Malheur me bat

All music mentioned in this article can be seen here:
Malor me bat from Ottaviano Petrucci – Harmonice Musices Odhecaton A (1501)
Malor me bat from The Songbook of Fridolin Sicher (Sankt Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek COD.SANG.461)
Malur me bat from Bologna Q18 MS (MS Bologna, Civico Bibliografico Musicale Codex Q 18)
Malor me bat from Francesco Spinacino – Libro Secondo (1507)
Malheur_score (PDF-file) of Petrucci’s version with the intabulations by me and Spinacino underneath.

For a series of concerts with vocal group Cappella Pratensis I was asked to play some lute music between their pieces. One of these was Missa Malheur Me Bat by Josquin des Prez, a mass based on the three-part chanson Malheur me bat, attributed to Johannes Ockeghem, but according to modern scolars more likely composed by Martini or (Albertinus?) Malcourt. I decided to play an intabulation of this chanson. Francesco Spinacino published an intabulation, called Malor mebat, in his Libro Secondo from 1507. However, I was not quite satisfied with this version, as it was unclear to me how the voice leading was, and I often had the feeling notes were repeated unnecessarily. So I looked up the original of the chanson. The first time it was published was in Ottaviano Petrucci’s Harmonice Musices Odhecaton A from 1501, incidentally the very first printed publication of polyphonic music. Petrucci was also the publisher of Spinacino’s collection, so it is quite possible that Spinacino used either this earlier publication or had the same manuscript source available to him. Malheur me bat, Malor me bat or Malur me bat as it was also spelled, was a popular chanson. It appears for example in two manuscript collections of chansons called the Bologna Q18 MS (MS Bologna, Civico Bibliografico Musicale Codex Q 18) and the Songbook of Fridolin Sicher (Sankt Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek COD.SANG.461). Many pieces in the Sicher MS are so similar to their versions in Petrucci’s print of 1501, that it is most likely they were copied from this edition. Actually, Petrucci’s first edition of 1501 was so popular, that he published two more editions in 1503 and 1504. All this gave me enough confidence to use Petrucci’s printed edition as the source for my own intabulation.

The first step in making an intabulation was to put the three separate voices of the original into a score, so I could more easily see the voice leading in my final lute version. When transcribing early 16th century mensural notation we meet several things that are different from modern music notation: there are no barlines, there is a variety of clefs at different places on the staff and there are ligatures (clusters of notes). These ligatures are left-overs from earlier music notation and had lost their function by now, but were still used. To transcribe ligatures you have to be careful, because the value of the notes making up the ligature depend on several factors. To help myself I have made a short paper on how to read ligatures.
In my modern score I have used soprano and tenor clefs for ease of reading. I have kept the original note values and have put in barlines between the staves at the place where there are barlines in Spinacino’s intabulation. The original ligatures are marked with brackets above the notes.
Then I had to transcribe the notes into lute tablature. I wrote Italian tablature for a lute tuned in a’, thereby writing the piece in the same key as Spinacino did. To make the comparison even easier I have put his intabulation underneath mine, thereby making it possible to compare note by note, as well as referring back to the original of Petrucci’s print of 1501 at all times.

Next I will list all the differences between my intabulation, based upon Petrucci’s print, and Spinacino’s intabulation, with the aim of creating an intabulation that will include the best choices of both. In the music examples I have printed from top to bottom the three voices in Petrucci’s edition from 1501: superius, contra and tenor. Underneath is my intabulation of these three voices and on the bottom staff is the intabulation from Spinacino’s 1507 edition.

Already in measure 1 we see the first difference. Spinacino repeats the first two notes halfway the measure. In measure 2 he does the same with the d from the contra and in measure 3 with the e from the superius. I could go on with these differences, but see for yourself. It appears that Spinacino repeats notes longer than a whole note at the beginning or halfway the measure. Sometimes he even repeats the voices on the dot of a dotted half note (see for example measure 8). But at other times he does respect the length of notes, even if they are tied over a first beat in the measure. I prefer the note lengths to be as they are in the vocal version, because then the music is less heavy on the beat, and carried on more flowingly. This is a personal choice, of course, and going quite against 16th century practice of intabulating; many contemporary editions of intabulated vocal music show these repeated notes. Perhaps it was done to make the sound of the lute carry further, or perhaps it was done to make the process of intabulating easier (it is easier to see where you are when writing music down like this) or perhaps these repetitions of notes were only written down to guide the eye in the polyphony (we can see very clearly for how long a note has to be hold) but were not intended to be played. Who knows?

The next discrepancy between the two versions is the fourth note in measure 4. Spinacino wrote a c, I wrote a b. Here the modern (edited!) facsimile edition of Petrucci’s Odhecaton is misleading, as the original actually has a c here (third note in measure 4 of the contra). We can see this c in the manuscript versions (Bologna Q18 and Sicher) as well as Spinacino’s intabulation. The editors of the facsimile thought it was a wrong note, however, and I think they are right. The c in the contra makes a dissonance with the b in the superius that is not resolved properly. But this is a point of personal preference as well, so my decision to change the c into a b is partly arbitrary.

In measures 17 and 18 Spinacino has simplified the lute part by leaving out some notes of the vocal version. The last two notes of the tenor in measure 17 are left out, as are the first two notes of the superius in measure 18. That is cleverly done, because the superius imitates the tenor. Leaving the notes in just one of the two voices would have been noticeable. Leaving these notes out makes the intabulation easier to play and making it possible to make it sound lighter. I don’t think it is necessary to leave the notes out, however, so I keep them in my intabulation. In measure 18, as indeed in some other measures, you can see I choose a different fingering than Spinacino did. With my fingering I feel I can make the polyphony come out better. With Spinacino’s fingering it is not always possible for me to make all the notes sound as long as they should (though with my new fingering it isn’t either, at times). At these places the score above the tablature helps to see what notes should be kept, and for how long.

In measure 21 Spinacino left out the last note b and in measure 22 the first note c from the part of the contra. I see no reason why he did this, so I kept them in my intabulation.

In measure 23 Spinacino wrote an a on the first beat, but the vocal version has an e. This can be a simple writing error; the a is a 2 on string 4, the e a 2 on string 5, so a mistake in writing will be quickly made. We often see these kinds of mistakes in tablatures.

An interesting difference between Spinacino and Petrucci is the last note of measure 25. Spinacino has a g-sharp where Petrucci has a g-natural. In renaissance polyphony accidentals were not always written in, as it was left to the performer to decide whether to raise especially leading notes in endings. This was the practice of musica ficta. Spinacino choose for a g-sharp, as he felt it was the leading note to the a in measure 26. I agree with him, so I took over his g-sharp and marked it in the score with brackets.

From left to right:
Petrucci’s Odhecaton A
Sicher MS
Bologna Q18

Between measures 27 and 28 Petrucci’s version has a repeat sign. The Sicher MS shows the same repeat sign on the first note of measure 28, but the Bologna Q18 MS has nothing here (actually just one double whole in stead of the two wholes in the other versions).

In measure 33 a note is missing in Spinacino’s version. I see no reason not to include it, so I suppose it is just a writer’s error.

The same can be seen for two more notes in measures 35 and 36.

In measure 39 we see another instance of musica ficta. Spinacino choose a g-sharp in the superius where Petrucci just printed a g-natural. But Spinacino leaves out the g-natural from the contra. If we play both the g-sharp from the superius and the g-natural from the contra at the same time, we have a so called false relation, which is quite against the rules of counterpoint of the days; though some composers make good use of it (the false relations of Thomas Tallis are among my favourite moments in music). Although I like the ficta of Spinacino, I don’t want to lose the g in the contra, so I choose to keep a g-natural in the superius.

In measure 40 Spinacino writes a low e (2 on string 5) that is not in Petrucci’s version. However, the a of the contra is tied over from measure 39, and that is a 2 on string 4. So perhaps this is another instance of writer’s error, intending the 2 to be written on string 4 so the tied note will be played again.

In measure 41 two things seem to go wrong in the tenor. The g is not repeated on the second half note of the measure and the f (or f-sharp as I choose it to be) is not printed at all. Two such omissions in one measure could be writer’s error again, but it could also be a sign that Spinacino had a different original to work from after all. There are no reasons to leave these notes out in a lute intabulation, because the part does not get more difficult when we include them. However, if I want to hold the d of the contra, I end up with a rather akward fingering with 5 on string 6 and 4 on string 5. That is not so easy on thick gut strings, so perhaps this was a reason why Spinacino left out the f (or f-sharp) and g.
On the last beat of measure 41 I choose the f-sharp in stead of the f-natural of the original because Spinacino has the same musica ficta in measure 42, where the f-natural in the superius of Petrucci’s version is changed into an f-sharp by Spinacino. It seemed only natural to me to do the same with the last note of measure 41, as the superius in measure 42 imitates the tenor of measure 41.

In measure 43 Spinacino adds an a (the fourth note in the measure), suggesting a run from the low e on the first beat of the measure to the c on the last beat. I did not include this extra note in my intabulation as the first notes in the run belong to the contra and the last c is a note from the tenor; the contra goes back to the e it started it’s run on. To include this extra note makes the polyphony less clear and does not add much beauty. But that is just my opinion, of course.

At the end of measure 45 Spinacino left out some notes for obvious reasons: his version is much easier to play than mine! But also, these are rather dissonant notes. All three voices go their own way, creating two very dissonant instances on the last two quarter notes of the measure. We will accept dissonances as long as we can follow the melodic lines of the three voices with our ears. When the three voices are sung, this is no problem, but when they are played on one lute it can be very confusing to follow each voice individually and then such dissonances lose their ‘logic’. This is such a place where the logic is quite difficult to follow when the three voices are played on one lute. However, I find it a positive challenge to play the dissonances and make them sound logical anyway; dissonances add spice to music.

In measure 49 Spinacino leaves out just one note: the c in the contra on the fourth half of the measure. This c is very dissonant against the b in the superius, and that might have been the reason for Spinacino’s decision.

The last note of the contra in measure 51 is an interesting musica ficta in Spinacino’s intabulation. He changed the b-natural in Petrucci’s version in a b-flat, even though the superius has a b-natural just before that. This creates another false relation, but quite a sweet one. I have adopted Spinacino’s ficta in my intabulation and added the flat in the score between brackets. In measure 52 Spinacino adds yet another musica ficta: the c in the tenor become a c-sharp. Here the false relation is even harsher as the contra has a c still sounding at the same moment. In Spinacino’s intabulation there is no such false relation, however, as he has left out the c in the tenor. I choose to keep the tenor c in, and leave Spinacino’s musica ficta out, though I must admit I’m in doubt; it is fun, such harsh dissonant!

From measure 56 to 57 Spinacino adds a charming little run, going from the c in the tenor to the g in the superius. I’ve adopted it in my intabulation because I like it. I’ve written it in small notes in the score. In measure 58 Spinacino leaves out some notes from the contra. I’ve kept them in.

The last note seems halved in Spinacino’s print, but that is just an interpretation of the ‘fermata’ sign on the last note. You could interpret that as a double whole (a whole measure) as I did in my transcription of Spinacino’s rhythm signs, or treat it as the sign for the last note, indicating a long note of unspecified length.

What can we conclude after this comparison? The first conclusion can be that I was right about all the repeated notes in Spinacino’s intabulation. But I should immediately admit that my choice not to repeat long notes is probably not so authentic. I prefer it this way because now I feel closer to the vocal original, and repeated notes without meaning don’t add anything to the music for me. Perhaps playing them in a different matter (crescendo or decrescendo) they do add to the music and might even suggest the vocal polyphony stronger. I should try. The second conclusion can be that I corrected some of the writer’s errors in Spinacino’s intabulation. However, I shouldn’t feel too proud about that, as I’ve probably added some new ones of my own. And perhaps some of the writer’s errors were deliberate deviations, or maybe Spinacino had a different original to work from after all. So, let’s be careful about our own ‘corrections’; I’ve had a wise teacher who wrote all his own corrections in his score with a red pencil, so every time he played his own notes he was reminded of the fact that they were not original and that he should keep reconsidering them. Thirdly, Spinacino seems to have simplified some overly difficult passages and to have avoided very dissonant moments that loose their logic in an intabulation. That is a very practical approach to technical as well as musical matters and something we can learn from. Also, he simplified the part writing in two instances so he could use musica ficta that would have been impossible had he kept all of the three voices. I choose to ignore these suggestions and stuck to the original. Again, not so authentic perhaps, but my aim was to make an intabulation close to the original, keeping all the voices. But I have adopted the other musica ficta from Spinacino, thereby adding a truly authentic component. Because, whatever I may have learned about musica ficta, or whatever I might think I have developed in taste of musica ficta, I will never be as close to the music of the early 16th century as Spinacino was. For him it was the only music; he was one of the people who made the rules, I can only try to understand and follow them.

All the books used in this article are available as handsome facsimiles:
Ottaviano Petrucci – Harmonice Musices Odhecaton A (Broude Trust New York, 2001)
Francesco Spinacino – Intabulaturo de Lauto, Libro primo and Libro Secundo (Éditions Minkoff Genève, 1978)
The Songbook of Fridolin Sicher (Alamire, Peer 1996)
Bologna Q18 (Alamire, Peer 1998)

David van Ooijen 2/2005