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Intabulation (or intavulation ) is a method of transferring music for singing voices (vocal music) to instrumental music in the period between 1400 and around 1630 to obtain musical pieces for organ and for lute, which was used by many musicians, especially composers.

Historical starting point

The European music of the early Middle Ages was mainly heard through singing voices and was initially unanimous ( Gregorian chant ). From the 12th century a development towards polyphony began ( Notre Dame School ), which in the 13th century led to the motet , which was based on a cantus firmus . This polyphony was initially improvised (two-part in fifths and octave parallels, later thirds parallels), then the second voice became more independent, and a third voice was added until the mensural notation was developed to fix it in writing .

There are many reasons for the desire to perform vocal compositions instrumentally. The desire for further availability of the existing music played an important role here. Only instruments that could be played in several voices, i.e. keyboard instruments and string instruments that were plucked, were considered. After more and more organs were being built in the churches , but there was no independent organ music, one had to rely on obtaining pieces by transmitting vocal music. In this way, a group of singers was no longer necessary for the musical accompaniment of the divine service; this can be done by the organist alone. In the secular area, too, it was interesting to play existing polyphonic music on keyboard or string instruments (especially on the lute ) for a smaller group.

Formation of intabulation

For the instrumental performance of vocal music, the existing notated version of a piece from the part books will have been used first, which required a good knowledge of the mensural notation. For the sake of simplification, various fingerings ( tablatures ) were developed, each taking into account the playing possibilities of the instruments. These tablatures allowed the player to see the entire polyphonic movement at a glance. In addition, there was the possibility of further refining what was already there by decorating or playing around voices in more lively movement, i.e. editing. The recordings of such arrangements are the first evidence of instrumental music. The notation used was based on the intended instrument (organ tabs and lute tabs); it is fundamentally different from the mensural notation and other forms that were used for singing voices. The term “intabulation” is used both for the editing process and for the recording method, because both are closely linked.

Organ intabulation

The earliest form of intabulation is based on a unanimous template and offered two options. In the first option, the individual notes of the given part are replaced by several notes of shorter duration (replay; internal or linear arrangement). In the second option, the given voice serves as the basis, to which an additional voice was added in livelier movement, so that the result of the intabulation was a two-part sentence (bicinium; external or vertical development). The Codex Faenza from Italy shortly after 1400 is a good example of the second type of intabulation , in which the given Gregorian melodies are notated in even longer values ​​and are each accompanied by a newly invented upper part in much faster figures. The same features of the movement are visible in the few German sources from the same period and thus reveal the Italian origins of early German organ music. A German tablature from 1448 contains the characteristic mixture of mensural notation with added letters.

Subsequently, organ music and thus the art of intabulation experienced its first heyday. This results from the growing number of written certificates and from the increasing number of voices in the pieces of music, which went up to four voices ( Arnolt Schlick ). In addition, outstanding composers from the second half of the 15th century, such as Conrad Paumann , and from the first quarter of the 16th century, such as Johannes Buchner , not only created free compositions and compositions resulting from intabulations, but also so-called foundation books (fundamenta organisandi) released. These are instructions for organ students, in which the basics of playing technique are conveyed and tips for intabulating and improvising are given. For the latter purpose, a collection of templates is included in which solutions for various intabulation problems are shown, e.g. B. Scale excerpts or final turns.

The most extensive and most important collection of manuscripts with organ music from the 15th century is the Buxheim Organ Book , which was created around 1470, was kept in the Carthusian monastery in Buxheim near Memmingen and has been in the Bavarian State Library in Munich since 1883 . It was written in the circle of Conrad Paumann and contains two of the aforementioned fundamenta with 258 mostly three-part movements. The largest part of them are intabulations of German song sets; it also contains pieces of Italian-Dutch and French origin. In addition, there are 27 free organ pieces, which are mostly called "preamble". The notation was based on the so-called German organ tablature: the upper part is on seven lines in mensural notation, while the two lower parts, as previously referred to as tenor and contratenor , are notated in two lines below using letters; the rhythmic marking was done with dots and lines. This notation clearly emphasizes the priority of the colored upper part over the lower part. Seen as a whole, such an intabulation represents the earliest form of an arrangement in music history.

In this context, the two collections of verses by Antonio de Cabezón deserve special attention . Such verses were used for the alternating music making of the organ with a choir. In his collection "Fabordon y glosas" simple four-part verses are put together with those in which one part is decorated. The “Salmodia para principiantes” collection demonstrates the art of performing a cantus firmus in all parts of a four-part movement. Both collections can be viewed as highly ingenious didactic music, in which artistic intabulation and textbook merge.

At the beginning of the 17th century the art of intabulation for organ music ended after the musical practice of the figured bass brought about a fundamental change in the function of the individual voices in polyphonic music. From this time the term was used in a modified sense; in Girolamo Frescobaldi , for example, the contraction of all the voices in a composition on two systems of lines is called “intavolatura”.

Lute intabulation

Lute tablature by Hans Newsidler

It was not until relatively late that one emerged for the lute to distinguish it from the intabulation for the organ. This is how Hans Newsidler , an important German lutenist of the 16th century, differentiates the colored organ style from the new lute style "with Leufflein". The decoration and coloring of melodies was done much more sparingly for the lute, or one limited oneself entirely to the faithful reproduction of a vocal model. One of the earlier ways of recording was the German lute tablature , a rather complicated mixed script made up of letters, numbers and other characters, the latter especially for the rhythm (example: the intabulation of the vowel sentence “Si dormiero” by Heinrich Finck ).

An early “instruction” on how such an intabulation is carried out can be found in 1523 by Hans Judenkönig .

The French lute tablature, which was also used in England, the Netherlands and Poland, was, on the other hand, much more descriptive and therefore established itself in Germany from 1620 onwards. The horizontal lines represent the choirs (strings) of the instrument, on which the fret progressions were noted by letters. To represent the rhythm, the bars and flags of the mensural notation were used, which were valid within a piece until the next character appeared. Closely related to this is the Italian lute tablature, in which numbers are used instead of letters and the order of the choirs is shown in exactly the opposite way. The extensive use of coloratura and decorations in lute music was presumably avoided because these instruments were much better suited for ensemble playing than, for example, the organ. Too many decorations would only be a nuisance here. Tablatures for several lutes have been handed down to Francesco Spinacino from 1507; Interaction with other melody instruments also gained interest. However, lute accompaniment by one or more singers became of outstanding importance.

The principle of the lute tablature was still in use in the 18th century. In a modified form, it has survived to this day in the modern notation for guitars : The chord letters above a melody can be viewed as “direct fingering” instead of “indirect sound writing” (using notes).

Literature and illustrative material

  • Organ intabulations
    • Buxheim organ book, facsimile edition: Documenta musicologica, series II, volume 1, Kassel and others 1955; New edition: Das Erbe deutscher Musik, Volume 37–39, Kassel and others 1958/59
    • Codex Faenza, new edition by Dragan Plamenac: Keyboard Music of the Fourteenth Century in Codex Faenza 117, in: Journal of the American Musicological Society IV, 1951
    • Lochamer-Liederbuch and the Fundamentum organisandi (by Conrad Paumann), facsimile edition: Documenta Musicologica, Series II, Volume 3, edited by Konrad Ameln, Kassel and others in 1972
    • Samuel Scheidt: Tabulatura nova, Part I − II, edited by Christhard Mahrenholz (Works Volume IV), Hamburg 1953
  • Intabulations for sounds
    • John Dowland: The First Booke of Songes or Ayres of foure Partes with Tableture for the Lute , London 1597; Facsimile edition by Diana Poulton, London 1978; Version for solo voice and lute (tablature and transcription) in: The English Lute-Songs, edited by Edmund H. Fellowes, revised by Thurston Dart, Series I, Volume 1/2, 5/6, 10/11, Stainer & Bells, London 1965, 1969/77 and 1970
    • Simone Molinaro: Intavolatura di Liuto Libro I, trascriptione in notazione moderna ed interpretato da Giuseppe Gullino , Florence 1940
    • Austrian lute music in the XVI. Century: Hans Judenküng, Hans Newsidler, Simon Gintzler, Valentin Greff Bakfark and Unika of the Vienna Court Library, edited by Adolf Koczirz, Vienna 1911 (= Monuments of Music in Austria, Volume 37)
    • Tablature book uff die lutten [...]. Rudolf Wyssenbach, Zurich 1550.
    • Rudolf Wyssenbach: A beautiful tablature book. Zurich 1563.

Web links


  1. Marc Honegger, Günther Massenkeil (ed.): The great lexicon of music. Volume 4: Half a note - Kostelanetz. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau a. a. 1981, ISBN 3-451-18054-5 .
  2. ^ Silke Leopold (editor): Musical Metamorphoses, Forms and History of Arrangement, Bärenreiter Verlag Kassel and Basel 1992, ISBN 3-7618-1051-2 , here: Chansons for organ, motets on the lute - intabulation as arrangement , contribution by Reinhard Schäfertöns
  3. Hans Judenkönig: Ain nice artistic instruction in this little booklet, leychtlich to understand the right reason to learn on the Lautten and Geygen. Vienna 1523, part II