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Revealing their hand: lute tablatures in early seventeenth‐century England

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In this article I investigate how musical concepts were transmitted in the manuscript culture of late sixteenth‐ and early seventeenth‐century lute music in England. Using material from the Mynshall and ML Lute Books I will suggest that a mental map of music theory is built through physical process in a way that might help to explain – at least in England – the gap between the theory books and the working methods of players and composers. Exploring the physical imprint which a piece of lute tablature represents, I will demonstrate that archaeological concepts such as the relationship between materiality and memory are potentially more useful than more textually based historical ones in exploring much of the instrumental music of the past. The books document a process of tailoring musical ideas to an individual's physical strengths and weaknesses, which has priority over transmitting a ‘good’ version of a musical text. The processes behind different kinds of left and right hand ornamentation demonstrate not only the individual player's skills but are related to the meaning of the different sides of the body in a wider cultural context. This has performance practice implications: should a player transmit or embody a musical idea?

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Southampton

Publication date: February 1, 2012


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