The 16th-Century Arrangements of Vocal Polyphony for the Guitar and for the Cittern


A study of the intabulation techniques of vocal polyphony for the «imperfect» Renaissance instruments — the 4-course guitar and the cittern. The «imperfection» of these instruments (that is, their polyphonic limitations, such as a limited total ambitus, or the plectrum technique on the cittern) was compensated by their popu­larity that created a tendency to build for them a «serious» repertory based upon the favourite polyphonic songs and even motets. One can observe different ways to adapt a rather complex polyphony to guitar’s or cittern’s possibilities. Some musicians transpose voices from one octave to another or take off some portions of them, without much care about the resulting harmonical and contrapuntal irregularities (Le Roy, Morlaye — ​in their guitar intabulations, Phalèse and others — ​in cittern ones), others choose simpler, 2 or 3-voice models to intabulate (guitar: Gorlier, partially Le Roy). Still other possibility is to rework completely the original’s polyphony (rather than simply «intabulate» it) in order to adapt it to the instrument without loosing the contrapuntal clarity and quality (Gorlier, for the guitar). Towards the end of the 16th century appear 6-course citterns (Kargel, Virchi), whose polyphonic faculties approach those of such a «perfect» instrument as lute.