The Lute Society: Beginners Lesson 51

Hans Jüdenkünig: Zart schönste Fraw

  • Lesson 51 of our beginners lessons, by Lynda Sayce
  • Piece no. 26 in 40 Easy to Early Intermediate Pieces for Renaissance Lute
  • Full copies of the playing editions from which the lessons are taken can be ordered in our catalogue

Beginners’ lesson: Zart schönste Fraw

This charming 2-part setting is piece no. 26 in ’40 Easy to Early Intermediate Pieces for Renaissance Lute’, and sits at the easier end of that spectrum. It offers an ideal practice piece for learning to play two-part homophony and simple polyphony. The lute society’s publication already has complete fingering for the left hand, so most questions are to do with the right-hand fingering, especially how one deals with repeated two-part chords.

The easiest approach is to use the right-hand middle finger and thumb for the two-part chords, keeping the index finger in reserve for any offbeat / single notes such as the final notes of bars 2, 8 and 23. Points to work on are 1) make sure that the constituent notes of each chord are perfectly simultaneous. A chord with only two notes will always sound more like an accident than a musical choice if it is spread, so make sure your notes are perfectly together. Listen carefully for the balance between the finger note and the thumb note. Both should be clearly audible. When you are satisfied with these aspects, aim to get some shape into the phrases, so that the two-note chords do not all have exactly the same dynamic. You should be able to shape a line played in chords as clearly as a line played in single notes. If you are wondering how to shape the phrases dynamically, I suggest starting by phrasing away on the cadences, so each ‘sentence’ ends lightly and gracefully. Upbeat chords such as those at the end of bars 5, 9 and 11 occupy light beats in the bar, so should also be played lightly. Downbeat chords should be a little heavier. This simple step will start to bring some shape and dynamic shading to your piece. When you are comfortable with all of these details, a further refinement is to replace the middle finger with the index finger for chords which fall on light beats – those upbeat chords would be good candidates for this. In this way, you will be shaping the top line of your texture with the same fingering that you would use if it were a single line, in that the index finger will always play the lighter notes.

The most challenging chords are those where the voices lie on adjacent courses. Resist the temptation to use two fingers on these; the thumb must be involved. The key to getting a good clean sound for both notes is to make sure that there is adequate separation between finger and thumb. Thumb-inside technique would be most appropriate for this music, but if you play thumb-out that is also fine. However, an uncommitted or confused ‘thumb-opposite’ technique will not work!

The main aim of any sort of intabulation is an excellent legato; there should be no unintentional gaps between chords caused by fingering changes, and this is a really useful piece for refining this. If you find a particular fingering change difficult, and it causes a bump in the line, break it down into individual voices, keeping the same fingering that you would use with the full texture; make sure that each finger knows exactly where it has to go next. When you can play the individual voices fluently, put them back together slowly, and gradually bring the whole up to speed. I recommend aiming for a speed where you have two comfortable beats in a bar rather than four, so that the melodic flow of the piece is clear. There will still be some quite long notes, especially at the ends of phrases; be careful not to rush these.

Many beginners struggle with these rather stark two-part song settings, but they offer the perfect vehicle to develop and enjoy the purity of a good lute sound, and the instrument’s ability to convey polyphony. When you feel comfortable playing this piece, and can do so with excellent legato and clear phrasing, you could experiment with adding a few simple left-hand embellishments (I suggest starting with notes on strong beats, since the ornaments add some accent). Try also adding some simple divisions. As you work on the piece, some phrases might jump out as being particularly suitable for a little embellishment, so enjoy exploring. Don’t be tempted to try anything too adventurous which might disturb the tactus or the cleanness of your playing. If in doubt, leave it out!

Lynda Sayce