The Five-Course Guitar:Alfabeto and Italian Songs


This dissertation examines the repertory of printed Italian song with the chordsymbol notation for five-course guitar known as alfabeto. This repertory spans the first half of the seventeenth century, representing the notated trace of a widespread unwritten tradition of semi-improvised song and dance that influenced both the performance and composition of printed Italian song in the seventeenth century. An examination of the relationship between the alfabeto symbols and the notated music reveals varied approaches to alfabeto notation in these songbooks. In some, particularly the Roman and Neapolitan editions from the 1610s and 20s, the alfabeto symbols are incompletely integrated into the music, and are set with little or no attention to their practical value for the guitarist. But in later prints, particularly from Venice in the 1620s-1650s, the alfabeto suggests a new understanding of and influence from the dance-song tradition.
This division between “non-practical” and “practical” alfabeto sources allows a more detailed discussion of the guitar and song accompaniment than has heretofore been possible, including a more specific description of guitaristic harmonies that are not commonly found in standard continuo treatises. The influence of the five-course guitar on the development of functional harmonic tonality, a topic that has been broached but never fully investigated by scholars, is also given a renewed examination. This study confirms the importance of the performance practice associated with the five-course guitar, which influenced performance, composition, and musical thought at a vital formative period in the history of music.

by Alexander Dean


Chapter 1-Early Seventeenth-century italian secular song and spanish vernacular traditions

Chapter 2-The guitar villanueva:villanella canzoneta, and the five course in Naples and Rome circa 1600

Chapter 3-The integration of oral traditions in northern italian sources

Chapter 4-The Five course guitar and acompanimental practique in the Seventeenth-century


Chapter 5 -Incipient Functional Harmonic Tonality in Seventeenth-century guitar tutors
List of musical examples



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