Relatives of the Lute
The Renaissance guitar had only 4 courses; the first was usually single and the other three double. Although no historical four-course instruments have survived, it is clear that their dimensions were fairly small. The string length of the instrument pictured is 50 cm. It is based on the engraving on the title pages of the guitar books of Guillaume Morlaye and Simon Gorlier (1551 to 1553, Paris). Click on the photograph to view a larger version.
During the Renaissance, the guitar may well have been used as it frequently is today, to provide a simple strummed accompaniment for a singer or a small musical group. However, there were also several significant music collections published during the sixteenth century containing contrapuntal compositions for guitar approaching the complexity, sophistication and breadth of repertory of those appearing in some publications for lute from the same time period. Some important printed sources are listed below.
- Tres Libros de Mvsica en Cifras para vihvela. En el primero ay mvsica facil y dificil en fantasias: y ComPosturas: y Gallardas: y AlGunas fantasias pora guitarra. ... – Alonso Mvdarra, pub. Iuan de Leõ, Sevilla, 1546. (Brown, 154614)
- Premier Livre de Tabvlatvre de Gviterre, contenant plusieurs Chansons, Fantasies, Pauanes, Gaillardes, Almandes, Bransles, tant simples qu’autres – Adrian le Roy, pub. le Roy & Ballard, Paris, 1551. (Brown, 15513)
- Brefve et facile instruction pour apprendre la tablature a bien accorder, conduire et disposer la main sur la guiterne – pub. le Roy & Ballard, Paris, 1551. (Brown, 4)
- Second Livre de Gviterre, contenant plvsievrs Chansons en forme de voix de ville: nouuellement remises in tabulature – Adrian le Roy, pub. le Roy & Ballard, Paris, 1552, 1555 [=1556]. (Brown, 15568)
- Tiers Livre de Tabvlatvre de Gviterre, contenant plusieurs Préludes, Chansons, Basse-danses, Tourdions, Pauanes, Gaillards, Almandes, Bransles, tant doubles que simples – Adrian le Roy, pub. le Roy & Ballard, Paris, 1552. (Brown, 15523)
- Qvart Livre de Tabvlatvre de Gviterre, contenant plusieurs Fantasies, Pseaulmes, & Chansons: auec L’alouette, & la Guerre – Gregoire Brayssing, pub. le Roy & Ballard, Paris, 1553. (Brown, 15533)
- Cinqiesme Livre de Gviterre, contenant plusieurs Chansons a trois & quatre parties, par bons & excelns Musiciens: Reduites en Tabulature – Adrian le Roy, pub. le Roy & Ballard, Paris, 1554. (Brown, 15544)
- Le Premier Livre de Chansons, Gaillardes, Pavannes, Bransles, Almandes, Fantaisies, reduictz en tabulature de Guiterne – Guillaume de Morlaye, pub. R. GranJon & M. Fezandat, Paris, 1552. (Brown, 15525)
- Le Second Livre de Chansons, Gaillardes, Padvanes, Bransles, Almandes, Fantasies, reduictz en tabulature de Guiterne – Guillaume de Morlaye, pub. Michel Fezandat, Paris, 1553. (Brown, 15534)
- Le Troysieme Livre contenant plvsievrs Dvos, et Trios, auec la bataille de Ianequin a trois, nouuellement mis en tabulature de Guiterne – Simon Gorlier, pub. R. GranJon & M. Fezandat, Paris, 1551. (Brown, 15511)
- Qvatriesme Livre contenant plvsievrs Fantiasies, Chansons, Gaillardes, Paduanes, Bransles, reduictes in Tabulature de Guyterne – Guillaume de Morlaye, pub. Michel Fezandat, Paris, 1552. (Brown, 15526)
- Libro de Mvsica para Vihuela, intitulado Orphenica lyra. En [e]l q[ua]l se cõtienen muchas y diuersas obras. – Miguel de Fuenllana, pub. Seville, 1554. (Brown, 15543)
- Selectissma Elegantissimaque, Gallica, Italica et Latina in Guiterna Ludenda Carmina, quibus adduntur & Fantasie, Passomezzi, Saltarelli, Galliardi, Almandes, Branles & simila, ... – pub. Pierre Phalèse, Louvain, & Jean Bellère, Antwerp, 1570. (Brown, 15704)
Three pieces from the Morlaye collections, performed on one of the concerts at the 2008 LSA Lute Festival and Seminar, are available for listening or downloading as MP3 files on the page for that concert program.
The tuning of the Renaissance guitar was not as standardized as lute tuning was at that time. Some examples are given below. Juan Bermudo (1555, León) provided two tuning schemes for an instrument in “A,” with octaves on the lowest courses. Scipione Cerreto (1601, Naples) utilized a re-entrant tuning scheme for an instrument in “B,” with both strings of the fourth course an octave higher than might be expected.
It should be noted that the use of names for instruments was not very consistent during the sixteenth century, and some occurrences of words that are cognates for the modern English word “guitar”, particularly the Italian “chitarra,” may in fact refer to a small four-course instrument with a body in the shape of a lute. The Neapolitan tuning scheme presented above quite probably applies to an instrument of that type.
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- Brown, Howard Mayer, Instrumental Music Printed Before 1600. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA (1965)
- Tyler, James, The Guitar and Its Music – from the Renaissance to the Classical Era. Oxford University Press, London (1992)
- Tyler, James, The Early Guitar: A History and Handbook. Oxford University Press, London (1980)
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Last updated 24 May AD 2015 — DFH