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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds Welcome to the last week of our course. In the next steps, we will get a glimpse of some kinds of notation that were developed for instrumental music in the 16th century. Of course, instrumental music had been notated before that period. But obviously, the need to write this music in a specifically devised notation only developed during the Renaissance, where we have a huge amount of transmitted sources. Already during the 14th and 15th centuries, most of instrumental music consisted of transcriptions of vocal music. During the Renaissance, this practise still existed. But at the same time, an idiomatic language evolved specifically for lute and keyboard instruments. In order to write music for these instruments, different systems were established called tablatures.

Skip to 1 minute and 9 seconds Today, we classify tablatures with regard to where they were used. Therefore, we speak of Italian, French, German lute or keyboard tablatures, and so on. In this week, you will get acquainted with the most important ones. And you will learn how this translation from vocal to instrumental music works. The musical examples selected for this video presentation come all from manuscripts owned by the library of the University of Basel. The first piece is taken out from a book of tablature for keyboard instruments once owned by the Basel lawyer and humanist Bonifacius Amerbach. He was an amateur musician who played plucked, keyboard, and wind instruments.

Skip to 2 minutes and 3 seconds It is an intabulation of Paul Hofhaimer’s three-part tenor lied, “Nach willen din,” written in the so-called older German keyboard tablature.

Skip to 2 minutes and 16 seconds [CLAVICHORD VERSION OF “NACH WILLEN DIN”]

Skip to 4 minutes and 2 seconds The lute music, as you will learn during this week, is based on a completely different notational system, which derives from the principle that the notational signs show the finger position of the player’s left hand on the fingerboard. Here, you can see an example of German lute tablature. It is an instrumental version of the song, “Es sind doch selig alle,” a four-part setting over a monophonic choral melody by Mathias Greiter. The book of tablature was written by Ludwig Iselin, grand-nephew of Bonifacius Amerbach, and like him, an amateur lutenist.

Skip to 4 minutes and 47 seconds [“ES SIND DOCH SELIG ALLE”]

Skip to 6 minutes and 30 seconds As these instruments, the keyboard and the lute, allow the playing of more than one voice, the players transcribed not only polyphonic music, but added even virtuosic passage work to practise and to show their skills. This leads later also to the notation of pure instrumental music, like dances, fantasias, preludes, and so on.

Early tablature notations of instrumental music

The last week of this course will introduce you to the main notational systems of keyboard and lute music: the so-called tablatures. You will get an overview on how instrumental music of the 16th century was visualised.

As you will notice in this introduction video instrumental notation does work in a quite different way compared to the notation of vocal music we have discussed until in the past weeks. The music examples you will listen to in this video were selected from manuscripts owned by the Basel University Library. The first example is a recording of Corina Marti from the Ensemble La Morra with the three-part tenorlied Nach Willen din in an intabulation of Paul Hofhaimer preserved in the manuscript Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, F IX 22, fol. 82v–83r. The second example is a version for lute of the song Es Sind Doch Selig Alle Die from the manuscript Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, F X 11, fol. 15v performed by Michal Gondko from the Ensemble La Morra.

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This video is from the free online course:

From Ink to Sound: Decoding Musical Manuscripts

University of Basel