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ClassicsOnline Home » Manchester Gamba Book (The) (Berger)
The Manchester Gamba Book is the largest extant manuscript of 17th-century viol music, now kept in the Watson music collection in Manchester. Different in many regards from the later cello, the secrets of viola da gamba performance style are revealed in this priceless volume, including Gervise Gerrarde’s Paven (C2 ), the most richly ornamented piece in the instrument’s literature. Other contributions include settings of popular English songs of the period, and from otherwise unknown musicians such as Stephen Goodall and Richard Sumarte.
The Manchester Gamba Book (c. 1660)
There were two styles of solo viol playing in seventeenth-century England. The Division Viol style was a continuation of the sixteenth-century practice of adding melodic and decorative notes to an existing piece. The newer Lyra Viol style incorporated various elements from lute music, including the use of chords, variant tunings, tablature notation, and the insertion of concise, generally harmonic, and often expressively dissonant lute-style ornaments which were notated with small graphic symbols.
The Manchester Gamba Book (c. 1660) is the largest extant manuscript of solo viol music, containing 258 pieces in 22 different tunings. It contains pieces in both Division Viol and Lyra Viol styles, but its use of variant tunings and tablature notation technically assigns it to the realm of the Lyra Viol. The history of the manuscript is obscure until 1909, when it was bought by the music scholar Dr Henry Watson. It is now held in the Watson music collection in Manchester Public Library.
The manuscript is organized by tunings. This recording includes all of the pieces shown in tablature notation in the first three tunings (in which notes fall comfortably under the fingers*. The first tuning is the standard viol tuning, which can easily be found on a guitar merely by re-tuning the third string down a half-step, from g to f#). The second tuning is the same as the first except that the lowest string is re-tuned one step lower. The third tuning (called Lyra Way) is the same configuration as a guitar but with the two lowest strings each re-tuned one step lower.
Half of the 38 contributors to the Manchester Gamba Book are otherwise unknown. Four of these unknown contributors share the surname “Read”, one of whom (Henrie Read) is the probable compiler of the manuscript. The most prolific of these otherwise unknown contributors is Richarde Sumarte, whose more than thirty pieces suggest that he may have been a resident music teacher in the Read household. About half of Sumarte’s pieces are settings of seventeenth-century English popular songs, often including one or two variations which students such as the Read family may have used as models for their own improvised variations.
One other noteworthy unknown is Stephen Goodall. He contributed only a few simple pieces, but each one is designed to teach a specific principle or technique. His most interesting piece (CD1£) demonstrates two types of hemiola, a charming change of the rhythmic beat at the end of the phrase.
Two small items in this large manuscript make it one of the greatest treasures of Lyra Viol literature. One is the Table of Graces (ie ornament chart), depicting the new style of ornamentation which was currently evolving in France. The lute and viol ornament charts in seventeenth-century English manuscripts generally gave the name of an ornament and a graphic symbol for notating it, but neglected to indicate the actual notes of the ornament. A particular name might be used in one manuscript with one particular graphic sign, and then the same name appear in another manuscript with a different sign, or a particular sign might be attached to two different ornament names in two different manuscripts. The Table of Graces in the Manchester Gamba Book is uniquely valuable in that it includes not just the names and signs for each ornament, but also tablature notation indicating specifically how to play it.
The other (and substantially greater) gem in the manuscript is the Paven (CD2%) in the Lyra Way tuning by Gervise Gerrarde. Gerrarde is also the probable creator of the Table of Graces which complements his Paven so extraordinarily well.
Gerrarde’s Paven is the most richly ornamented piece in the entire literature of the instrument, and is a virtual masterclass in Lyra Viol style ornamentation. It was probably written as a response to Christopher Simpson’s brief and less than adequate comments on Lyra Viol ornamentation in his otherwise superb instruction manual The Division Viol. At first glance the version of Gerrarde’s Paven in the Manchester Gamba Book appears to be an idiosyncratically irregular piece. Closer inspection, however, reveals an extremely high degree of regularity in various aspects of its construction. The Paven as notated is actually intended to be the final variation of a much simpler piece, after that simple piece has gradually been taken through a series of increasingly richer variations.
To perform Gerrarde’s Paven in an historically authentic manner, the player must begin with a much simpler, metrically regular version of the piece that can ultimately evolve into the final notated version. The player must then develop a strategy for creating a series of variations which embellish the piece with ever richer and denser ornamentation until those variations eventually arrive at Gervise Gerrarde’s final version. Although this recording does not take on this intriguing and challenging task at the present time, a detailed prescription for the process can be found in Paul Furnas: The Manchester Gamba Book: A Primary Source of Ornaments for the Lyra Viol. PhD dissertation, Stanford University, 1978 (pages 85–102).
* Listeners who are viol or guitar players might wish to download tablature notation for their favorite pieces from the website of The Viola da Gamba Society of America: www.vdgsa.org.
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Manchester Gamba Book (The) (Berger)