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  The Baroque Guitar


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François Campion
Antoine Carré
Francesco Corbetta
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Giovanni Battista Granata
Francisco Guerau
François Le Cocq
Jan Antonín Losy
Rémy Médard
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Hello, and welcome. Here you can find many Baroque Guitar pieces in tablature by various composers, either in facsimile or arranged from facsimile editions into a modern, more readily understood format. All tablatures are (hopefully) 100% faithful to the originals, and can be downloaded as a PDF (you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader).

This site will be updated periodically, and new tablatures added regularly, so please visit again.

Latest Additions: ( May 18, 2007)

Jan Antonín Losy: suite in A minor

 

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The tablatures presented here are intended for the Baroque Guitar, and the instrument of the era differed significantly from the modern classical guitar. It was lighter in construction with a smaller, shallower body, lacked fan strutting, and had a shorter scale length with tied on adjustable frets. The instrument had five courses or pairs of gut strings, instead of the six single strings of todays instrument, and was tuned (from low to high) ADGBE . The  first string could either remain single or be doubled, and together with the second and third courses were normally tuned in unisons, but the fourth and fifth strings (D and A) could be paired with high or low unisons or with octaves: hence the baroque guitar was generally tuned in one of three ways:

 

1) A low D and A string paired with one an octave higher for the second part of the course. This tuning was usual in Italy and Spain.

2) A low/high pair on the fourth course and a doubled high A on the fifth course (making the 4th course the lowest in pitch). Used mainly in France; by de Visée, Campion, etc, and Corbetta recommended it for the pieces in La Guitarre Royalle.

3) Both strings on the 4th and 5th courses tuned in unison an octave higher than normal (making the 3rd course the lowest in pitch). This is the tuning used and recommended by Gaspar Sanz, who most likely adopted it while he was in Rome, where he said it was customary.

Evidence suggests that with courses containing octaves, the higher octave string was placed above the lower one, so that it was struck first. There is also the more contentious issue of a high octave on the third (G) string. Composers of the time never mentioned this in their directions on tuning, but it does sometimes seem necessary in order to maintain the integrity of the melodic line,  particularly in the music of Sanz and Corbetta (see for example the second and thirteenth measures of Allemande Cherie du son Altesse de Duc d'Yorck by Corbetta). Thus, another two tuning possibilities are as shown below:

Many of the works presented here are still playable on a modern guitar. By simply lowering or raising by an octave as required the notes played on the 4th or 5th strings, (and sometimes the 3rd,) satisfactory results can be obtained.

 

About the Tablature.

Tablature in the Baroque period was written in one of two ways. Italian  style tablature, also used in Spain, used numbers to indicate on which fret to place the fingers, but was written upside down to what we are used to today; that is, the bottom line of the tablature represented the first (high E) string. French  tablature, also used in England and Germany, was written right way up, the first string represented by the top line of the tablature, but used letters instead of numbers, a for an open string, b for first fret, c for 2nd, etc. The letter j was not used, so i indicated to the 8th fret and k the 9th. All the tablature here has, for convenience, been standardized into a modern style, "right way up" and using numbers. Note values are given above the tablature, and after a value is given it applies to the following notes until a new value is indicated. Obvious errors with beat values have been corrected, but have been left as is where the composers intention is less discernable.

 

Ornamentation.

Ornamentation featured heavily in Baroque guitar music, with particular ornament symbols placed immediately

Trill: Alternate the given note with the note a tone or semitone above it, commencing on the upper auxiliary note.

Mordent: Alternate the written note with the note a tone or semitone below, returning to the main note, although   Corbetta seems to have preferred starting with the auxiliary note.

Appoggiatura: slur onto the main note from the note a tone or semitone below. Sometimes the symbol is used, and other times the ornament is written out in full.

Vibrato: Used the same as today, although perhaps in a more exaggerated way.

Slurs: Used the same as today, with only the first note of the group being played by the right hand, the rest only with the left.

Arpeggio: or harpegemens. The notes of a chord are sounded out in rapid succession instead of simultaneously.

On Arpeggios, Guerau gave the following advice:

"...Also notice that in those chords which have three figures, you should get used to playing them as an arpeggio, which is done by plucking first with the thumb, then with the index finger, and then with the middle finger, and in such a way that you do not need to stay on the chord longer than its value indicates and so disturb the rhythm."

And by Ludovico de Castillion from the Le Cocq book:

"Harpegé .... is achieved when, touching a chord with three fingers, they are applied successively to the frets or to the strings with such promptness that it is not apparent at any time or within any sensible interval that the measure varies. [....] It is necessary to discover them by trying them out whenever one finds in the pieces chords of three figures. [...] I have seen that he likewise arpeggiated the batteries (strums) which are indicated above the fifth line with a dot. He played one downward stroke and filled out the duration of the note with harpegemens. He did the same thing in other airs where the batteries were upwards. The mark or sign for these harpegemens seems to me to be a dot above the chords of fifth line."

 

Different composers had often quite disparate ideas on how to use and notate ornaments - for example, the composers represented here used four different signs between them to indicate a trill, and the sign used by one to show a trill might be used by another to indicate a different ornament. In modernizing the tablature, the symbols used have been standardized for the sake of simplicity. The following chart shows the ornamentation symbols used here:

 X

= Trill

 

)
 

= Mordent

˘

= Appoggiatura

#

= Vibrato

 

٪

 = Arpeggio

 

 

A complete explanation of the various ornaments and symbols described above can be viewed, printed or downloaded here (PDF).

 

 

Alfabeto.
 

A feature of Italian and Spanish tablature was the use of the Alfabeto (or Abecedario) system of shorthand notation of chords. Originating in Italy, and used there and in Spain, various chords were assigned a letter, the letter indicating that that particular chord was to be strummed when it appeared in the tablature. Sounds simple, but the catch was that the Alfabeto letters had no relation to our modern letter designations for notes and chords: a G major chord was called A, C major chord was called B, D major was C, and so on. Notes were referred to by their solfeggio names (do, re, mi, etc.), not their alphabet names, so this caused less confusion outside of the English-speaking world. The alfabeto has been eliminated from the tablatures here, and the whole chord written in instead.

 

 

Strums.

 

Perhaps the most defining characteristic of Baroque guitar music is the use of strums, or rasgueado. (Batteries in French.) Strums could be performed either with the index finger, the index and middle together, index middle and thumb, or the thumb only, depending on the length of the beat and the accent required. In the tablature here, chords to be strummed are preceded by an arrow indicating an upward or downward strum. Open strings were not notated, only stopped strings, and this approach has been maintained in the modern versions of the tablatures - it is left to the judgment of the individual as to how many open strings to play.

 

Conversely, (particularly in the music of Corbetta,) some chords that are shown as being barred probably were not meant to have every string sounded, as this results in an unsatisfying and unresolved dissonance (you’ll know them when you see them). It seems that in this and similar situations, the intention is to illustrate that the chord is barred, not that every note is necessarily played. So, for strummed barre chords, you might want leave out strings which cause dissonance.

 

Finally, it was common practice, with repeatedly strummed chords, to only show the chord once, and to just use the arrow to indicate that the chord was played again. Here, the repeated chords have been written in. Chords that were repeatedly strummed may also have one of the notes altered, and where this occurs only the new note is shown with the strum symbol, but must be played as part of the preceding chord.

 

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