Ick Claeg Venus Dieren
This lesson, number 46 from ‘114 Early to Intermediate Pieces for Renaissance Lute’, has an extremely attractive tune, and requires all of the basic skills of playing a melody, some divisions, and harmonic support. Written for a 7 course lute with the 7th course tuned to F, it suffers little if the low Fs are put up an octave to the open 4th course, so can be tackled by those with only 6 course instruments. It looks like a three-section piece but the 3rd section is simply a repeat of the 2nd. I suggest repeating the first section to make a more balanced and satisfying binary form. When section breaks (double bar lines, etc) are indicated in original manuscripts, it is often unclear whether they imply a repeat or simply a punctuation in the piece. I also suggest one small correction to the right-hand fingering: the index finger dot on the 5th note of the antepenultimate bar needs to move one note later.
One interesting aspect of this piece is the distribution of bass notes: some melody notes (such as those in the second half of bar 1) are unharmonised, even though the change of melodic note would suggest a new bass note. Several bars, including 3, 9, 11 and 12, have bass notes on the weaker beat in the middle of a bar, but not on the downbeat where one would expect one. Finally, the bass notes in the second / third section are largely doubling the melody notes at the octave, so are not really adding harmony but merely thickening the texture. The result is a very interesting challenge in melodic phrasing, and an excellent opportunity to work on one’s right hand touch. The first requirement is the ability to play a good legato line, which in turn demands excellent co-ordination between the hands, and great precision in lifting the left hand fingers. If a finger is lifted a fraction too early the note will be cut off prematurely and a choppy line will result. If you are hearing this when you play, slow down and practise making a seamless transition from one note to the next. Keep your volume well up when you do this, so you can hear very clearly if the sound is stopped. The sweeping flourish which occupies bars 14-15 and 22-23 needs to be especially legato, but also needs a light touch: it should sound smooth and decorative, rather than tense and spiky. Many players tense up when they encounter quicker passages, and one usually hears this tension in a lack of legato. Mentally prepare yourself for the flourish just before it happens, relax and lighten your touch, and be careful not to rush these little division passages, and the result will usually be more successful.
To give shape and character to the melody, it is essential to cultivate different weights of stroke, and especially to make a distinction between a light upbeat and a heavier downbeat, so that the rhythm is clearly conveyed. At the same time, we want to avoid giving the same weight to every bar, and to respond to the bigger structures, in this case 2, 4 and 8 bar units. Our individual interpretations may differ. For example, I like to play bar 1 as though it goes to bar 2, then bars 3 and 4 as a gentler answer to this phrase. You may hear the phrase structure differently, but the important thing is that however you hear it, you convey those shapes to your listener, so that the resultant piece has light and shade. A useful tip is - again - to play clarity and good volume, so that you have somewhere to go when you want to lighten some notes.
Finally, if you are playing on a 7 course lute, the lowest bass notes will be easy to find, but if your instrument has 8 or more courses finding the low F can be tricky. Using the right hand middle and index fingers rather than thumb and index to play the melody helps to free up the thumb, but do not wait until a bass note is due before sending the thumb towards it: prepare the thumb as much in advance as possible, to avoid those last-minute lunges for the lower strings.
This is particularly true in bars 4 and 8, where the bass note comes earlier than one might expect, and the thumb is needed in the previous chord.