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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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It may not be as bad as it seems.

 

It appears that there are 5 ways to strike a chord:

Downstrokes with a sign ­— ½ notes and dotted ¼ notes = m-i-p

Downstrokes with a sign — ¼ notes and ⅛ notes = p

Downstrokes with no sign — all durations = one finger (presumably i)

Upstrokes — ½ notes and dotted ¼ notes = i-m

Upstrokes with no sign — ¼ notes and ⅛ notes = i 

 

Visée may have added signs in places where he thought a thumb stroke (or m-i-p strokes on longer values) would be beneficial for the performance, probably for reasons of (mild) accentuation, or to obtain a different tone colour. However, I think it is possible that occasionally he did different from what he wrote in his tablatures.

 

We might assume that his notation is not fully comprehensive, and that some elements were purposely left unspecified. Composers do this all the time, for example with regard to bowing on the violin, as they have to rely on the knowledge of musical traditions, on the part of the player.

For us, the challenge would be to try to get an idea of how Visée used thumb strokes, and in which contexts. The Sarabande on p. 46 of the 1682 book is very interesting indeed! Examples like this may help us to make informed interpretive decisions.

 

When studying Visée’s music, I start playing ‘by the book,’ striking all the chords without a sign with the index. Only later I will add thumb strokes, in places where I think they are appropriate. The result can be seen (and heard) in the Visée video which I uploaded on this platform.

I have lost you here. What makes you think that all down-strokes without signs are supposed to be played only with the first finger? 

And what about upstrokes with a sign? Perhaps there aren't any? I haven't checked.

Are there other options? 

I don't think there are upstrokes with a sign. 

To clarify my point, the majority of downstrokes are at ¼ notes and ⅛ notes. Like with upstrokes, this does not allow you to use more than one finger. I was mainly thinking of those. 

With ½ notes and dotted ¼ notes without a sign one could think of using a-m-i or m-i.  However, downstrokes with three or two fingers (m-i) are not described in his preface(s). It raises the question why he has not included a special sign for those, like for the downstrokes which include the thumb.  

Sorry if I am throwing a spanner in the works but De Visée has not said that downstrokes with a sign ­on ½ notes and dotted ¼ notes are to be played = m-i-p. He has said

“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”. He has not specified which fingers you are to include. There doesn’t seem to me to be any reason why you shouldn’t include the third finger  as well.

I do wonder whether in fact the purpose of the sign is to indicate that you should spread the chord instead of try to play all the notes together. That’s why there is a different sign for them. Just a thought.

You say you can only use a single finger for the other chords but, rightly or wrongly, I strum downwards 5-part chords with all of my fingers; ones with fewer notes I use just the first finger; upstrokes all with one finger. The duration of the notes doesn’t seem to me to be a factor. There is not a lot of difference between dotted crotchet and undotted crotchet; even quavers don’t present much of a problem – depending on how fast you play of course. I wouldn’t claim to be a model though.

The courante on p.16 of 1682 is also interesting. On the third stave the curved signs are beneath the 4-part ¼ note chords as they should be. The other interesting feature about it is that he has put straight lines under the chords which are not to be strummed but to be played with fingers and thumb together. There is a lot more to it than meets the eye at first.

Spanners can be useful though.

I was referring to downstrokes without a sign. But yes, if there is a sign ­on ½ notes and dotted ¼ notes we could of course consider to include the third finger as well. However, I should say I have some doubts, as with upstrokes he says that at ½ notes and dotted ¼ notes he uses ‘the first and second finger in the same way as when striking the strings down, one after the other.’

This example (1682, p.16) shows that the thumb stroke is used for chords with dots on the first line. He does that more often, although I don’t think it’s a hard rule. The thumb helps you to bring out the melody.

Monica Hall and Lex Eisenhardt, thank you for an interesting discussion. I have been too busy to read it carefully until now. I have two questions:

1. Lex, you say: “Therefore I suppose the vertical line just applies for the lowest notes of the example and not for the others”.If that's the case it seems a little strange all the places it would be obvious to do that where there is no vertical line. Do you think the same as Lex, Monica?

2. You mentioned your complete translation of de Viseé's introduction, is that translation available in some way?

In reply to your message which seems to be at the bottom of this page, the straight line is a bit ambiguous because he uses it under single notes as well as groups of two or three notes. E.g. at the end of the double to the courante - on p. 31 in the 1682 book - the last stave; it must mean that the lowest note of two is to be played with the thumb and also the single notes at the cadence are played with thumb. He has also indicated when the first or second finger should be used throughout the passage. I would agree with Lex that it probably just applies to the lowest note. He wants to make it clear that you play these with thumb and fingers rather than just fingers. It is an indication of right -hand fingering.
My translation is just something I made for my own use. I suppose I could send it to you in some form if you think it would be helpful.
In reply to your message which seems to be at the bottom of this page, the straight line is a bit ambiguous because he uses it under single notes as well as groups of two or three notes. E.g. at the end of the double to the courante - on p. 31 in the 1682 book - the last stave; it must mean that the lowest note of two is to be played with the thumb and also the single notes at the cadence are played with thumb. He has also indicated when the first or second finger should be used throughout the passage. I would agree with Lex that it probably just applies to the lowest note. He wants to make it clear that you play these with thumb and fingers rather than just fingers. It is an indication of right -hand fingering.
My translation is just something I made for my own use. I suppose I could send it to you in some form if you think it would be helpful.

Thank you for your answer. I would be very grateful for your translation. If you don't want to upload it here, I can send you my mail address.

This is it. Hope it is useful.

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