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I've just refurbished my old 4c renaissance guitar that up until now has been used only for chordal accompaniment.

I'm tackling some of the Morlaye and Le Roy pieces now that the instrument is greatly improved, and have a simple question that may have no simple answer:

Would these solo pieces have been played with lute technique, or is it likely that some chords  might have been strummed, as is done with baroque guitar music from the next century?  Certainly some of the pieces seem to lend themselves to strummed chords, but I don't want the authenticity cops bugging my home . . .


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Heartz's article is very out of date and what he says about the stringing of the 4-course guitar is simply wrong.   Bear in mind that it was written in 1963.   The example which he gives in staff notation on p. 14 is absurd.   There is no way in which it would work in practice.  There would be a compass of 2 octaves + a tone  between the lowest and highest notes which is greater even than that of  the 5-course guitar.   The octave string on the third course should be a minor 3rd above the first course.  This is one of the points James Tyler and co made in their article.   I don't think the cittern was tuned/strung like that either.   It just has octave stringing on the third course.

I do think it is important to realize things written that long ago are not reliable.   The same is true of Sylvia Murphy's article on stringing the 5-course guitar.  People just didn't know as much as we know today and hadn't seen many of the sources which have come to light in recent years.   But everyone still refers to it.   Musicology is a very dynamic discipline.


The 4c. diatonic cittern from Vreedman's book (and actually almost all of the published cittern books from the 16th c.) is for an instrument tuned/strung (nominally, low to high) aa'a'-gg'g'-d'd'-e'e' -- so octaves on both the 3rd and 4th course. The stringing is crucial because -- as Tyler et al. note -- the melody is sometimes carried by the octave strings of the lower courses. The cittern in England is another matter and may have had an octave on only the 3rd course -- or not at all.

For more detailed information on the diatonic cittern a la Vreedman et al., see my article "Who’s Afraid of the Diatonic Cittern?" from the most recent LSA Quarterly, Volume XLVI, No. 3.


 I was thinking of Codice Saldivar no. 2 cittern which is tuned             

b'b'b'  g'g g'   d'd'   e'e'

with a low octave string only on the third course and placed in the middle of the other two.

Does the Vreedman book mention a low octave string on the fourth course?    Why would it need one?  I thought the cittern always had a re-entrant tuning and the point of it was that you play the melody on the outer courses.

I think we may have a difference in notation of octaves (do you start at a or c?). At any rate, there is no "low octave" on the 4th course, and it is indeed re-entrant. This diagram may help:


Sorry.   I wasn't paying attention.  I should have said does the Vreedman book say that there is a high octave string on the fourth course?  Alas I don't seem to have received the LSA Quarterly Vol. XVI no. 3 yet.   When did it come out?

However I am still a bit sceptical.  If the only argument in favour of an octave string on the fourth course is that there are occasionally displaced notes I don't think that proves that it was it was octave strung. In the Saldivar codex (which is Spanish)  only the 3rd course seems to be used in the melody.    Tyler may have said that  but have you seen sources which clearly do require octave stringing and does it work in practice?   It's rather like this idea with the baroque guitar that you need octave stringing on the third course.   But you don't and in practice it can be problematic.


I will double check, but I am 99.99% certain that Vreedman calls for octave strings on the 4th course as well as the 3rd course (though the woodcut of the fb does not show it!). Almost all of the iconography (paintings, woodcuts, drawings) and treatises mention the use of octave strings on the 3rd and 4th courses. This is, though, for a 4th course tuned to a ("French tuning") -- not b as the Saldivar Codex suggests for most of the music. [Note I said "most": some pieces call for both diatonic fretting and the 4th course at a. For detailed info see http://cittern.theaterofmusic.com/manuscript/aguirre.html. One possible reason the octave stringing was not used on the 4th course in b is that the string material (iron) would be too close to its breaking point at that pitch/length.]

From all of my experience with cittern, the nature of stringing/tuning with octaves on both lower courses is an integral part of the instrument--and yes, the pieces often call on the octave stringing of the 3rd and 4th courses for melody manipulation. (This feature will be the subject of one of my future columns.) So, in brief: The sources support it, and it works in practice (often times beautifully). It is my opinion that the music for cittern (and the instrument itself) is often underappreciated and underestimated.

My copy of the LSAQ arrived only last week; it is certain to be arriving to you soon.


Back in those bad old days around 1970, I did notice that the Morlaye illustration seems to have a proportionately longer neck than that of the Phalese/Mersenne print, and suggest that this could be attributed to the smaller compass of an octave-free 3rd course as used by Morlaye.  In retrospect this may be a load of squit, unless Morlaye and Phalese are using their guitars differently, which you others are better qualified to say than myself?  

It would be hard to believe that 3rd course of RG was strung in octave.


If I understand correctly, the 1st single course was strung with the thinnest possible gut string that was available (around 0.42mm or so), and its tension was considerably higher than that of a string of other double-strung courses.  So, if the 3rd course is tuned in octave, the octave string should be tuned one whole step higher than the 1st single course, which I think is not likely.

this is for Bill - but don't seem to be able to reply to him directly.   A facsimile of the Phalese book is published by Tree Editions.

Hi Bill   I think it is perfectly OK to strum the 4-part chords.   The point is that all these guitar books were printed  in the same way as lute books using a font of moveable tablature type.   The printers probably didn't have any way of indicating that the chords should be strummed and may not even have thought it was necessary.   It would have been left to the player to decide what to do.   At the end of the fourth book produced by Guillaume Morlay and Simon Gorlier there are several pieces for the 4-course cittern.   The cittern was played with a plecturm so the chords would have been strummed but there is no indication of this either.   There is some evidence that the lute was strummed too - in a book by Neusidler.   It wasn't until the 5-course guitar came on the scene that it became essential to develop a means of notating complex strum patterns.   Hope that inspires you to do what you find works best.   Monica 

Thanks Monica.  The four part chords, particularly when they repeat with an interesting rhythm, sound best (to my ear) when strummed.  I'll take a relaxed approach to this one - though maybe not so relaxed that I will try to emulate George Formby's 'triple and split' strumming pattern; not yet anyway . . .

Kind regards,


Hello Bill,  I completely agree with Monica, and would suggest that some of the pieces from what was once called the Braye Lute Book don't make sense any other way.  (That's what it was called when I acquired some photocopies at Cheltenham - it is is item C. in Appendix 6 in John Ward's "Sprightly and Cheerful Musick", Lute Soc. Journal XXI.  He gives some information on its name-changes, and most (all?) of the music.)  Some 'gittern' pieces from the Mulliner Book are similar.  I'd doubt very much that it was just a British thing.....  (Tried playing them this morning.  I'd better stick to making!).  Best, Peter.


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