Continuo Playing on Baroque Lute – Lesson four: first practical step

Lesson one: notes, intervals, scales and chords
Lesson two: exercises
Lesson three: basic rules
Lesson four: first practical steps
Lesson five: three songs by Telemann

Lesson four: first practical steps

French air de cour: Vos mespris chaque jour by Michel Lambert:


An important part of the solo repertoire for Baroque lute is seventeenth-century French music by composers such as Gaultier, Dufaut and De Visée. In the same period so called Airs de Cour were very popular in France. In the first half of the century these were still published with tablatures for Renaissance lute, but later the accompaniments for these songs were printed as continuo basses. This is good, and beautiful, material to study, and we can find inspiration for our accompaniments in the solo repertoire of the period. The figures are very complete and the music lends itself perfectly for lute, although it must be said that the preferred instrument to accompany the voice was the theorbo, not the Baroque lute. One of the major composers of airs de cour with continuo accompaniments was Michel Lambert (ca 1610-1696), a theorbo player himself. You will find his song Vos mespris chaque jour as a the first practical step in continuo playing. The bass is a chaconne, a repeated bass line of just four measures. This is ideal to become familiar with different chord shapes upon those bass notes. The song has an instrumental introduction for two violins which I have freely transcribed for lute solo, giving you an idea of some of the melodic possibilities upon the bass line. In the song itself, I have given a continuo realisation of the first couple of measures only, urging you to make the rest yourself. You will notice I have not realised every figure. This is because some of the figures are describing what the vocal line is doing, and it is better to make another melody in the lute, complementing instead of doubling the vocal part. Therefore sometimes we do not have to play all the figures. A good example is measure 54, where I just play the 6 at the end of the measure, but not the 5 in the middle, or measure 52 where I play neither the 5 nor the raised 6.

David van Ooijen 2010

This lesson is part of a series that first appeared in Nostalgia, the news letter of the Lute & Early Guitar Society of Japan.