Thursday, 8 June 2017

Dowland: Lothe to departe (P31)

Facsimile of Lothe to departe in the Matthew Holmes Lute Book
Can be seen on the Cambridge University Library Website here.
Well, at last a reasonably accessible piece from John Dowland. As usual, Sarge Gerbode has made a fair copy, which I used for this arrangement. It is set in G minor (kind of).

Dowland made at least two arrangements of the air: this is the easy one, with 5 variations of the 8-bar main theme. There is another version (P69) of 112 bars, in which successive variations diverge further and further from the main melody. Transcribing it for uke will be a job for the long winter nights.

I have attached the original air to the end of the score. (The words are, sadly, lost.) It consists of 16 bars in A A' structure. A' varies from A only in the last 2 bars, and this is where I came across the term Picardy Third: the practice of ending a minor or modal piece in the major mode (i.e. with a major third in the final chord). Practically all the Renaissance pieces in a minor key that I have transcribed do this in the final bar, and usually at the end of each section as well. Either that or they omit the third of the chord altogether (as in the 'power chord' of rock musicians).

Dowland's version of Lothe does this, of course, but the original air (also shown) emphasises the change of mode by sharpening the B-flats to B-natural in the final 2 bars of the melody line – which sounds to my ears rather desolate. (It's very reminiscent of the Coventry Carol.) You can replicate this effect in the uke arrangement by changing the mode in the last 2 bars, and ending on a G-major chord voiced with B-natural on the first string.

Available in the following formats:
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Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Anon: The Duke of Milan's Dump

Philip II of Spain, Duke of Milan when Holmes' Lute Book was written
Painting by Titian


I was browsing the facsimile of Matthew Holmes' Lute Book in Cambridge (you can see it here) when I noticed this intriguingly titled piece. Fortunately, the ever industrious Sarge Gerbode had made a transcript of it, which I used to make the arrangement for low-G ukulele.

The normally rather dry and dusty Oxford Companion to Music (10th edition) has this charming definition:

DUMP, DUMPE. An old dance of which nobody now knows anything, except that the word is generally used in a way that suggests a melancholy cast of expression ... There is a Triste Dumpe in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, and it is not particularly doleful – but then it is Irish.
Meanwhile Collins' Dictionary of Music says:
dump, 16th and 17th century musical term, probably indicating an elegy or lament. The original meaning of 'dump' is a fit of melancholy or depression, [hence] 'to be down in the dumps'... All [dumps] are instrumental and most are constructed on a simple ground bass.
Well, hard as I try I cannot think that this piece is particularly melancholy. Dumps were often written in remembrance of a deceased personage, so perhaps whoever wrote this piece wasn't particularly sad about the demise of the duke. The Lute Book was written in England c. 1588–95, and the incumbent Duke of Milan was the Hapsburg Philip II of Spain who reigned 1540 to 1598 and married Mary I of England. Spain was not that popular at the time, and one wonders if there was a message here in the cheeriness of the lament. Or, have I read too much Hilary Mantel and CJ Sansom? (I am always open to correction from the cognoscenti.)

Anyway, it's a simple jaunty little tune, with a lot of ground bass on the open 4th string. On the lute, this is played on the 7th (F diapason) course, so we uke players have to do our best. My main liberties with the original have been:

  • Moving the ground bass to the 3rd string in § D, so it's not a bass any more.
  • Moving the melody up an octave in § D' (which is not in the original) to leave room for the bass. This means that bars 21–25 have to be played with a 2 barr√© on the top 2 strings.

You can download this piece in the following formats:
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Monday, 5 June 2017

Dowland's first galliard

Final bars of Dowland's first galliard from the Matthew Holmes Lute Books
Final bars of Dowland's First Galliard from the Matthew Holmes Lute Books
Facsimile published online here by Cambridge University Library
Well, if this really was Dowland's first galliard, he really hit the ground running. It's full of memorable passages.

The image above shows the end of the piece in Holmes' MS (in this period they seem to have put the title at the end, so we have the six first bars of the next piece too.) The top of the page is really worn, and I take my hat off to Sarge Gerbode for transcribing it. You can read more about the MS by clicking on the link in the caption above.

The 'catch' in §A is the melody line in bar 6 echoed by the bass line in bar 7 (and centuries later echoed in turn by the theme tune to the film Deliverance).  Similarly, in §B there are repeated catchy motifs in bars 23 and 24.

§§C and C' are the easiest bits, especially as I have necessarily simplified the tabs. It consists of repeated motifs in the following basic harmonic sequence (on the uke):

A  | A  | C  | C  | D  | D  | E  | E  | A  | A  |

with a passing 4th note in each chord.

The pattern in §C' reminds me of the folk banjo picking style known as double thumbing – there's nothing new under the sun.

In these final sections I have taken the liberty of shortening the final chord in most of the bars, following Nigel North's performance on the lute. You may prefer to allow these notes to ring out to the end of the bar, or use both versions if you repeat the piece. It's all to play for.

Available to download in the following formats:
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Dowland: Lacrime (from Barley's lute tutor)

William Barley Lute Tutor


I was browsing this old lute tutor by William Barley (published by Early Music Online) when I noticed a version of John Dowland's Lachrimae. Out of curiosity I decided to transcribe it for the ukulele, correcting a few instances of what appeared to my inexpert eye to be typographical errors – in particular a strange harmony in bar 23 (I have appended a literal transcription of the bar at the end of the piece).

The three undecorated sections (A, B, C) are quite spare, whilst sections A', B' and C' consist of similarly spare bars interspersed with 1 or 2 bars of divisions. To be honest, I prefer the transcription I uploaded a few posts back, so I'm including this version for the sake of completeness.

Versions available to download:
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