On the Right Hand Fingerings in Lute Publications of Nicolas Vallet


This paper proposes the analysis of the right hand fingerings as they appear in the lute music of Nicolas Vallet. Vallet uses two different notation systems for the right hand fingerings. The first one is traditional for 16th— and early 17th-century lute tablature: in the monophonic passages, the odd tablature letters don’t have any additional sign, while the even ones are marked with a dot. The dot normally meaning the right hand index finger and its absence — the thumb, this system, at first glance, seems to indicate the standard Renaissance way of playing such passages: by thumb–index alternative strokes.
In other Vallet’s works, the odd notes are marked with a small double stroke, which means, according to Vallet’s preface and to many other 17th-century sources, the middle finger. So, the passages notated in this way must be played by the middle–index alternation.
The question put in the article is: do these notational differences correspond to real differences in playing technique intended by Vallet, or are they merely «differences on paper»?
Four hypothesis have been considered: (1) stylistic differences between the works may be responsible of using various ways of fingering; (2) a probable link of the two ways of fingering with the use of different models of lutes (7-, 8-, 9- or 10-courses); (3) the evolution in Vallet’s personal instrumental technique; (4) the differences as they are observed in the tablature, are just notational and don’t imply two different techniques.
The study of the whole content of the 2 volumes of Vallet’s «Le Secret des Muses», the parallel analysis of his use of the left hand fingerings and ornamental signs, as well as study of other 17th century sources concerning right hand technique bring us to consider the 4th hypothesis as the most probable. Probably already in 1615, the middle–index alternation technique must have been the main one (at least when playing upon the first three courses) for N. Vallet and for many other lutists, while the older thumb–index fingering remained an alternative technique and used for some special cases (such as playing passages upon lower courses).