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Intavolatura projects

Iesu small

How to intabulate. Diruta (1609/22) gives detailed information on how to intabulate: put the upper part in the right hand, the lower part in the left hand and add the middle parts to the left hand if they are not more than an octave above the bass. According to Diruta, it is not necessary to indicate where a given voice has a rest, provided there is another voice-part on the staff, but a rest can be used to highlight the entry of a theme. If the highest voice is diminished, the remaining parts are put in the left hand, but if the bass is playing diminutions, the remaining parts are put in the right hand. If the voices lie too far apart to fit under the hand, they can be moved, for example by putting the bass up an octave or altering some of the other parts. Thus, for the most part, all voices in a four-part texture except the highest part are played by the left hand, unless the distance is greater than an octave. Naturally there will be exceptions, especially when parallel thirds or large jumps occur. See Campagne and Rotem (2022) pp. 19–20. you will find a link on the publications page.

In the Italian intavolatura di cimbalo or organo notation the separate parts of a composition are notated on two staves, one for the right hand and one for the left hand. Hereby the composition is adapted for playing on a keyboard instrument. These adaptations can be further enhanced by adding ornaments, diminutions and added notes.

Comparing intabulations to their models presents us with a window into the creative process of adapting and ornamenting both for solo playing and for accompaniment. Having a text will also deepen our understanding of the music. In most cases we will need to take the individual part-books and put them into a score to be able to compare them.

The Verovio canzonette provide us with unique sources as the individual parts as well as the intabulations for harpsichord and lute are presented in choir-book layout on one page-opening. They show how the parts can be adapted to the instruments for playing in ensemble (concertare in Italian). You can find some of these intabulations put into a score with the individual voices as well as the lute intabulations on the goodies page.

More files will be added in the future. For other examples see the Intavolatura projects page on Ian Pritchard's website. 

For some general information on intabulations and intabulating you might want to check out Elam Rotem's Intabulations video on


Handpositions and fingering

For some time now I have been practicing with fingering according to historical sources (so-called early fingering) and more recently also with hand positions. On the "about me" page you will find some results.


Maria Luisa Baldassari has been researching keyboard hand positions in Italian paintings of the long sixteenth century. She has collected over one hundred images of keyboard players and has come to the conclusion that there are basically three positions: a high wrist, a flat wrist and a low wrist. An article by Maria Luisa on this subject is forthcoming.  I have been experimenting with these and you will find some videos here. My conclusions can be found below.


In general in Italy there are two systems, either with the middle finger (3) as main finger (see Banchieri below) or with the second and fourth finger as "good" fingers (see Diruta below). In both systems parallel thirds and sixths are taken with the same fingers: 2 and 4 for thirds and 2 and 5 for sixths in the right hand (RH)


All systems of fingering, also those outside Italy, have in common that they make very little use of the thumb in the right hand. In general only octaves can be taken with the thumb in Italy.

HANDPOSITIONS: My personal conclusions: High: both hands high is only feasible when there are few chords in the LH. A high RH gives a lightness to diminutions and makes putting a long finger over a short finger easier. Parallel thirds (2/4) and sixths (2/5) are also easier and lighter. Only possible if the thumb is rarely used (see thumbless) as the thumb is far from the keyboard. Middle: What we are usually used to, the thumb is close to the keyboard. Paired fingering is a slightly heavier than with a high hand position. Low: The touch and sound is much heavier, but more rhythmical and precise, thus great for dances (Diruta's sonatori di balli?). But playing chords of b flat in the LH becomes very difficult especially if the keys are shorter. This position will be easier if the joints of the hand especially the knuckles are flexible. Unfortunately mine are not.

DIRUTA shows Claudio Merulo's way of fingering with a good second and fourth finger. more to follow later

BANCHIERI describes a system with 3 as the main finger. more to follow at a later date...

THUMBLESS Not using a thumb in the RH has been a revelation. It makes the hand lighter and more agile.


Early basso continuo

9.7.C049_009 copy.tiff

Agazzari, Agostino: Del sonare sopra'l basso con tutti li stromenti e dell'uso loro in concerto

I-Bc C049 p. 7

Agazzari, Agostino: Avgvstini Agazzarii Armonici Intronati, Sacrae Cantiones, Binis, Ternisq[ue] Vocibus concinende. Liber Qvartvs Bassus ad Organum 

D-Mbs 4 2642#Beibd.1

The beginnings of basso continuo have interested me since my studies at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, where in 1993 I presented my first research findings at a conference "Was denn der Generalbass sei". This resulted in a published article in the 1995 Basler Jahrbuch: "Die Anfänge des Generalbasses oder die Praxis des Begleitens im italienischen Frühbarock".  My PhD research looks at the subject of accompanying around 1600 from the perspective of intabulations. Other research focusses on (short) scores specifically for accompanying instruments.


Together with Elam Rotem I published an open access pdf Keyboard Accompaniment in Italy around 1600: Intabulations, Scores and Basso Continuo. It contains links to musical examples and examines accompaniment through the three types of sources. My forthcoming article "Basso Continuo: the Beginnings in Italy," takes a different approach to the same sources and addresses questions such as doubling the top part or not, having a varying number of parts, reducing and adding parts, adding notes, ornaments and diminutions as well as ways of approaching strophic arias.

The goodies section provides transcriptions of scores and short scores together with the vocal part(s) put into a score. Some transcriptions show how to adapt or simplify an upper part when doubling this (vocal) part in the accompaniment. The solo parts are reduced to the main notes and the ornaments taken out. Other (short) scores, when accompanying tenor or basso solo compositions for example, demonstrate original independent upper part(s) showing possible approaches to creating upper parts upon a bass. You will also find examples of middle parts (parti de mezzo) from parts meant for accompanying, notated either in figures or in mensural notation. These can be used as models or chunks for other realisations. 


Music printing and engraving around 1600

Most books and printed music in the second half of the sixteenth century were printed using relief processes: the parts to be printed protrude, employing either moveable type or woodcuts, using a common letterpress. This was a fast and relatively cheap way of production, even though paper was an expensive commodity. 

For maps and refined figurative art, however, intaglio techniques were frequently preferred, as these techniques allowed for finer lines and more precise details than relief techniques. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, printing with intaglio techniques was done by engraving copper plates with a sharp tool, or burin. The plates were subsequently printed on a rolling-press.

As the plates had to be taken out of the press and cleaned before reusing them, it did not matter if a plate was immediately reused or another plate printed. This also makes dating a particular engraving difficult. If a plate has survived, one could still run off a print dated 1586 today. Plates can also be corrected and even copied creating different states. Books drawn from engraved copper plates can be unique exemplars, as we can see in the Verovio prints.

Music prints drawn from engraved copper plates resemble music manuscripts. It is possible to beam notes and it is feasible to have varying numbers of parts, with different durations on one staff. Therefore the printing of intavolatura notations – especially for keyboards but also for the lute is much easier using intaglio processes.

Oh Iesu 2_edited.jpg

Anerio, Felice: 'O Iesu mi dulcissime'   from Diletto spirituale  (Rome: Verovio, 1586 - after 1592)

D-Mbs 4

Drawbacks and challenges of intaglio printing methods around 1600: Intaglio printing is a costly and exceedingly time-consuming process. The rolling-press was far more expensive and fixed to the ground, and the high-quality paper required was not always easy to find. The printing process was more labour-intensive than letterpress, and preparing the plates took up more time than setting a page of type. But otherwise it functions like a handwritten manuscript.

Drawbacks and challenges of relief printing methods around 1600: The size of an edition printed with moveable type was not flexible. The printer had to decide at the start of the job how many copies to produce. If the book sold poorly, the printer was left with unsold copies on his hands. On the other hand, if the book was popular enough to require a new edition, it had to be completely reset and reprinted. Nonetheless, types and formes could be reused and were not bound to one specific book or print. But type was also expensive. For books of music, a niche market, printers usually had only one or two music fonts from which they set all their music prints. By the end of the sixteenth century, printers and users increasingly wanted printed notation to render more exactly what was to be sung or played. When ornaments were printed out, many pieces of type had to be used to render all the notes. This took up an enormous amount of space on the paper, as each piece of type, irrespective of the length of the note, was more or less the same width. Such "monospaced" music typesetting did not enhance the legibility. Most printers did not use, or even have, types, or sorts, for notes faster than sixteenth notes, which would have increased the amount of types needed enormously. Such an added cost was not viable for such a niche market. In Claudio Merulo’s Canzoni d’intavolatura d’organo Libro primo (Venice: Angelo Gardano, 1592), for example, all extra tails on thirty-second notes were added by hand, but this too resulted in extra work and increased the cost of production. Other drawbacks of moveable type included the difficulty of grouping the notes, as beaming was typographically impractical. If beaming was deemed necessary, beams had to be added by hand, as seen for example in Kapsperger’s Libro secondo d’arie (Rome: Soldi, 1623). As long as each staff only had to accommodate one voice part, letterpress printing was generally adequate for printing music, apart from the limitations mentioned above. However, when polyphonic music needed to be printed on a system of staves, as for keyboard music using the intavolatura d’organo or di cimbalo notation, the limits of letterpress become even clearer: the number of required sorts increases exponentially. An inconsistent number of notes, sounding simultaneously, often of different durations, were a real challenge for a setter. Vertical alignment was frequently sacrificed to save on the number of types required, but this made the printed intavolature more difficult to read. In fact, only nine collections of keyboard music in intavolatura notation, printed in Italy employing relief techniques, have been preserved before 1586, the year of the earliest dated engraved collection associated with Verovio including intavolature. It was not until the 1590s that first Vincenti and later Gardano embarked on the publishing of their series of keyboard works.

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