Phalèse and Attaingnant

A series on the sources of the publications with lute music by the 16th century printer Phalèse.
Phalèse’s Bookshelves
– Phalèse and Attaingnant

Des chansons reduictz en tablature de lut… livre premier (Louvain, 1545) was the first in a long series of publications with music for lute by the publisher Phalèse. The content of this book was to become the template for his other books with lute music, and indeed for the lute books of many other publishers as well: first preludes or fantasias, followed by intabulations and finally dances. Apart from 61 pieces for solo lute, the livre premier also has instructions on how to play the lute and how to read from tablature. This ‘short introduction to learn by yourself the art and usage of the Lute’ could be seen as an effort by Phalèse to create customers for his own books. There are paragraphs on how to read tablature, what the names of the notes are, how to read and understand rhythm, how to make your own fingering and finally on how to tune your lute.

Because there is no record showing that Phalèse played the lute at all, it is more likely he had someone working for him to compile, edit and write all the lute pieces for his publication. Several names of contemporary lutenists have been suggested, but as there is no conclusive proof on any of these I will for the sake of convenience treat Phalèse as the author of the music in his publications. So when I refer to Phalèse as the author or intabulator of lute music, I mean the lutenist(s) working for Phalèse.

Attaingnant: Tres breve et familiere introduction (Paris, 1529)

It seems Phalèse had a good look at the first publication of lute music by the French publisher Pierre Attaingnant. Six years before Phalèse’s first lute book, Attaingnant had published his Tres breve et familiere introduction (Paris, 1529). This little booklet has a short introduction on how to play the lute, five preludes and an instrumental piece called La Guerre. The main part of the book are 34 intabulations of French chansons, of which 10 are for solo lute and 24 are printed in two versions: one for solo lute and one for solo voice plus lute. Of the chansons, 26 can be found in their original three- or four-part vocal versions in five previous publications by Attaingnant.

Just like Phalèse, Attaingnant starts with an introduction on how to play the lute. Furthermore, from the Tres breve et familiere introduction by Attaingnant five intabulations have found their way to Phalèse’s livre premier in almost unchanged form. These were clearly copied from Attaingnant, or from a manuscript with copies from Attaingnant. Among the other pieces in Phalèse’s book, 21 more are intabulations of vocal music also published by Attaingnant in his collections with three- and four-part vocal music. Six of these are also intabulated in the Tres breve et familiere introduction in different versions than in Phalèse. But before we put any of Attaingnant’s many publications with three- and four-part vocal music on Phalèse’s bookshelves, we must remember that the songs in these books were the popular tunes of the day and must have found their way to many contemporary manuscripts. That these pieces show up in Phalèse’s as well as Attaingnant’s publications is only proof of their popularity, not proof that one publisher copied them from the other.

There are four more pieces in Phalèse’s livre premier that can be traced to previous publications by other publishers. These are an exercise called Primum Fundamentum from Hans Newsidler’s Ein Newgeordent Künstlich Lautenbuch (Nürnberg, 1536), a Praeludium and an intabulation of Myn hert heeft altyt verlangen¸ both from Hans Gerle’s Tabulatur auff die Laudten (Nürnberg, 1533) and a Fantasia from Joan Ambrosio Dalza’s Intabulatura de Lauto (Venezia, 1508). But as no other music from any of these three books is used by Phalèse in any of his following publications, we may safely assume he did not have Newsidler, Gerle or Dalza on his bookshelves, but probably used manuscript versions.

Let us assume that Phalèse had access to Attaingnant’s Tres breve et familiere introduction and not to a manuscript with just the five intabulations he did copy in his livre premier. What is interesting is why Phalèse would publish new intabulations of six chansons, when he could have copied existing intabulations from Attaingnant’s lute book. Before we speculate on an answer to this question, let’s have a closer look at two things. I will compare an intabulation by Attaingnant with its copy in Phalèse. Also, I will compare an intabulation by Attaingnant of a chanson with its different intabulation by Phalèse.

Il me suffit

Interestingly, there is one chanson by Claudin de Sermisy, called Il me suffit, that appears twice in Phalèse’s Des chansons reduictz en tablature de lut… livre premier. The first time (no. 21 in the book) Phalèse printed Attaingnant’s version, and the second time (no. 35 in the book) he made his own intabulation. I have put De Sermisy’s four-part vocal original, Attaingnant’s 1529 intabulation, Phalèse’s 1545 copy ( no. 21) of Attaingnant and Phalèse’s 1545 own intabulation (no. 35) underneath each other, unified barlines and rhythms for easier comparison and corrected a few obvious errors in Attaingnant (marked with asterixes). You can download the pdf.


Il me suffit by Attaingnant (1529)

Il me suffit is a four-part chanson, but Attaingnant made his intabulation of only three parts: soprano, tenor and bass. For his lute song version on the following page in his book he did use all four-parts: the vocal part is the soprano and the lute has to play alt, tenor and bas. Phalèse no. 35 is an intabulation of the four-part version, although Phalèse made some changes for the benefit of playability.


Il me suffit – Phalèse 1545 nr 21 (left) and 35 (right)

The piece has an A1A2BA3A4 structure. What is immediately obvious is that Attaingnant wrote out all repeats, Phalèse no. 21 gives A1BA3 and Phalèse no. 35 just A1B. In Attaingnant A1 and A2 are equal. A3 has more diminutions than A1 and is equal to A4. As Phalèse no. 21 is a copy of Attaingnant, here A3 also has more diminutions than A1.

Compared to the vocal original, all three intabulations add accidentals, so called musica ficta. E-naturals are changed into e-flats in measures 5, 11, 18, 24 and 30 and f-naturals are changed into f-sharps in measures 6, 12, 19 , 25 and 31. None of these changes are surprising, but what is surprising is a musica ficta in Phalèse no. 35. In measure 14 e-natural is changed to e-flat. However, checking with the lute song version in Attaingnant, we can see this change there as well. Perhaps both Attaingnant and Phalèse had a different original version of the four-part chanson from the one I have to work from, so we cannot safely draw the conclusion Phalèse copied this from Attaingnant. Although it is of course possible Phalèse made his intabulation no. 35 from Attaingnant’s lute song version, this appears not to be the case when we compare the two.

Phalèse no. 21 is an almost literal copy of Attaingnant, with a few exceptions. In measure 3 diminutions have been added. In measure 14 Attaingnant has a b-flat in the middle voice, whereas Phalèse has a c. This might have been a reading error on the part of Phalèse, because in the tablature of Attaingnant to distinguish between the ciphers B (b-flat on the third course) and D (c on the third course) can be confusing. In measure 15 a repeated bass note in Attaingnant (not in De Sermisy) has been removed. In measure 21 a repeated note in the soprano (also repeated in De Sermisy) has been omitted. In measure 25 a repeated note in the soprano (a tied note in De Sermisy) has been omitted. In measure 22 there is a different note in the middle voice, but this might have been a error. We can find similar small changes in the other intabulations Phalèse copied from Attaingnant. These are only small changes, possibly because of writing errors when copying by hand, or because Phalèse felt them to be small improvements or because Phalèse did not copy from Attaingnant’s book after all, but a had a manuscript with these five intabulations in these forms.

Phalèse no. 35 is an intabulation of all four voices, so the chords are fuller than in Attaingnant’s intabulation of three voices only. Furthermore, most diminutions are with smaller note values, and a few diminutions have been made on middle voices. Interestingly in measure 5 the two top voices are repeated where they have sustained notes in the vocal version. Together with the displaced bass note this adds rhythmic interest. It looks like Phalèse no. 35 is a completely new intabulation, having none of the diminutions in common with Attaingnant.


Phalèse choose to include the five sober intabulations of Attaingnant in his livre premier, but for the other intabulations he preferred to make his own. Attaingnant’s intabulations are placed more to the beginning of the book as nos. 17, 18, 19, 21 and 30. These pieces are slightly easier to play than Phalèse’s own intabulations, of which most are placed after these. This would make sense in a book that at least gives the suggestion of being a lute tutor with its introduction on ‘to learn by yourself the art and usage of the Lute’. Maybe we should see the inclusion of the five simple intabulations by Attaingnant in the same light as the inclusion of Newsidler’s Primum Fundamentum as the first piece in the book. These pieces will serve as study material for the more difficult intabulations by Phalèse himself. To have easier as well as more difficult pieces in one book should also help to boost sales to a wider audience. And that, after all, was the main aim of Phalèse: to make sure his publications would end up on the bookshelves of as many customers as possible.

David van Ooijen

This article first appeared in Nostalgia, the news letter of the Lute & Early Guitar Society of Japan.