Preamble in C
a transcription of Adam Ileborgh Tabalture (1448) by Wili Apel (1942)
Of course, this is modern-player-friendly, but completely takes away the notation for the horizontal pedal feel which is unique to this preamble as most of the other pieces in this collection are notated on one staff only without letters.3 Modern transcriptions could be helpful, but as Parrish states, most often they could so easily turn into personal interpretations and compromises.
Besides a healthy independence from someone else’s work, “An understanding of the evolution of notation can often aid in forming a reasonable presumption on which to work, pending a final solution.”4 A closer look at the notation is just another method of achieving a more informed, more authentic performance practice. In addition, a full understanding of music notation also depends on a thorough familiarity with the notation from the previous era understanding how the music notation of a work came about from the previous system. This renders a deeper, clearer understanding of any work of music.
Perhaps at this point I should mention a few disadvantages of tablature notation. The most obvious one is that it does not show any melodic or intervallic contour at a first glance. Williams judges this to be impractical for violinists and winds (each instrument will need a different system that fits best which will not be universal for all instruments) and points out that it is also not ideal to express distant modulations5 which is, of course, very prominent in the music of later periods. However, he suggests that solfege could have been a type of revived tablature in the 19th century.6
The very first advantage I experienced when I was training in tablature to perform was its clear display of polyphony which was very much needed for the solo performer of polyphonic music in the 16th century, whereas the display of voices onto 2-staff, 2-hand score will really mash up the contrapuntal lines into the staves. This also makes the tablature notation versatile. It would be possible to put it on a table for 4 players to play, whereas this would be much harder to accomplish with a 2-staff keyboard score. In addition, what I have experienced in my interactions with the experiment participants (especially the ones without advanced keyboard skills) is that tablature is a fantastic pedagogical tool. Just as the tablature treatises say, it is beginner-friendly. As music performers, we seldom realize how much information the staff notation contains. My experience as a piano teacher for more than 12 years working with children has really enlightened me about the difficulties of getting fluent in staff notation for beginners and young children. Most children’s method books do not even start out with staff notation but with finger numbers (just like the Spanish tablature) and with letter names (German). Only after weeks of training with letter names and counting out loud are young pupils introduced to the staff notation. Ife and Trudy attribute the inclusion of Cabezón’s pieces in Venegas’ Libro de cifra to a sales strategy: “relatively easy pieces by a famous composer would appeal to the amateur market and help to promote sales.”7 This is not just a business trick, but I think also an inspirational pedagogical method. Why have students play rigid, unmusical exercises on the harpsichord when they could play easy, beginner-level pieces from a master, such as the “Ave Maris Stella” by Cabezón, which nearly all of my experiment participants could sight-read 20-30 minutes into the module!