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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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Yes - that's right.   The pieces must be strummed.   Can't remember what it is called now though!  Monica

Thank you all for your words of wisdom!  Much appreciated.  Here is my first feeble attempt to incorporate some strumming into a galliard from Morlaye's first book.  Please forgive my mistakes . . .



Yikes!  I'm becoming quite confused by the exchanges here, which seem to be meandering uncontrollably between guitars and citterns, so much so that some of the posts leave me none the wiser as to which instrument is being discussed.


Yes - me too!   Let's stick to the 4-course guitar.   I only just had time to listen to your recording.  I enjoyed it very much and I think the strumming is perfectly in keeping with the character of the piece.

Thank you, Monica.  Much appreciated.

I don't think the imitative writing in Nicholas Udall's play can tell us much about the technique used in the French guitar books, not least because the careful system of pointing used in all nine of the books from the 1550s seems designed absolutely to exclude a strum, i.e. all chords involving all four courses are to be executed by a combined downstroke with the thumb and upstroke with the fingers. It sees to me that those Parisian prints present a very carefully filtered picture of contemporary guitar music from which strumming has been deliberately removed. Their aim is to show (in the words of one 16c French observer, de la Porte) that the guitar is 'comme un diminutif du luth'. One sees something similar in Mudarra, whose guitar music looks to me like a textbook exercise in 'correct' counterpoint, highly sanitised. The English tablatures for four-course guitar in the Osborn Commonplace Book of c 1560, however, are quite another matter, and I can well believe that the 'thrumpledums' in the play (Ralph Roister Doister) are imitating the kind of galliard one sees there where every sonority involves all four courses.

Please forgive the pomposity of the 'Dr' title; I'm a university teacher and long ago got used to typing my name that way; when I signed up to this site I just rattled it in in the usual way without thinking, and now I don't know how to change it. It's not even accurate any more, since I managed to get promoted since then!

This discussion seems to have re-surfaced after quite a long period of time.   I am not quite sure what Chris means when he refers to the careful system of pointing.  But in the French books a dot is placed under single notes which are to be played with the index finger of the right hand.   Dots are also sometimes placed under 3-part chords and two notes which are to be played together when they are to be raked upwards with the first finger.   There is no indication at all as to how the 4-part chords are to be played.   It is important to bear in mind that these books are all printed from moveable type which was primarily designed for the printing of lute music and the guitar music is therefore printed in the same way.  The font of type may not have included any means of indicating that chords were to be strummed and indeed any suitable notational method of doing this may not have been developed. Quite a lot of the 4-part chords are the same as the 5-part chords found in later 5-course guitar alfabeto sources without the 5th course.   Morlaye's Quatrieseme livre also includes pieces for the 4-course cittern.  These are notated in the same way as the guitar pieces but the cittern was usually played with a plectrum and the 4-part chords would have been strummed.   It is rather unlikely that nobody ever strummed the guitar before it acquired a fifth course at the end of the century. We shouldn't always take things at face value.   Printers are a law unto themselves.


An interesting reply from Monica, but I do not understand what she means when she says "There is no indication at all as to how the 4-part chords are to be played". Isn't the rule for that laid out in the English translation of Le Roy's teaching: "For to plaie fower partes, it is easely to be understande, that the thombe and the three fingers together, serve easely to strike the fower strynges or partes, eche doyng his parte, strikyng upward and dounewarde"? The accompanying musical example shows four-string chords. I have always assumed that Le Roy's teaching for the lute was good for the guitar, but no doubt that could be questioned, and perhaps it should be. The same teaching appears when Le Roy, through his translator, refers to "Three or many letters" with "no pricke or point", which requires gripping in English terminology, ie. down with the thumb and up with three fingers at the same time. The argument (form silence) that there is no sign for strumming because there may have been no means to do it, is one I will need to ponder. Monica is surely right to say it would be daft to maintain that nobody strummed before the end of the century, but I do think we may be missing an important element of style in the French books of the 1550s if we ignore the element of filtration, so to speak, which (I suspect) does not let certain practices through. Players today, needless to say, do what they like; I find strumming certain chords impossible to resist when I play the French music of Le Roy and others.  It works so well on gut.


What I meant was that there is no indication in the printed music as to how 4-part chords should be played.  No dots or stroke marks etc.  Neither the original French version of Leroy's guitar tutor and nor a complete copy of the English translation of it printed by Rowbottom have so far come to light although some pages of music and some tuning instructions from Rowbottom have survived in separate sources.   I don't think you can assume that the guitar was played in the same way as the lute.  The notation may suggest this - but this is for the convenience of the printer.   The actual description of how to play the chords is also a little bit ambiguous - and we don't have the original French.  You can strum with the thumb and fingers together and what does he mean by upward and dounewarde.   There are passages in some of the pieces e.g. La guerre in in Brayssing - Quart livre -  where the chords are to be repeated rapidly.   Playing them in lute style doesn't really work very well.   I expect players in the 16th century did what they liked too - whatever Leroy might have told them.  Different people would have played the music differently.   Nothing changes.   Slightly later one of the Moulinie song book includes a few songs with guitar accompaniment which are notated in the same way as the lute.   But some of these survive in manuscript with the accompaniment notated in French guitar tablature with the note values on the stave and the stems down and up.   Manuscript sources give you some idea as to what real people did.

Do we know of any sixteenth-century players of the gittern who were not first and foremost lutenists, like Adrian Le Roy in France and Van Wilder in England?  Perhaps we do, and I would be interested to hear of them. I cannot see that there is any ambiguity in the description of thumb striking downward and fingers upward (and I am not to troubled overmuch by the fact that we do not have Le Roy's French; the evidence suggests to me that the translations are quite faithful). No doubt players in the 16c did indeed do what they liked; but I am sure we can agree that that consideration (or rather, that supposition) is not relevant to an analysis of what certain specific texts can be taken to say or imply. Let us agree to differ, especially as the question may not be of broad interest to others. 

The  only point I would make is that the description comes from LeRoy's lute tutor not from his missing guitar tutors and these instructions are often garbled in transmission.   I don't think you should assume that guitar technique was always the same.   Moreover - there is evidence that lutenists also strummed.   There are pieces by Neusidler which have the instruction "mit durchstraiten" which feature 5- and 6-part chords combined with repeated single notes.  The assumption is that  the chords are played as a downstroke (bass-treble) with the thumb alone. There is also evidence that the guitar was sometimes played with a plectrum which would mean that the chords were strummed.  But yes - let's agree to differ - that's always best. 

Amateur, but perhaps Robert Laneham would have mentioned it if he also played the lute: 

"sumtyme I foote it with daunsing: noow with my Gittern, and els with my Cittern, then at the Virgynalz."

Quoted by John Ward in 'Sprightly and Cheerful'.  Laneham's complete Letter (90+ pages) can be found via Amazon Google and is available as a free ebook.


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