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Understanding early music and use of clefs

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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As those of you who have known me a while, my handle on here comes from the fact that I play the viola da gamba (aka viol) and I play both tenor and bass. The standard clef for the tenor is 'alto' C3 clef and it goes up to use octave treble G2 clef (sounds octave lower than written). The bass uses bass clef (F4) and alto (C3).
I play cello, which uses bass (F4), tenor (C4), and treble (G2) at pitch.

Saxophones all use treble G2, but are transposed.

I thought you might like this video which gives some of the challenges in understanding early music and use of clefs... which makes you realise a)life is now simpler for most of us, b)if all you play is an instrument that uses one clef, lucky you...

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View: https://youtu.be/qBmBuMsiIt0
 

Wade Cornell

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Kudos to you! I love the sound of the viola da gamba and most of the music that's written for it. I can only begin to imagine the work and training it takes to master the instrument and play such complex music. Do you have any recordings?
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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6,716
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Whitchurch, North Shropshire UK
Kudos to you! I love the sound of the viola da gamba and most of the music that's written for it. I can only begin to imagine the work and training it takes to master the instrument and play such complex music. Do you have any recordings?
Of me playing? No... I've transposed some viol music for the Café Sax Ensemble... A rare picture of me playing tenor viol in a consort with a lutenist. Pre-beard... picture from around 2007 or 2008 or so... on an early music summer school...
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Wade Cornell

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Really enjoyed the clip you've posted.

I presume you have seen "Tous les matins du monde"
The music from this film is amazing! The wonderful Jordi Saval plays. He's recently toured Australia and New Zealand with his group Hespèrion XX I . He's getting kind of old for touring, but hey, I'm not complaining! I have a number of their recordings and some special ones with Montserrat Figueras, who is sadly no longer with us. Hopefully his kids who are in Hespèrion XX I will be taking over and keeping this music alive.
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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Yes, I have quite a few Hespèrion XXI CDs. I think Tous les matins due mode features French viol music by Marais and Ste. Coulombe. Marias wrote some fiendishly difficult viol music for solo bass (the bass viol is the solo instrument of the viol family). Unlike the more modern violin family (i.e. cello) you can play chords more readily on viols... Should add that French bass viols typically have 7 rather than 6 strings, and have a low A below the usual D.

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View: https://youtu.be/bTd0q4y6ln8
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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NB Edited to extend some points.

Made the mistake of reading some of the comments under that Youtube video.... Some people really don't understand their musical history....

Quick summary: a group of fretted stringed instruments loosely tuned in 4ths (with the odd 3rd) came into Europe via Spain probably from North Africa during the Crusades. In Spain they were referred to as 'vihuela'. Originally they were plucked and known as the vihuela da mano. By around 1400 the plucked version was becoming the guitar and a bowed version evolved which was played with a bow and either sat on the lap or between the legs for the larger ones. This gets the Italian name 'viola da gamba' with 'viola' being the Italian derivative from 'vihuela' and 'da gamba' because it was played 'on the leg'. The violin is 'da braccio' or 'on the arm'.

Viol is the English name and viols were very popular instruments played at home in a group or consort, or with other instruments (as in a 'broken consort'). It was common for wealthier families to have a 'chest' of viols - literally a large box containing 6 viols - 2 trebles, 2 tenors, 2 basses. There is a 'double bass' viol: that is in fact the ancestor of the modern double bass - which is why a)it has sloping shoulders, and b)it is tuned in 4ths not 5ths. If a double bass has 'square' shoulders, then it is a bass violin. There are various other sizes of viol including a higher pitched pardessus and an alto. The baroque era standardised on treble, tenor and bass. The treble and bass were tuned DGCEAD an octave apart, and the tenor GCFADG a 4th above the bass (pardessus an octave above that and the violine an octave below).

Unlike the violin family, the viols are properly sized for their pitch, which is why the tenor viol is the size of a guitar and not a viola. It sounds a 4th lower (low G) than a viola (C in the 2nd space bass clef) but the viola is woefully under-size for its pitch which is wy it sounds congested. The standard bass viol is about the size of a cello and goes to the D below bass clef (cello is a tone lower at C). The treble is one octave higher than the bass. The violine is one octave lower than the tenor.

French bass viols often had a 7th string - low A - and virtuosic bass solo music was a feature of French viol music.

The bass has always been the solo member of the family and English composers such as Christopher Simpson also wrote virtuoso music for bass.

There is a smaller bass viol called the Lyra Viol. It is designed to be able to make it easier to play chords and is typically played from music notated in lute tablature rather than staff notation. I have some...

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Last edited:

Andrew Sanders

Northern Commissioner for Caslm
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Of me playing? No... I've transposed some viol music for the Café Sax Ensemble... A rare picture of me playing tenor viol in a consort with a lutenist. Pre-beard... picture from around 2007 or 2008 or so... on an early music summer school...
View attachment 12592
You look newly hatched Ron. Nice shirt too.
 
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