Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsStarting in the 14th century, different kinds of notations for keyboard instruments were developed in different countries. The most common keyboard tablature systems were implemented in Germany and Spain during the 16th century. The term tablature is applied to a system of music notation which is used to render polyphonic, that is vocal music, for performance on instrument. The process during which a player transcribes a polyphonic piece for performance on his or her polyphonic instrument is known as intabulation. Also, an already transcribed piece is called intabulation. Generally speaking, any type of preexisting polyphonic music could be intabulated for a polyphonic instrument. We can say that this kind of notation is deeply connected to the concepts of reworking, of adaption, and of reinvention.

Skip to 1 minute and 12 seconds[HARPSICHORD PLAYS]

Skip to 1 minute and 34 secondsWhat you are hearing is an instrumental version of the French three-part chanson Ami souffrez, probably composed by Pierre Moulu. It is played from an intabulation in so-called Older German keyboard tablature, which was written in the first decades of the 16th century. The manuscript is kept at the Basel University library. [HARPSICHORD PLAYS]

Skip to 2 minutes and 30 secondsThe notation for keyboard instruments always required a system that permits to have an overview of all the voices, as we are used to also today in modern staff notation. Early keyboard notation is characterised by the combination of pitch notation and alphabetic notation. As we can easily recognise here, also the Old German keyboard intabulation makes use of both symbolical and operational notational signs. In the upper voice, we can see mensural notes signs, that are, in this case, pitches with exact note values. Downward stems indicate chromatic alteration. This alteration may be sharping or flatting, depending on the note in question.

Skip to 3 minutes and 26 secondsWhen stemmed notes are followed by a series of notes without stem, as here, the note value is to be applied also for the unstemmed notes.

Skip to 3 minutes and 40 secondsThe lower voices are notated with the letters of the alphabetic notation for the pitches. Isolated stems above the letters indicate the rhythmical value.

Skip to 3 minutes and 55 secondsDuring the 16th century, it was common to intabulate polyphonic music not only for keyboard instruments, but also for plucked stringed instruments, like the lute. In the next video, we will introduce you to this kind of instrumental notation.

German keyboard tablature

During the 16th century Germany and Spain implemented the most common keyboard tablature systems. Those tablature systems were used by musicians to render a polyphonic vocal piece into an instrumental version, a process that is called intabulation.

In this video Corinna Marti from the Ensemble La Morra plays an instrumental version of the French three-part chanson Ami Souffrez, probably composed by Pierre Moulu. The intabulation is preserved in the manuscript Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, F IX 22, fol. 78r-78v.

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This video is from the free online course:

From Ink to Sound: Decoding Musical Manuscripts

University of Basel