The Drunkman’s Guild To Playing pre-Baroque Music

So, my new book, volume 3 of Monumenta Musica Neerlandica, Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis, MCMLXI, finally arrived.  Besides the catchy title, which came from a time when the average attention span was more than two words, this wonderful book contains the complete Suzanne van Soldt manuscript.  I immediately started playing it on my Hauptwerk Harpsichord.  Since I suck at the harpsichord, I quickly gave up and tried the violin, at which I suck less.

The van Soldt manuscript was compiled in 1600.  The music is definitely is a little late to be Renaissance; but also a bit too early to be hardcore Baroque.  So, what is it?  It’s Dutch!  I am not sure; but I think the Dutch are related to the Flems.  That might be important later; so keep that in mind.

So, as I stumbled through the ‘scrift [sic] I started taking notes about some unique features of the music of the time period.  Here are some things that might piss off a drunken person trying to play this crap:

  • A piece written in predominately whole notes and half notes doesn’t mean the tune is slow.  No, in fact, it is a warning that there will be some nasty sixteenth-note-divisions later on.  Also, be prepared to encounter the brevis (the square note).  I once thought I saw a longa, but it turned out to be a stray cat peeing on a tree.
  • Cut Time does not necessarily mean 2:4.  It can also mean 2:2, 2:1, 6:8, 6:4, 6:1, 6:0.5.
  • Cut Time does not imply the piece is in 2-time.
  • Any time signature does not imply the whole piece will stay that way.  Be prepared for sudden inexplicable changes.
  • Just ignore the time signatures.
  • Don’t ask.  No one knows for sure what all of the slashes mean.
  • There is nothing wrong with a one or two measure repeated section.
  • The ancients wrote some accidentals above or below notes to save ink.
  • They were still using ternary divisions; but didn’t want to admit it.
  • The ancients put a lot of rests at the start of their pieces to ensure they had enough time to tune their instruments.  You can ignore it since we have fine tuners now.

When playing with music of the time period (e.g. along with a CD), role 2d12 and add it to 76 then multiply that by 5 to determine the frequency for A above middle-C.  Then role 1d12 to determine how many divisions of the comma are to be distributed over the octave.  If you get confused, you must make a savings-throw versus insanity.  Or is that a constitution check?  I don’t care!

May your cats do unto us as shit roles downhill.

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