Monday, 22 January 2018

Sanz: Allemanda la Serenissima

Sanz' engraving of the piece, published here. (It's quite a big download.)

Yet another excursion into the early Baroque.

This Sanz piece gave me a bit of a shock: it looks pretty easy on the page, but when you start to play it, you have to go from pluck to strum very rapidly, and the chord changes are rapid too. I suppose that the only answer is to practice. So, if you feel like an exercise in nimbleness in both hands, why not have a go.

You can see a dashing performance on Baroque guitar here. The player, Xavier Díaz-Latorre, seems to use rasgueado rather than simple brushes across the strings.


** For ukes with a low 4th: the double asterisks have been inserted where it is not clear whether to play the note on
(a) the lower string, as in the tablature, or
(b) assuming that Sanz used a re-entrant tuning on the 4th course, to play it an octave higher, or
(c) if the 4th was tuned in octaves, both.
In the MIDI version I have set the note that I feel to be less appropriate to the volume to the level pp. You may feel differently.
If you have a uke with re-entrant tuning, you get more of a capella effect by using the starred notes on the 4th.
Of course, notes on the 5th course of the Baroque guitar have to be tabbed an octave higher on the uke anyway.

 This style of music, with its combination of strummed block chords and single-note passages, does not really lend itself to identifying individual voices as do, for example, the lute solos of John Dowland. I have, however, indicated bass notes with a descending stem where they may be held for longer than the rest of the chord: this adds to the smoothness of the piece.

You can find the transcriptions here:

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Sanz: Zarabanda Francesa (1_12) in Am

Facsimile of Gaspar Sanz: Zarabanda Francesa, in Instruccion de musica sobre la gvitarra Española, Book 1, Plate 12 (bottom). There are two more pieces of the same name in this book. More details are appended to the score.

A really simple little piece, tuneful and fun to play. You can see a fine performance on Baroque guitar by J-F Delcamp here. He plays at about the same speed as the MIDI version posted below: 80 bpm.

It's a good way to get to grips with alternating plucking and strumming (brushing). As a relative beginner I have experimented with different ways of strumming the chords: using the thumb or a finger tip, or the whole right hand. Fwiw, on my particular uke I find a strum with the edges of the index finger nail sounds well with plucked strings. I added a final bar, and that sounds better with a rasgueado (strumming with the digits from little finger to thumb). I learned a lot from the tutorial by the brilliant Rob MacKillop here – he really gives his Baroque guitar a bashing!

A zarabanda was a stately Spanish dance in triple time, adopted in French as a sarabande. It had been suppressed by Philip II of Spain in the previous century because it was so lascivious. So, the challenge is how to play this piece on the uke with a stately lasciviousness.

You can find the transcriptions here:

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Sanz: Pavanas por la D, con Partidas al Aire Español

 Facsimile of Gaspar Sanz: Pavanas por la D.
'D' refers to the Abecedario symbol for the Am chord on the guitar, and hence Dm on the ukulele.
(The English and French titles on the top line refer to other pieces on the same page.)

This is a charming, melodic little piece, and good fun to play. I have little else to say about it, except that the falling scale fragment in bars 26 to 28 sounds really Spanish to me.

I hope that you enjoy playing it.

You can find the transcriptions here:

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Sanz: Passacalles por la Cruz

Facsimile of Passacalles por la cruz, by Gaspar Sanz (1674)

Although Gaspar Sanz was a priest as well as a musician, the "Cruz" or "" in the title has no religious significance but indicates the name of the chord in the abecedario system (see post here), namely the chord fingered 0–0–0–2. On the ukulele this gives us Am. But, as in Renaissance music, there is a reluctance to end on a minor chord, as the final chord here is A5 – i.e. the third is missing. In fact, the whole score seems to drift between A major and A minor.

This piece is an exercise in different styles. Most sections are of 4 bars. From §§ a to f we have some fairly orthodox divisions, rather like the fantasias of le Roy and Mudarra from the previous century. Then §§ g to j are 'campanelas', starting first with what we now refer to as campanella style (with successive notes played on different strings), and them moving to something more like a peal of bells. I can't ascribe §§ k (which has 10 bars) and l to any particular style.

Finally, §§ m to u are labelled 'cromaticos'. §§ m to q have a falling, chromatic movement, reminiscent of Purcell's Dido's Lament, which was published in the next decade (uke arrangement posted here): all very melancholy. The final sections have a more upward movement, and if not cheerful, at least indicate resignation. Well, that's how it seems to me.

You can hear a performance on the baroque guitar here.

Details of sources etc. are appended to the music files.

You can find the transcriptions here:
  • pdf (quick preview)
  • pdf (auto download)
  • TablEdit
  • MIDI (sorry about the trills, which sound more like tremolos)

Sanz: Chacona

Gaspar Sanz (1640 – 1710). This detail from the dedication page of Instrucción de música may be an image of Sanz
From WIkipedia

A neat little dance tune, and not too difficult to play (or, indeed, to transcribe). The compromises of transcription from Sanz' presumably re-entrant tuning to a low-4th tuning are explained in an earlier post here. I have repeated the original graces as far as possible, but I think that the trills could be better played as mordents: you can hear it played thus on a Baroque guitar here.

A chacona was a quick saucy dance imported to Spain from South America about 100 years before this piece was written, and over the next 2 centuries it evolved through a stately 3/4 dance into an instrumental form (the chaconne). It seems to be indistinguishable from a passacalle or passacaglia, which also originated in Spain and followed a similar evolution.

It consists of nine, 4-bar phrases variations based (except for the last) on the following approximate harmonic sequence, which was not rigidly imposed, and has other passing chords in the piece:

I     | V or vi or ii | vi or IV or ii | V(7) ||

In each variation, the four bars follow a particular pattern following the harmony, rather like a riff in jazz.

You can find the transcriptions here:
  • pdf (quick preview)
  • pdf (auto download)
  • TablEdit
  • MIDI (sorry about the trills, which sound more like tremolos)

Friday, 22 December 2017

Sanz: Abecedario system for naming chord shapes

Facsimile of Sanz' table of Abecedario chord names.

Well, this promises to be my most arcane and rarely viewed post. In the 17th century, guitar chords were indicated by an apparently arbitrary letter, the abecedario or alfatabeto system. It bears no relationship to the chord names that we use nowadays. Gaspar Sanz was one of the composers who adopted this system.

Out of curiosity I made the concordance below for converting abecedario chords to low-g ukulele chords. There might be someone out there in the æther who finds it useful.

By the way, the little runic marks along the bass lines of the Demostraçion in the facsimile seem to refer to direction of strum (rasgueado): the tick under the line means start at the bottom of the chord and strum UP, whilst the upper tick means strum DOWN.

Happy strumming!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Sanz: Passacalle sobre la D

Another jump in time – to the Baroque period, on 8 November 1764, when Gaspar Sanz engraved this piece published in Instruccion de Musica Sobre La Guitarra Española (Zaragoça, 1675). I should say here that "sobre la D" in the title refers not to the key but to the Abacedario system of naming chord shapes, where shape "D" is a 0112 chord (1st string first), which is Am on the guitar and therefore Dm on the uke.

I recently bought myself, on the recommendation of Gilles T, an early Christmas present: Rob MacKillop's excellent 20 Spanish Baroque Pieces (Mel Bay, 2011). I'll write more about the book on the Publications page soon; suffice to say now that I was particularly entranced by this piece in Mr M's book, which is arranged in campanella style. It was fascinating to see how following the tabs (whose appearance bears little similarity to the shape of the music) produced such a charming sound when played on a uke with re-entrant tuning. (So, that's what my little soprano is good for!)

Facsimile of Sanz's original engraving published at:
The score is very clearly etched, by Sanz himself, but "inverted" i.e. with the bass string at the top and so on.
Mordents are indicated by ⏑ under single notes, trills by T, and vibrato by inclined #-symbols.
For my arrangement I relied on the "right-way-up" transcription published here:

Being an inquisitive type, I wanted to see Sanz' original for 5-string Baroque guitar, and fortunately found both a transcription* (with bar 51 missing) and a facsimile of the original, as detailed in the caption above. From this, it was but a small step to making my own transcription of the piece, but for the low-G tuning.

As you will see from the image above, in the tablature convention at that time there was no indication of the actual lengths of notes (just when you pluck them), nor of where the voices lie. So, as I do with lute music, I made my best guess. And, since this piece was set in campanella style, it's probably not sensible to think of separate voices; nevertheless, I've had a go.

Now, Sanz tuned his guitar with the lower 2 courses (4 & 5) an octave higher than you might expect, i.e. from string 1 (e' bb gg d'd' aa, or  E4 B3B3 G3G3 D4D4 A3A3). This helped to provide the campanella effect. There is a article describing Sanz' work and tuning here, and a much fuller analysis of Baroque guitar tuning here.

I have noticed that modern arrangements of Sanz' music for the classical guitar assume modern (± linear) tuning. But, following this rule rigidly on the uke makes a very lumpy, jumpy piece. I have therefore applied the following rules:

  • the note positions on the Baroque guitar 1st – 3rd courses are transferred directly to the uke tabs; 
  • the note positions on the guitar 5th course are raised an octave for the uke transcription;
  • the notes on the 4th course are raised an octave on the uke if this would lead to a smooth scale fragment in the melody;
  • the notes on the 4th are maintained in the lower octave if they make a sensible bass line;
  • anything can be modified to make the piece easier and more enjoyable to play;
  • there is no attempt to reproduce the campanella effect.

In effect, this is a compromise between what Sanz intended and what fits on a uke with a low G string.

I was surprised how different the piece sounds in this arrangement compared with Mr M's campanella form. In fact, it's much more like the Dowland lute music I have been transcribing.

Another point:  there is none of the "Spanish tinge" (to steal a term from Jelly Roll Morton) that is to be found in some of the other pieces in Sanz' books.

It's not a difficult piece, especially of you ignore all the mordents and trills, which I have copied over from the original. I have not shown Sanz' indication of vibrato, which one tends to apply to all possible notes anyway; and vibrato sounds horrible on the MIDI player.

My next learning step is to see how Mr M achieved his campanella magic on the uke.

You can find the transcriptions here:

* I am very grateful to the anonymous transcriber.