Early Guitars and Vihuela

A network for historic guitars and vihuelas

Realisation of some eighteenth century Spanish six course guitar tablature

Over two years ago I posted this below on the Romantic Guitar site  - it met with no response!  I've now added to it and copied it here from the early romantic guitar forum.

Now the advice to isolate ourselves as much as possible from viral contamination is general, it gives me time to look again at some of these loose threads - and maybe you too may find time to examine this very early music for the new fangled six course guitar in eighteenth century Spain.

In addition to the questions posed earlier about one particular set of pieces as the end of the MS, there is also the general problem of realising Garcia's (or whoever's) tablature: the problem is that the scribe clearly gives the tablature letters but no flags to indicate durations. A few pieces are fairly obvious but, for me, most are not, since Garcia (or whoever) adopts a particular style of chords with numerous single note runs some of which may be triplets, some very short or long notes -  a matter of personal view. Clearly the scribe knew how the music went and the tablature was simply an aide-memoire but that's little help to us nowadays. I've had a bash at a few but am not satisfied and feel there may be some sort of key which might unlock some of the 'secrets'. For example the 'sguigle' cannot, I think, simply be a slurred notes since he also employs the usual sign - maybe it indicates a triplet of upper mordent?

So my further question: has anyone unravelled any of this pieces (other than my attempt at the last pieces in the unusual tuning)?

Here's the link again

Martyn Hodgson

An early contradanza for six course Spanish guitar in an unusual (unique?) tuning
• Posted by Martyn Hodgson on December 29, 2017 at 15:06 in Early Romantic Guitar

MS 3/209 in the Real Conservatoire Superior de Musica de Madrid (RCSMM) contains works for six course Spanish guitar dating from the later eighteenth century. All the pieces are in six line 'Italian' tablature but, as sometimes found in slightly earlier five course guitar music by Spanish musicians (such as Perez), with no flags and without regular barring. Here is a link to the RCSMM scan   

Only two of the works in the collection are attributed: 'Sonata de Alamire Del Pe. Dn. Miguel' (MS pages 9–13); 'Sonata del ami del Padre Dn. Miguel' (14–18). The assumption has been made that this Dn. Miguel is Miguel Garcia (aka Padre Basilio) - a celebrated guitarist active in the later eighteenth century (a teacher of Aguado and possibly Sor) and also known to Boccherini who modelled his famous quintet Fandango movement after one he heard Garcia play. Whether or not the remaining works in the MS are by Garcia is still open to question.

Relevant to this present note is that towards the end of the MS works (p. 62-63) is a 'Contrad(anz)a. De la Tambora'. This interesting work (presumably based on a contemporary Spanish drum dance) is in a very unusual six course/string guitar tuning and one which, as far as I'm aware, is both unique and, to date, unremarked. In short, upon analysis it's clear that the instrument is tuned in a chord of C major: specifically C G c g c' e'. The lowering of the usual sixth course by a third from E to C is possible because of the adoption of overwound strings on the then new fangled six course Spanish guitar. 

I wondered why such an unusual tuning should be adopted for this particular piece and therefore thought it worth the effort to attempt a realisation. To act as a guide, I tried to find examples of the Spanish eighteenth century Contradanza de la Tambora, but without success. Whether the modern Central/South American Tambora dances still bear much relation to the earlier Spanish form is unclear and so these modern dances cannot be relied upon as much of a model for the earlier Spanish form.

A realisation of the work is attached as an amended version of the original (first two attachments below) and also a transcription in the modern octave transposing G clef (third attachment). For those who don't wish to retune their guitar to the required chordal intervals (I think it's worth it!), there's also a transposed version which employs the usual guitar intervals but with the sixth string tuned down just a tone to D (fourth attachment) – this preserves some nature of the full bodied chords of the C tuned version. Note that in the final sections a cross is placed over certain full chords. Whether these indicate a strum or a 'Tambour' as employed by modern guitarists is not known - but a 'Tambour' is not anachronistic since it is sometimes marked over such chords by other guitarists of this earlier period such as Castro and LaPorta;

I'd be grateful for:
- any other early sources which give a similar C chord tuning for the six course/string guitar;
- any other alternative suggested arrangements of the note values;


Views: 65

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

How funny that you should have raised this again at this point. Having time on my hands I have been going through my files deleting things I don't need any more. The one about this manuscript with your original message is one I decided to keep. Having said that I haven't got any suggestions about the music and I couldn't open the four pdfs. 

As a complete non sequitur have you heard of Christian Gottfried Scheidler. He published some pieces for 6-course guitar but the sixth course is tuned to G a tone below the fifth course rather than E a fourth below. Apparently the 6-course instrument was occasionally strung like this in the transition period. Eds. Chanterelle did publish a facsimile of Scheidler's book.





Good to hear from you. Here are the files again (I hope!). The first two are scans of the MS with my (presumed flags added - questionable and open to amendment). The third is a staff transcription for teh guitar in this odd tuning (in key of C with sixth course to low C); the fourth is my editorial attempt to make a readily playable version only requiring the sixth course to be tuned down a tone.

But I must say, this piece is relatively easy to reconstruct its flags - some of the others are v. tricky which is why I put out my plea!. It's perhaps a worthwhile task since, as mentioned, Padre Basilio was famed at the time and was the inspiration for Boccherini's famous fandango and he also taught Aguado and maybe Sor too.

Yes, I know Scheidler well - I speculated years ago that his guitar tuning (ie the sixth a tone below the fifth course) was directly influenced by the mandora/callichone which was, of course, very popular at the time in German speaking lands and was often tuned in this manner.  However, the real neglected hero of late mandora music is Josef Zincke who lasted into the nineteenth century - his chamber music (in the style of Haydn) is outstanding.

I'll try attaching (WAV.) a sonata for violin, cello and mandora we recorded live a couple of years ago (but it may well be to big). Alas - yes, too big.  But it's on this new(ish) site under Audio files


regards, Martyn

Thanks for this. I was able to open the files and save them for further reference. I don't have a 6-course guitar but your realization looks very convincing. Thanks for the link to Zincke as well. I enjoyed listening to it. The mandora is quite a loud instrument - it can certainly hold its own with the violin and cello.I hope you are surviving in the wilds of Yorkshire. I have a friend lives in rural Suffolk and having some difficulty getting to the shops. I have been able to go out and about - I hope they don't lock us down completely. It is a bizarre situation isn't it.

Yes - the mandora is louder than a 'baroque' lute - partly due to higher string tensions possible (since fewer courses) but also the use of overwound strings from the earliest (partly the reason I've previously suggested which allowed its invention in c. 1670). 

My little Dales hamlet has only 8 houses so pretty self-isolating anyway but am able to pop out for walks onto the moor etc. But I am becoming careful about touching things when I go for a walk or unwrap delivered goods/newspaper etc.  The recent selfish (if perhaps understandable) panic buying recently hasn't, of course, helped but I think in two weeks or so, delivery supply chains will be restored to something approaching normality so one will be able to freely order online. But what do I know?.......



© 2020   Created by Rocky Mjos.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service