When studying sixteenth-century intabulations I try to be aware of their vocal originals. I look these up to analyse their structures so I know how the phrasing is and where the cadences are. I mark the polyphony in the intabulations and perhaps I will even write the words above the music to know about the commas, word accents and where to express what emotion. I check which repeated notes were originally tied, so I can play those notes softer. By doing all this I feel I am faithful to the originals and I am able to convey all the musical content of the pieces, hidden in the tablatures. And when I encounter an intabulation of which I cannot find the vocal original, I might decide not to study it, because I feel I do not fully understand the polyphony and have no idea about the text and therefore the character of the piece. All this assumes that the first intabulators were just as faithful to the originals as I am. But were they? To question their intabulating habits, and by extension my own approach to playing their music, I have compared several versions for lute solo, made by different sixteenth-century lutenists, of Jacques Arcadelt’s madrigal Quando io penso al martire. I have limited myself to printed editions.
David van Ooijen