: similar, with slight variations of the accompaniment
     §D1: "Remember me ...": format as above
     §D2: similar, with slight variations of the accompaniment
§E: instrumental conclusion

The ground bass, with Purcell's harmonies, is in the table below. The chromatic scale fragment is highlighted in green. This gradual falling imparts a sensation of deep melancholy. The harmonies are transposed from Gm to Cm, but otherwise are those in the original: in the uke transcription they are often less full. For brevity I have expressed the harmonies using modern chord symbols, which rather stretched the system. I have omitted some passing tones. I always feel that the minor 6th chord gives a feeling of impending doom or menace: Gershwin uses it at the beginning of Summertime, with its optimistic title and lyrics, but by the harmonies you can tell that something nasty is going to happen.

Bass      Chords
 C        Cm, Ab, Fm
 B        G7, Dm6, Dº
 Bb       Gm, Gm6
 A        F, F9, Am7b5 (= rootless F9) 
 Ab       Fm
 G        G7
 Eb       Cm
 F        Fm, Dm7, F6, Fm6, Dº, rootless F7 
 G        Cm, G7
 G        G7, G9

In the score  I have indicated the start of the ground bass in the tabs by "**", to make it more obvious. I have included chord names only up to the end of §C, as after that they follow a similar pattern. It is interesting to see that Purcell was content to put major and minor chords built on the same root adjacent to each other.

In bars 20 and 30 there is a fall from Ab to D on "trouble": this is a tritone (an interval of 6 semitones), which generates a kind of musical tension and is used to emphasise the emotional association of the word. In earlier music the tritone was avoided as it was regarded as the Devil's interval. In modern music it gives the dominant 7th chord its unsettled, incomplete feeling. Here, Purcell harmonises the fall with F9 or Am7b5.

A quick glance at the instrumental conclusion (§E) will show a preponderance of falling semitones in the upper line (1st violin) as well as in the bass. More melancholy!

You can find the transcriptions here:

Friday, 17 November 2017

Galliard to lachrimae (P 46)

Facsimile of the first 12 bars of Galliard to lachrima(e)
Facsimile of the first 12 bars of the lute solo Galliard to lachrima[e].
From John Dowland. 1612. A pilgrimes solace. William Barley, London.

Source: IMSLP.

Last April I posted transcriptions of two versions of John Dowland's Lachrimae Pavane here. It was composed in about 1595 and went viral across Europe, with many versions and variations. At some later date Mr D wrote this lively dance Galliard to Lachrimae, which was published in 1612.

It is not an easy piece to play and keep to time, with all the dotted notes and tied notes – and, if you play it at Nigel North's 78 bpm, it's even more challenging. I have tried playing just the melody notes, the ones with the stems pointing up, in order to get to know where the tune lies.

The sainted Diana Poulton described this piece as an "ingenious transmutation" from 4/4 to 3/4 time. In the original pavane there are 3 sections (with variations) of 8 bars, or 32 beats per section. In this galliard the sections are of 10, 11 and 10 bars (30, 33 and 30 beats) per section, presumably to make room for all the notes.

The galliard is set in G minor in the lute version, and in A minor in this transcription. To use modern terminology, Sections A & C end on the chord of A major (the Picardy 3rd), which is typical. In section A you can find both E major (the dominant of Am) and E minor. Section B is set in the relative major (C) but concludes (via the chord of G major) to end on the related E major (the dominant of Am). In Section C the harmonies are much simpler and oscillate between tonic and dominant.

I have inserted modern chord names as an aid to understanding the harmonies, but I am aware that this will not have been the way that Mr D and his contemporaries regarded the music. Indeed, in some places I have had to guess at the most appropriate chord name when there are just 2 notes, but it seems sensible that, for example, the notes B and D before a chord of E will be Bm rather than G(major).

Brave souls can find the transcriptions here:

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Dowland: Mr Knight's Galliard (P 36)

This was not the most promising piece to transcribe for the ukulele – the lute original involves fingering on the low diapaison tuned to D' alias D1 (which is usually used open). So, rather than follow the native fingering I have transposed to the inevitable G to include as much music as possible. It's still a jolly tune, but obviously does not have that belly-vibrating bass line of the lute version.

There are three eight-bar strains, each repeated without variation. The first phrase, in the treble range, is repeated lower – by two octaves in the lute, by one octave in this arrangement – as in the extract below.  Diana Poulton notes that the motif is not original to Mr D, but occurs in earlier pieces by other composers. Versions of the motif occur in bar 3 (raised by a fifth), in Section B (bars 12–14) and more distantly in Section C (bar 19). I wonder if I've missed any.

Mr Knight's Galliard (simplified): the opening phrase and its repeat in the bass line

You can find the transcriptions here:

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Dowland: A piece without title (P 28)

Now, here's a nice easy little jig with attractive harmonies. The authorship is not certain, but Diana Poulton in her biog of John Dowland (see Resources page) reckons that it is very likely that he is the composer. She detects similarities with Tarleton's Resurrection "in character, [and] with its underlying melancholy". Hmm. Have a look at my post of Tarleton here and see if you agree.

Dog dancing a jig 
from the Gutenberg edition of Walter Crane's Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes
Illustrators: John Gilbert, John Tenniel, Harrison Weir, et al.
I just couldn't resist this image!

The jig has 4 strains, each of 4 bars, with the 4th being a variation of the 2nd. No repeats are shown, but one could repeat each strain, with ornamentation the second time round. There's only one slightly tricky bit – bar 12, where I have found the following fingerings most convenient:  1 4 3, 2, 3 3, 3.

You can find the transcriptions here:

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Dowland: John Dowland's Galliard (P 21)

This is a sprightly little galliard with only two strains, and no variations to the repeats. Scale fragments, 7 descending and 3 ascending, are prominent in both voices.

Nigel North plays the repeats with ornaments, and some relatively simple divisions – none of which I have transcribed, except for an approximation of the final bar.

It is a nice easy piece to read off the dots and understand, but not quite so easy to play, as you need to make some quick chord changes to maintain the continuity of the melody and bass lines.

The most difficult part for me is the long stretch from the low G# on string 4 at the end of bar 2 to the high E on string 1: I can just about manage it, but slide my index finger to the A on string 4. A work-around is to play the bass notes an octave higher on string 2. Either way, it helps to leave the little finger on the E ready for the sweet Dm_sus2 (or is it Am6?) chord in bar 3.

An engraving of English explorer Sir Thomas Cavendish (or Candish) (1560–1592), who was known as "the Navigator" because he was the first to deliberately set out to circumnavigate the globe. The engraving contains the words "Thomas Candish, ArmigerAnimum fortuna sequatur [The soul follows chance]".
From Wikipedia.

An alternative name for this piece, in another MS [Add.2764 (2)] in Cambridge University Library, is Capit[ain] Candishe his Galy[ard]. If 'Candishe' is a version of 'Cavendish', this name may apply to Thomas Cavendish (1560 – 1592), an English explorer, sailor and privateer who built his own galleon and, like Sir Francis Drake, harried the Spanish treasure ships. He was knighted by Elizabeth I for his efforts.

As the galliard is scored for a lute with only 6 strings it may have been written during Dowland's early career. This accords with Cavendish's dates – Cavendish was 3 years the elder and died 4 years after Mr D graduated in music from Oxford. [This is all assumption on my part, and I'm no historian, so don't take it on trust. Even so, it's a good opportunity to add an illustration.]

You can find the transcriptions here:

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Dowland: The frog galliard P23 & P23a, and the song 'Now, O now ...'

At last, a piece that's not too difficult to play (if you ignore the graces). The frog galliard was very popular in Dowland's time, and gave rise to versions by other lutenists, and also to J D's song Now, O now I needs must part.

In this post, rather than show the difficult variations in the originals, I have included two versions of each of the two strains (A and B): the first and simpler is from P 23 (ascribed to Anon), while the second is from P 23a (bearing J D's signature) and is very similar but with some bars more syncopated and with many graces (twiddly bits). These graces are indicated in the lute version by '#' whose interpretation is uncertain. Following Poulton's lute tutor I have plumped for mordents, where the grace note is higher than the main note on descending scales, and vice versa. But, it's up to you: I find them pretty difficult, and will need a lot of practice to make them musical, so I tend to leave them out.

Bars 7 and 14 of the first strain are versions of the 'Solus-cum-sola motif' (see previous post). The first 5 bars of the second strain are reminiscent of Greensleeves.

The Duc d'Alençon et d'Anjou, aged 29.
By an unknown painter, via Wikipedia.

There is conjecture that the title refers to the Duc d'Alençon et d'Anjou, Queen Elizabeth's most long-serving suitor, whom she affectionately referred to as 'My Frog'. Whether it's true or not, it does show how long this reference to the French nation has persisted amongst les rosbifs, and gives me the opportunity to include the duc's portrait as a young man (and much Elizabeth's junior).

The air 'Now, O now I needs must part' was published by Mr D in his First booke of songes and, though simple, follows the galliard quite closely. I have appended the words to the pdf transcript, as it helps to bear them in mind whilst playing the galliard.

You can find the transcriptions here:

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Dowland: Solus cum sola (P 10)

Here is a Dowland piece of which I am particularly fond. It repeatedly features a motif, in various forms, which occurs also in quite a few of his lute solo pieces*. Since Solus cum sola is written for a 6-course lute, it is probably quite early in Mr D's canon, so this might be the first airing of the motif:

John Dowland's favourite (?) motif as it first occurs in Solus cum sola

The lute original is a pavane in the usual 3 strains (A, B, C), the first two followed by divisions or variations (A’, B’), the third by a repeat.

§ A’ looks particularly daunting, but due to the slow beat (44 bpm in Nigel North's recording) it should be achievable with practice. I did try to simplify it, but as I lack Mr D's genius it all sounded a bit bland, so here it is in its full glory.

Strain C caused problems in transcription because much of the activity is on the lower lute strings which, in our case, we do not have. So, in § C the base line is raised an octave, and in § C’ I have taken the liberty of reversing the two voices, which does rather change the feeling of the piece.

It's not too difficult to play if you stick to playing the three main themes (A, B, C) at first. Once they are fixed in the mind, the variations are easier to understand (if not to play.) It being a slow piece, many of the chords sound good if arpeggiated.

Woodcut by Sebald Beham
Say no more!

The title, according to Diana Poulton (see Sources page for refs) is a truncation of the Latin Solus cum sola non cogiabuntur orare pater noster; literally: "A lone man with a lone woman won't be thinking of saying prayers". There seems to be some connection, now lost, with the Fleetwood family of Buckinghamshire: the next pavane (Sola sine sola) was dedicated to Mrs Brigide Fleetwood, whose father had 18 (or possibly 26) children by means of two wives. Not much time for praying there, then.

Poulton and Lam think that the piece is based on "The dilly song", which is a variant of "Green grow the rushes-O" (there's a good Wikipedia article), but it all seems a bit of a stretch of the imagination to me. ["Dilly" is an interesting word: it can be a variant of "silly",  or  where I come from (SE Wales) it means a handcart.]

You can read a fuller analysis of the piece here, although some of the links are extinct.

You can find the transcriptions here:
PS Here is another version (from an MS in the Cambridge University Library) of the division to strain A (ignore the bar numbers):

* I have been meaning to make a list of all the pieces in which I can detect the motif