Early Guitars and Vihuela

A network for historic guitars and vihuelas

Since I got so much great information with my last post, I figured I'd try again with something I'm working on. In James Tyler's book 

The Early Guitar: A History and Handbook (Oxford Early Music Series)

he mentions Alfabeto collections of Italian popular songs, some of which do not include the melodies but only the Alfabeto chord changes. I scoured his appendices ordering everything for "guitar and voice" that I can get on microfilm here in the United States, but have so far found nothing. I'm wondering if anyone on here might have some experience with this, as he is pretty vague and doesn't cite specific resources for this. Does anyone have a facsimile or copy of a microfilm they could lend me? Or, if not, at least know which publications I should be trying to track down and order/buy microfilms for? 

Thanks in advance for any help! 

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Hi John,

I dont have that book, but I do have Tyler & Sparks' The guitar and its music from the renaissance to the classical era (Oxford Early Music Series) from 2002, which I think is supposed to be that book's successor. All the sources in there are mentioned with library in question. Have you got access to that edition?


Hi Jelma

I just got that book from the library, which is useful so thank you. Unfortunately it is essentially the same bibliography I have already searched and so far I have not found a single publication available. Most of these are in microfilm that libraries will not lend. Does anyone here have a copy of any of these publications (scanned) they are willing to share as an electronic file?

Hi John

Oh, I see what you mean. I think it would be best to make a shortlist of the sources you need the most (title, author, year, etc), and post your list here and on the vihuela-mailing list? I assume you are on that mailinglist, if not, see http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/~wbc/lute-admin/index.html. That should yield at least some of the things you need. And why not write to the libraries that hold the original items? I found for instance the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and the British Library very professional (though neither fast nor cheap). J.

Thank you for the advice Jelma... I just returned from Canada getting my first baroque guitar, but have returned now. The libraries will cost too much for microfilms, because I'm not exactly sure what I'm looking for. I think I need to see some of the music first to further cut down the list. I have two things that just arrived on interlibrary loan, so I will see where that leads me, as well as see about putting up some kind of shortlist soon. Thanks!

The Lute Society of America has several dozen guitar prints with alfabeto, some with voice in mensural notation.  You need to be a member to borrow, but you get lots of good things with a membership. Many of these were acqujired when Peter Danner was librarian (see his cited bibliography). Here's the LSA library catalogue:




Thank you! This is a fantastic idea and I will look into it. I just got my first baroque guitar (I'm a bowed strings player professionally) so I'm not terribly clued into the outer world. I did't realize that the lute society also has a lending library like the viola da gamba society. This is quite a valuable resource and probably worth the membership fee alone!

It is not entirely clear what you are looking for but you can download some of them from the IMSLP web page and elsewhere.   Do you want collections which give the lyrics only with alfabeto or books with staff notation and alfabeto.   Marini's "Scherzi e canzonette" of 1622 has been published in facsimile by SPES in 1980. 

Hi Monica:

Yes, you are right. I am not being clear with exactly what I'm looking for, because I have not seen terribly clear descriptions of the original sources anywhere. I have not seen much on IMSLP as I looked for each item I was searching for. 

I am not a guitarist by trade, but a professional bowed instrument player. I just got my first baroque guitar and am learning to pluck through and provide harmonies for vaudevilles and popular song in 17th c France–what my dissertation is going to be on. I've come across some lyrics for Italian songs sung in French theaters, and I'm trying to track them down. They might be from operas, and i"m pursuing that front, but I have a feeling they are the Italian equivalent to the French vaudevilles, and that is why they did not bother to publish the music for them in France. The reason I was looking into alfabetto collections is because I'm trying to track down some of these songs. So, I'm looking for both collections of lyrics with alphabeto as well as books with staff notation and alfabeto. I imagine the former will be more likely to have songs of the popular variety, but as I have not gotten my hands on much so far, I  don't have a clear answer. I'm pretty sure I just got that facsimile of Marini's Scherzi e canzonette on interlibrary loan, so should have a better idea in the next few days, hopefully before I leave the country for a month of traveling without my guitar!

There are two reference works which you might find useful to check for sources of individual song titles.   There is Cory Gavito's Dissertation - "The alfabeto song in print" which has an index to songs in prints and Francois Lesure & Claudio Sartori "Bibliografia della musica italian vocale profana dal 1500-1700". (1977) which also indexes the contents of songbooks.  The main printed collections of lyrics with alfabeto with no staff are those of Remigio Romano and there is also one by Pietro Millioni.  The contents of both are indexed by Gavito.  

Hi Monica:

Thank you. I have not come across any of those reference works but I'm sure they are easy enough to get my hands on here. These sound like exactly what I'm looking for an will save me a lot of time (and money) going through all the prints. Hopefully I can zero in on what I need to look at using these tools.


Also.. if anyone is interested in Gavito's dissertation it is available free online:


I thought it would be available on line but it was too late last night to check!   Good luck with it anyway.


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