Le Roy Revisited: Neuf Branles de Bourgongne When I first started transcribing and arranging Renaissance music for the ukulele, I used Adrian Le Roy’s books of tablature for the Renaissance guitar (published in the 1550s) as a model of what is possible on a 4-course instrument. One of my earliest posts was of some of his Branles de Bourgongne: music in the style of the rather robust dance, known as a brawl in English.
I recently took delivery of one of the ukulele’s ancestors: a reproduction Renaissance guitar. It is tuned the same as a ukulele but has paired strings on the lower three courses. The tuning means that I can play most of my uke arrangements directly on it. One small problem is that the scale length is 54cm (a tad over 21″), so it’s rather longer than my tenor uke, and reaching from the first fret to the fifth or sixth can be more of a stretch than I’m used to.
Anyway, to the subject of this post. The new instrument meant that I revisited Le Roy’s branles, and decided to re-transcribe them, with the knowledge I have gained over the last two years or so. I have mentioned in many posts that tablature tells you where to put your fingers, and when to pluck, but not normally how long to hold the note. I have played these transcriptions through as I make them, bar by bar, and I have opted for the most practical treatment.
Incidentally, I have found as many as four versions of these branles (see below), and they are very divergent, so I feel quite content where mine disagree with those of more qualified hands.
SOURCE. Transcribed from the original tablature of: Premier livre de tabulature de guiterre, contenant plusieurs chansons, fantasies, pavanes, gaillardes, almandes, branles, tant simples qu’autres le tout composé. par Adrian le Roy. Paris, 1551.
Facsimile online at: https://repository.royalholloway.ac.uk/items/36992e38-4a04-c705-affa-253d7b309c67/1/
(Permanent link: http://purl.org/rism/BI/1551/23)
I have retained the original spellings of the titles.
Diverse versions of these pieces appear in:
- Page The Guitar in Tudor England: No 5, in 2/2 time. (See notes on Branle 5 below.)
- Calmes Guitar Music of the 16th century: Nos 1 – 9, in 2/4 time.
- Wolzein & Bliven http://www.earlyguitaranthology.com: Nos 1 & 5, in common time.
- Noad The Renaissance Guitar: No 3, in 2/4 time. (A badly named book: it contains mostly transcriptions of lute and vihuela music for the modern guitar.)
I have used 2/2 time in these arrangements, as I find it easier to read.
VOICES. The authors differ in places as to interpretation of voices: I have plumped for what sounds most sensible when playing on my instrument. Le Roy often added an unaccented note (if one counts “1 & 2 &” it is on the first “&”), the first example being the D on string 3 in the second bar of the first piece. It often seems to be an orphan, being part of neither the upper nor the lower voice, just a punctuation: I have usually given it a down stem, especially where Le Roy shows the lower voice extending beneath; I have not packed it out with rests.
REPEATS. In most of these pieces Le Roy did not fill the final bars with notes, but I have done so. If you decide to play repeats, you will have to make minor adjustments. In “Troisiesme” the repeat is either side of the middle of bar 9.
R H FINGERING. Le Roy indicated by dots (points or pricks) under a note that it was to be unaccented, but authorities differ as to what this means: Poulton and MacKillop say that it means use the (weaker) index finger only (not the thumb or middle finger), Page that it means use any convenient finger. Similarly, a dot under 2 or 3 notes may mean “strum up with the index finger” or “use fingers but not thumb” I think the main thing is to emphasise the stressed notes of these tunes in the way that feels comfortable, in order to get a rowdy dance feel.
NOTES ON INDIVIDUAL PIECES
a) A 4-bar theme, repeated with variations; harmonised with I and IV.
b) A 12-bar theme, repeated with variations; harmonised with I, II, IV and VII.
a) An 8-bar theme; harmonised with I, IV, V.
b) An 8-bar theme, repeated with variations; harmonised with I, IV, V, vi, and VII.
c) A 3-bar coda.
a) Bars 1 to 9 (first half), to be repeated.
b) Bars 9 (second half) to 19, to be repeated.
Set in G, harmonised with I, IV, V and transient ii and iii.
The motif appearing first in the second half of bar (and then throughout) 3 gives a syncopated or skipping feel to the dance. In much of the piece (except for bars 2, 7, 8, 10, 15 and 16) the index finger can remain anchored to the 2nd fret of the 3rd string.
A short, 16-bar piece, set in Gm. Harmoniesd with i, ii, iii, IV, V (briefly) and VII; ending on I (the tierce de Picardie).
The Gm voicing fingered “5 1 x 3” [starting with fret on 1st string, x = not sounded] can be a stretch on a large instrument, but can be voiced identically by the fingering “5 x 5 3”. In bar 5, the E and F can be played on string 2.
Set in G. Harmonised with I, i, IV, iv, V, VII.
* Christopher Page has made insightful comments on this piece, which I précis below (with my comments on the harmonies):
Bars 1 – 4: a stabilizing beginning
Bars 5 – 8: a running ornament
Bars 9 – 12: a duet, with a change to minor harmonies
Bars 13 – 14: block chords with major harmonies
Bars 16 – 21: an ornamented version of the duet, the harmonies moving from minor to major.
Page summarises the piece as multum in parvo – squeezing a lot of ideas into 21 bars and 4 strings. An eye-opener into the structure of an apparently simple piece.
Can be viewed as being in 5 lines of 4 bars each, the 4th line being a variation on the 2nd. Harmonised in I, IV, V, VII.
a) A 4-bar theme, repeated with minor variation.
b) Another 4-bar theme, repeated.
c) A 7-bar coda.
Set in Gm; harmonised with i, ii, IV, v, VII, ending on I.
a) A 6-bar theme, repeated.
b) A final 12-bar section, in which bars 18 – 20 are echoed bu bars bars 22 – 24.
Set in Gm; harmonised with i, II, IV, V, VII, ending on I.
a) A 4-bar theme, repeated.
b) A 4-bar theme, repeated.
Set in G, harmonised with I, IV, iv (briefly), VII, (but, unusually, no V).