“Oral transmission and the production of guitar tablature books in seventeenth-century Italy,” Recercare XXVII/1-2 (2015), 185-208
Italian guitar repertories remain fertile ground for exploring the concomitant forces of oral and written practice at play in the production and diffusion of music during the Seicento.Quite vivid in their display of unwritten musical practice are guitar tablature books with alfabeto, a system of chordal strumming notation first popularized in music prints during the 1610s and 20s. The flood of guitar strumming tablature books (intavolature) issued by composers and guitarists such as Giovanni Ambrosio Colonna, Lodovico Monti, Antonio Carbonchi, and Pietro Millioni has provided scholars with a closely-knit core repertory of guitar pieces for which alfabeto tablature alone (sometimes accompanied with directional strummed-stroke notation) appeared to have sufficed in communicating their identities to readers. While on the surface these pieces appear in the strummed tablatures as a repertory of chord progressions, many circulate in other sources with bass lines and melodies, and sometimes with texts set to the music. Arias such as the Folia, Spagnoletta, Monica, and Granduca are among the most commonly encountered such numbers found in the printed guitar tablatures, tunes and chordal schemes widely known both to seventeenth-century musicians and contemporary scholars alike.
Oral transmission and the production of guitar tablature books in seventeenth-century Italy