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"Toccata Arpeggiata" by Kapsberger

The main points of this web page are to: 1) present a nice piece of music which has an interesting background, 2) demonstrate how much easier a piece can be to play in a non-obvious, non-standard guitar tuning which, 3) incidentally, provides one more example of the value of tablature (to those who still scoff.)

All you get is one piece presented in two tunings; this isn't a "complete Kapsberger", if that's what you've come to expect from some of my other tablature pages.

In his "Transcriber's Art" column (Soundboard magazine, Fall 2000) Richard Yates presented three pieces by Johann Heironymus Kapsberger. The first one, "Toccata Arpeggiata" (1604) for chitarrone, is just a series of chords that the performer is supposed to arpeggiate however he likes. I thought it was pretty neat. I also thought it was pretty hard, the way it stacked up small intervals. That's fine for a piano; seconds and thirds are what you get if you blindly slap your hands down on a keyboard. But a blindly struck guitar gives you fourths, on the average. It takes a real effort to stack up seconds and thirds!

Richard Yates' transcription uses the low D tuning - even though the key signature indicates A major, and there are no notes below low E. That might sound strange, but there's a reason for it. In order to wring out some of those tightly-packed 3-note chords in the treble, it was necessary to finger them in higher positions. In some cases, that put the required bass note out of reach. By lowering the 6th string, its notes are shifted higher up the fingerboard, thereby putting them back in reach.

It occurred to me that a better way to go might be to lower the 1st string to D - sort of "collapsing" it in on its closest neighbors. I refingered the piece for this tuning, EADGBD, and found that the killer spots to be much smoothed over. You might have to be a little bit more on your toes right-hand-wise since there are more instances where the treble notes are not on 3 adjacent strings, but that makes the piece a good right-hand exercise (being stoic about it.)

In any case, I've worked up both versions in tablature for you to try. If you don't need convincing, I suggest going straight for the second one.

Click here for "Toccata Arpeggiata" in regular tuning with string 6 tuned to D (DADGBE).

Click here for "Toccata Arpeggiata" with string 1 tuned to D, EADGBD. Should be easier!

If it didn't involve so much typing, I'd give you the whole of Richard Yates' very interesting introductory article to the "Toccata Arpeggiata", but here are some of the main points (often quoting Richard).

The chitarrone was a theorboized lute, meaning it had long bass strings off the fingerboard. The top 6 courses were tuned like the Renaissance lute, which guitarists are quite familiar with, except that the highest two courses were tuned down an octave.

Kapsberger wrote the earliest and highest quality solo music for chitarrone. He was active when the Renaissance era was transitioning into the Baroque. The Baroque suite was to appear just a few decades later, but in Kapsberger's 1611 lute book he already presented toccatas (a free form which was to become the prelude) followed by gagliardes and correntes.

The "Toccata Arpeggiata" is from the Libro Primo D'Intavolatura di Chitarone (Venice, 1604.) As Baroque-like as it is, it is actually more conservative than most of Kapsberger's toccatas.

Johann Hironymus Kapsberger also went by his Italianized name, Giovanni Giralomo Kapsberger.

Although I put guitar music up on the web in tablature, I want to point out that even with a somewhat odd tuning such as (1) = D, the piece is quite easily readable in music notation when complete fingering information is supplied. See my page on guitar fingering notation. You just follow the numbers, and your fingers will play the 1st string notes 2 frets higher. It's magic!

Also, I present this piece as evidence supporting my claim that we ought to consider customizing the tuning for any given guitar composition or transcription in order to make it as easy as possible to play - maybe even putting a computer to work to figure out this "best" tuning. Visit my pages on "Alternate tunings" and "Computers and arranging for guitar. Also see my Francois Campion page, with guitar pieces in a variety of altered tunings.

Click here for general comments on the modern tablature, including some tips on printing it out perfectly.


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