ARS Article

This appeared slightly edited in American Recorder magazine in
the November, 2001 issue.

Like many recorder players, I enjoy playing madrigals and other kinds
of Renaissance Polyphony, because all the parts are interesting, and
also because, instead of being concert music written for virtuosos to
play for an audience, it really is written for the kind of setting
most recorder groups play in -- a group of friends in a home playing
for and with each other.

I started typesetting and arranging music because the music I wanted
to play was either not available at all, or not in the form I wanted

The people who bought the original editions of Morley's canzonets or
Dowland's books of lute songs did not have access to the immense
variety of published music that we take for granted. Friends borrowed
music manuscripts from each other and copied them by hand. Someone
fortunate enough to own a printed book of music most likely played
through the whole book in an evening, and played through it again annd
again with the same friends on other occasions. The players would
have relished the familiar music, and the gradual unfolding of its
subtleties. This experience is very different from playing in many
recorder groups, where new and different music can be xeroxed and
sightread at every meeting.

These Renaissance musicians also were playing from individual parts,
not from a score. Their ears had to learn how their part fit with the
others, not their eyes.

Since the composers weren't thinking in terms of a fixed-length
measure, the rhythmic figures weren't being artificially broken up by
barlines, making the imitations between the parts much easier to see
and play. For instance, look at this example,

where the time
signature is C, but the opening few bars are in a triple meter. The C
time signature has nothing to do with the actual rhythm, and the
editorially inserted bars do nothing to help the players.

Some musicians address these problems by playing from facsimile
editions. There are several problems with this approach:

  • Players who are unfamiliar with the clefs and ligatures used by
    the original printers will be less fluent reading the notes, if
    they are willing to do it at all.
  • Because the 16th century printers didn't have the advantage of
    being able to make MIDI files and scores from the notes they enter for
    the parts, there are a fair number of errors in the facsimiles.
    Why not correct them when printing rather than take up valuable
    rehearsal time?
  • The original editions do not include rehearsal
    marks at cadence points. Adding them saves rehearsal time, since if
    you don't have them, you have to either remember explicitly how the
    parts continue after a cadence, write rehearsal marks in for
    yourself, or start from the beginning for every repetition.

I have used my editions with recorder groups on several
levels, and with a group of mixed instrumentalists and singers. I
believe strongly that most people can play better from my parts than
from a typical modern edition with the barlines and the score.

The principle thing that new players from unbarred parts have to learn
is how to tell a whole rest from a half rest. When there are bar
lines, the rest is just filling up the space not used by the notes; if
there aren't, you really have to know which one hangs down from the
line and which one sticks up.

After learning to read the rests (and the longer notes and rests that
aren't used in barred music), the major perceived disadvantage to
parts over scores is that if you lose concentration, you don't have
the other parts in front of you to help you get back in. This is a
problem in performance situations. (Much less so in the living room.)

But if you really know how your part fits with the others, you can get
back in, and if you don't, this will be obvious to the audience on any
number of subtle levels. And with complicated polyphony, a score
doesn't help much in getting back in. Playing from a part trains the
concentration necessary for a good performance.

The example I've provided is one of the harder pieces in Morley's
"Canzonets for two voices" for inexperienced ensemble players to play.
Try playing this music both from the parts and from the score with
your favorite duet partner to see for yourself which is easier. You
can also try using the facsimile: Cantus part, and Tenor part.


Most of the transcribing I have done is from the Broude Brother's
Performer's Facsimiles.

These editions are a fair amount of work, and I want as many people as
possible to benefit from it. So I make all the music I typeset
available for free download over the internet in several forms, so
that people who don't like the decisions I've made about how I want to
play these pieces can use my data entry work to create their own

This example is one of the Morley Canzonets for Two
. If you want to play the others, I've got them in
a book you can download, buy, or just read about at can2v.html

All the music I transcribe is available at the Serpent Publications site:, in pdf and MIDI, and also
in the source form for the free music publishing programs I use, ABC and Lilypond.

In addition, I make some things available in hard
copy for the cost of printing, shipping and handling. Details about
this are available at
the shopping page.

There is starting to be a lot of music available for free download on
the internet which is of interest to recorder players. Two of my
favorite sites are the
Werner Icking archive