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Some questions about playing from Robert de Visée’s Tablature.

The introduction to his guitar books is a little hard as I don’t speak French. Am I right when I think «tremblement» is trill and «martellement» a mordent? Does «miolement» mean vibrato?

A short vertical line under a letter or a group of letters seems to mean that you shall strike the note or chord with the thumb. (Google translate) How important is it to do this? It does create a different tone colour compared to using the strumming technique described in J. Tyler’s «A guide to playing the baroque guitar»

In the Passacaille I have attached, there is a chord that is marked with a vertical line the first place it is written, but the same chord appears several other places — should I use the thumb stroke for all of them ( I have marked this places with red)

One place there is a similar sign under two letters with a string between them. How do I play this? (Marked with green)

Does anybody know if there is an English translation of de Visée’s introduction?

Passacaille.pdf

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You're right about the embelishement translations.

The small vertical line under a letter is just a basic notation for striking the note with your thumb, but if it's under a chord de Visée tells you to strike the whole chord with your thumb (lit. 'strike them from the thumb'). Feel free to do the same or something else...

The green highlight in your example I'd just pluck thumb-middle finger or index, as well as the preceding two-note chords, I don't think they are meant to be struck with only the thumb.

Lykke til!

Thank you Peter!

Some thoughts on strumming with Visée, the examples can be found in (the facsimiles of) Visée’s guitar books.

 

Visée’s remark (1686, example on p. 4): ‘Cette marque dessous les lettres c’est pour les toucher du pouce’ is somewhat ambiguous. Usually when strumming is involved there is a note placed in the tablature staff, and not above it. Therefore I suppose the vertical line just applies for the lowest notes of the example and not for the others.

On strumming with the thumb and the other fingers he remarks: (1686, p. 3) ‘Je repete en peu de mots ce que J’ay deja dit’ (I’ll repeat in a few words what I’ve said before). Most likely this refers to the preface of his 1682 book.

There we can read (1682, p. 5) ‘when a chord is marked like this [with a curved dash, see example] you have to roll down the fingers of your right hand, and finish off with the thumb, to soften [the effect]. Have them [the fingers] play one by one, for as long as the metre allows. If there is a black note (quarter note) or an eight note (croche = French for eight note), which doesn’t allow you to take much time, and this same mark is below the chord, you should strum it only with the thumb.' 

This seems to imply that we should strum with the finger(s) and not with the thumb, if there is no such mark included. Then Visée continues:

'If it concerns an upward strum, and if there is a white note or a dotted black note [example] you should play it with the first and second finger, in the same way as with strumming down with one [finger] after another. And when it is a quarter note or an eight note, briskly strum it with the forefinger.'

Lex

Some thoughts on strumming with Visée, the examples can be found in (the facsimiles of) Visée’s guitar books.

 

Visée’s remark (1686, example on p. 4): ‘Cette marque dessous les lettres c’est pour les toucher du pouce’ is somewhat ambiguous. Usually when strumming is involved there is a note placed in the tablature staff, and not above it. Therefore I suppose the vertical line just applies for the lowest notes of the example and not for the others.

On strumming with the thumb and the other fingers he remarks: (1686, p. 3) ‘Je repete en peu de mots ce que J’ay deja dit’ (I’ll repeat in a few words what I’ve said before). Most likely this refers to the preface of his 1682 book.

There we can read (1682, p. 5) ‘when a chord is marked like this [with a curved dash, see example] you have to roll down the fingers of your right hand, and finish off with the thumb, to soften [the effect]. Have them [the fingers] play one by one, for as long as the metre allows. If there is a black note [quarter note] or an eight note [croche = French for eight note], which doesn’t allow you to take much time, and this same mark is below the chord, you should strum it only with the thumb.' 

This seems to imply that we should strum with the finger(s) and not with the thumb, if there is no such mark included. Then Visée continues:

'If it concerns an upward strum, and if there is a white note or a dotted black note [example] you should play it with the first and second finger, in the same way as with strumming down with one [finger] after another. And when it is a quarter note or an eight note, briskly strum it with the forefinger.'

Lex

I don't think your translation is entirely accurate. De Visee is describing two different signs. If the curved line is on the stave under the note value you strum downwards with fingers and thumb. If it is beneath the stave you strum downwards with the thumb only. In practice this seems to mean five part chords are played with fingers and thumb and four and three part chords with the thumb only.

Quand on trouvera un accord marqué de cette maniere (i.e. the curved line is on the stave below the note value) il faut faire couler les doights de la main droitte en descendant, et finir par le poulce, en doucissant, et les touchant l’une apres l’autre, selon que la mesure le permettera;

When you find a chord marked in this manner it is necessary to run the fingers of the right hand downwards and to finish softly with the thumb, and to touch them [the strings] one after the other according to the value of the note;

Si c’est une noire, ou un croche, qui ne permette pas de demeurer beaucoup, et que cette mesure marque soit au dessus de la batterie, (i.e. the curved line is below the stave) il faut battre du poulce seulement;

If it is a crotchet or a quaver which does not allow for much delay and this same mark is below the batterie, it is necessary to strike with the thumb only.

For upstrokes you use two fingers or one depending on the duration of the chord.

Si c’est un coup en haut, et que ce soit une blanche ou une noire pointée il faut relever du premier et du second doight en touchant de mesme qu’en descendant les cordes l’une apres l’autres, et si c’est une noire ou une croche, relever du premier doigt brusquement.

If there is an upward stroke and there is a minim or a dotted crotchet it is necessary to rise upwards with the first and second fingers touching the strings one after the other in the same way as descending, and if it is crotchet or quaver to strike upwards briskly with the first finger.

Punctuation is not one of De Visee's strong points. He had obviously never read "Eats, shoots, and leaves".

Hope this message hasn't got garbled in the process of copying and pasting from my complete translation.

Robert de Visée on the Art of Strumming.

 

Even though the content of the two translations (see discussion above) of Visée’s 1682 preface is actually very similar, the text can lead to widely different interpretations.

 

The curved line is used whenever the thumb is involved in a downstroke. Either with m-i-p, at half notes or dotted quarter notes, or just with p, at quarter notes or eight notes. Visée uses one single mark, the curved line, which can be placed either on the stave or beneath it.

In the text there is nothing to suggest that this mark could be used in different ways, depending on whether it is placed on the stave or beneath it.

The first tablature example from the preface of Visée’s 1682 book (p. 5) appears again in 1686 (p. 3), but here it is newly engraved. In his 1686 book the curved line is not on the stave but beneath it (or just hitting the lowest line), as you can see here:

https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b9010055j/f5.image (1682)

https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b90100455/f4.image (1686)

 

Luckily, there are numerous examples in his music, to show how Visée used this mark. See (1682) p. 10, line 3, measure 3 https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b9010055j/f10.image.

Here the mark is placed on the tablature stave, and not beneath it. However, since it concerns a quarter note, it should still be played with the thumb only.

On the other hand, the curved line sometimes appears beneath the stave, at half notes:

(1682) p. 48, end https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b9010055j/f48.image, or (1686) p. 35, line 2, last measure https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b90100455/f36.image.

 

There is no reason to suppose that five-part chords were commonly played with fingers and thumb, and four- and three-part chords with the thumb only. Often, the thumb is used for five-part chords too, and in that case the mark can be either on or beneath the stave. See for example the Gavotte p. 14 m. 8 (1682): https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b9010055j/f14.image

 

Visée has not explained what should be done with downstrokes without a curved line. It is quite likely that the default mode (especially with quarter notes and eight notes) was striking with just one finger, which probably often would have been the index. However, we should consider the possibility that Visée was not fully consistent in his notation, and that, even if it is not indicated in the score, he occasionally used the thumb instead. Likewise, it is possible that, even if there is no curved line underneath, strummed chords of long duration (half notes and dotted crotchets) were occasionally played with two fingers plus the thumb.

 

In the preface to his 1682 book, Visée remarks: ‘It seemed necessary to give you these guidelines [petites regles], to make the strumming [la batterie] more beautiful [plus delicat], so that those who play my pieces will not face the same inconveniences I had, when playing the works of others.’

It seems that Visée’s guidelines are not generally well understood, and often they are even simply neglected. However, these instructions probably give important information about Visée’s own performance. In our time, for example, very often the thumb is used for downstrokes in places where they are not marked by a curved line in the tablature. Probably this is done because it is much easier to produce a good sound with the thumb than with the outside of the nail of the fingers.

Only a minority of the chords in Visée’s music are indicated to be strummed with the thumb, and for him there may have been good reasons to mainly use the thumb stroke, for its softening effect or to obtain variation in tone colour.

...I should make one correction:

The example of a curved line at a batterie with the mark placed on the stave and not beneath it  (1682 p. 10, line 3, measure 3), actually was at a dotted quarter note.

There are better examples that show thumb strokes (indeed at quarter notes), indicated by a curved line ON the stave. See the Sarabande also on p. 10  (1682). 

Lex

I think you are mistaken in saying that “there is nothing to suggest that this mark could be used in different ways, depending on whether it is placed on the stave or beneath it” De Visée has said in the preface that they do indicate something different depending on whether they are on or below the stave.

“The first tablature example from the preface of Visée’s 1682 book (p. 5) appears again in 1686 (p. 3), but here it is newly engraved. In his 1686 book the curved line is not on the stave but beneath it (or just hitting the lowest line).”

This is probably due to carelessness on the part of the engraver. They are meant to be different.

Unless my eyes deceive me….

(1682) p. 10, line 3, measure 3. The curved line is placed on the stave below a 5-part chord with the duration of a dotted crotchet or quarter note which should be played with the thumb and fingers. The 5-part chord which follows is a crotchet but he hasn’t put a mark in.

(1682) p. 48, end. The last chord is a dotted half note but the curved line is beneath the stave!

(1686) p. 35, line 2, last measure. The first 5-part chord is a half note. But the curved line is beneath the stave! There is nothing under the two quarter notes that follow.

(1682) the Gavotte p. 14 m. 8 in measure 8 indicates that the chord should be played with thumb and fingers although is is an undotted quarter note.

Most of the time he hasn’t put in any sign at all. The net result of this is that – surprise! surprise! - he is not consistent in the way that he uses his notation. Nobody ever was or is! Nor is the music printed 100% accurately. Anyone who is used to playing from these things must be aware of that. What he has said in the preface is a useful guideline but shouldn’t be taken literally in every set of circumstances. You shouldn’t try to read into these instructions it more than they can really tell us. It is interesting that he did play other people’s music.

I don't think we can say that the difference is due to carelessness on the part of the engraver. Nor that it implies that they are meant to be different. It could even be that for his 1686 book he corrected the example, to avoid that people would read things into it about a supposed meaning of the placement of the sign. 

you translate:

'When you find a chord marked in this manner it is necessary to run the fingers of the right hand downwards and to finish softly with the thumb, and to touch them [the strings] one after the other according to the value of the note.'

and:

'If it is a crotchet or a quaver which does not allow for much delay and this same mark is below the batterie, it is necessary to strike with the thumb only.'

They are both descriptions of how to perform batteries, not just the second one. The sign is always underneath the (note value representing the) batterie, no matter if it is on or beneath the stave. 

Visée instructions are very clear: chords with a curved line should be played with two fingers and thumb. Unless it concerns shorter note values (quarter notes or eight notes). In that case it should be thumb only. 

We should not conclude that he is not consistent in his notation because he has not put any sign at most batteries. It just implies that in those cases the thumb is not involved.

As I said, it is possible that occasionally he did different from what he wrote in his tablatures. Nevertheless, his guidelines provide a good and complete starting point for performing the batteries. We should at least take them into consideration.  

I am sorry to press the point, but I am afraid you are mistaken. You seem to have misunderstood both the French and what I have said about it.
If you have the edition of De Visée’s books published by Editions Transatlantiques then read the section on p. 53-54 which I believe was written by Rafia Andia. He has made the same point that I have made – that the curved sign is used in two different ways. On the stave indicates that long note values should be played with fingers and thumb; underneath the stave indicates that short notes are played with the thumb alone. Andia has also punctuated the French in the same way as I have.
Also referring to the example in the 1686 preface he comments “Malheuresement la réalisation graphique n’en est pas aussi précise” – Unfortunately the tablature example is not as precise. If you look carefully at the reproduction you can see that in the first example the curve is just on the lowest line of the stave and in the second it is just below the line. The engraver has not made a clear distinction between the two.

Another point about this example

(1686) p. 35, line 2, last measure where the first 5-part chord is a half note but the curved line
is beneath the stave. It may have misplaced and should be under the first crotchet that follows. It would make sense to play the minim with fingers and thumb and the crotchet with thumb only.

Of course we should take De Visee's guidelines into consideration but it is important to interpret them correctly in the first place..

Never blindly follow the opinions of others, even if they are French.... 

To the example (1686) p. 35, line 2, last measure:

There are more half notes with a curved line beneath the stave. See (1686) p. 43, line 1, measure 4 and line 3, measure 2. Or (1682) p. 48, final chord. Would you like to argue that these are all misprints? 

You translated, probably correctly:

'If it is a crotchet or a quaver which does not allow for much delay and this same mark is below the batterie, it is necessary to strike with the thumb only.'

There are two requirements that should be met:

a) the duration (quarter note or eight note)

b) the mark, which should be below the batterie (which you take to mean 'below the stave')

Visée implies that quarter notes, and probably even more eight notes, do not allow for [enough] time to play the batterie with two fingers and the thumb. 

So, what to do with a chord of the duration of a quarter note, with a sign on the stave (like for example (1682) p. 9. line 1, measure 6 and line 2, measure 7, or (1682) p. 10, line 5, measure 4)?

In (1682) p 13 line 2, measure 5 it's even with an eight note...

Are you saying that all these should be played with two fingers and the thumb? Or should we play them with the thumb only (which is what I am arguing)?

Your argument is based on the assumption of carelessness on the side of the engraver (we don't know if Visée was involved in it), together with an unconvincing interpretation of the words 'the same mark is below the batterie' (as a matter of course they all are).

I think that you're seeing problems that actually don't exist. 

Well – I think you are overlooking some quite serious problems really. For the most part he does not put in the signs at all. When they are used in the music they are used inconsistently so it is difficult to reach a definite conclusion.

 

There are numerous 5-part chords with the value of a undotted crotchet/quarter note.  Are you going to play all of these with only the thumb on the basis of what he has said in the preface?

 

I think that the French implies that the sign will be in a different position depending the note value but it is possible that its position in the tablature is just a matter of practical convenience. The signs actually serve no useful purpose. He could just have said “Chords on half notes and dotted quarter notes are played with finger and thumb; chords on smaller note values with the thumb only. Full stop.

 

As a matter of interest in the Sarabande on p. 46 of the 1682 book he has put the sign consistently under the shorter note values.

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