Free Arrangements

Additional arrangements of Renaissance music are now available for you to download and enjoy over the holidays for free. Go to the website and click on “Free” to access the music, historical notes and recordings.

They range from a demi-basse dance, to conte clares, a prelude, a gaillarde and a series of chansons.

All the pieces are from the nine books published by Adrian Le Roy and Guillaume Morlaye in the mid-16th century and were specifically written for the Renaissance guitar, the direct ancestor of the ukulele (i.e. the same tuning).

LeRoy (1551) Image - Cover

I am making these arrangements available for free as I go through the nine books to arrange the remaining pieces into a series of books, called “Troves”, for dozens of Fantasies, Bransles, Pavanes, Gaillardes and Chansons (available in 2021).

Recitals and Suites

As a classical music player (on guitar and ukulele) and with the help of my teachers, I select pieces that compliment each other and create a mini-suite or recital. The selected pieces are not necessarily connected to each other formally by the composer and do not have to be by the same composer either. They just need to work together with some commonality. For example, pairing etudes from Gerald Garcia with those of Leo Brouwer. If working from a book of studies, etudes, or short pieces usually by the same composer, then several of the pieces are selected to create my own suite or recital.

My teachers also help me select formal suites or sonatas that I work to learn completely. The guitar ensemble also selects pieces with multiple movements for performance or pieces by the same composer from a larger body of work.

I’ve put together three books that follow these principles. If there is interest, I can create more (just let me know what you’d like).

A Military Recital — While arranging Renaissance guitar music, I noticed several lengthy pieces with a military “theme”. They are either descriptive pieces depicting a particular battle or dance pieces incorporating military-type passages. I also included a transcription of a Baroque piece (originally written for harpsichord). Listen now.

A Spanish Recital — As a student of the guitar, I learned the Spanish Suite arranged by John Mills based on the music of Gaspar Sans.  Inspired by this concept, I researched and found a lot of music Gaspar Sans and selected ten pieces to create a recital for the ukulele. Listen now.

Sonata 24 by Weiss — I’ve played portions of this sonata on the guitar and was inspired to challenge myself and arrange the entire 8-movement sonata for ukulele. The original music is in the key of D-Minor and has been transposed to the key of G-Minor for the ukulele so as to preserve as many of the fingerings as possible.  Also, some passages have been simplified, including using different bass lines or notes, especially since the ukulele only has four strings and the pieces were originally written for the lute. Listen now.


About the arranger, Robert Vanderzweerde

For those of you curious about my name and heritage …
Yes, it is Dutch and I was born in Amsterdam. It’s really spelled “van der Zweerde” but my parents changed it when they emigrated to Canada when I was only 3 and my sister wasn’t yet 2 years old. The rest of the family (grandparents, aunts/uncles) also emigrated within a couple of years.
While my first language is Dutch, the entire family switched to English so I speak Dutch at the level of a 3 year old, cannot read the language (unless I sound it out) and can understand about 75% when it’s spoken to me. Every time I fly to/through Schiphol on KLM, I get asked if I still speak the language at customs (in Dutch of course) and I have to explain what happened.
I learned English history and never knew about the Dutch involvement with the Spanish Armada until my parents explained. My mother taught me “Piet Hein” and about De Zilvervloot (the Silver Fleet) and I still sing it at family gatherings, both in Dutch with an English accent and a poetic translation in English for the next generation of the family born in Canada.
I am a mathematician so music is a natural love of mine. It’s been a part of my entire life and now my main focus after retiring from a career in technology. While guitar is my first instrument (both folk and classical), ukulele and period instruments are my latest adventures.
This is me before leaving The Netherlands and boarding the plane to Montreal, Canada with my mom and sister.

Favorites of the Favorites

With 16 books completed, it’s time for a book of my favorites from the Renaissance and Baroque. From the introduction … These pieces are the favorites of the arranger, Robert Vanderzweerde, for many reasons. Some are just fun to play, many will be recognized by music lovers of other genres so they become great “set” pieces when asked to demonstrate what you do and, finally, Robert performed many of these pieces while learning to play classical guitar and they have remained favorites ever since. The pieces in this book are ordered first by musical era and then by degree of difficulty, starting with those that are easier.

Medieval music is ready

The Medieval Ukulele is now available on Amazon and Kobo. Here are the explanations of the arrangements and links to the recordings so you can explore the music from the 5th to 15th centuries …

The Estampie is the first known genre of medieval era dance music, a popular instrumental and vocal form in the 13th and 14th centuries with a succession of repeated sections. The melody in a lively triple meter is monophonic (in soprano/alto range such as a recorder). However, the melody becomes polyphonic when accompanied by instrumentalists (in tenor range such as the crumhorn). They were played as entertainment for the wealthy during their feasts.
The Ductia as like the estampie but more regular. “The ductia is a melody that is light and brisk in its ascents and descents, and which is sung in carole by young men and girls, …. It influences the hearts of young girls and men and draws them from vanity, and is said to have power against that passion which is called love or ‘eros’.” (Johannes de Grocheio).
This piece is my favorite … Canção do figueiral (Song of the fig-tree orchard) is celebrated as the oldest traditional song in Portuguese (about 12th century).
Most of the arrangements in this book are of songs. People who sang the secular songs of the middle ages were jongleurs or minstrels, first appearing around the 10th century. These actors, acrobats, fiddlers and singers moved from castle to castle.
A Troubadour is a composer and performer of Old Occitan lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages (1100–1350). The troubadour school or tradition spread to Italy and Spain. The texts of troubadour songs deal mainly with themes of chivalry and courtly love. Most were metaphysical, intellectual, and formulaic. Many were humorous or vulgar satires.
There were three Formes Fixes of verse set to music between the late 13th and the 15th centuries. Each was also a musical form, generally a chanson, and all consisted of a complex pattern of repetition of verses and a refrain with musical content in two main sections. The rondeau is believed to have originated in dance songs.
A Chanson is in general any lyric-driven French song, usually polyphonic and secular. A singer specializing in chansons is known as a “chanteur” or “chanteuse”, and collection of chansons is a “chansonnier”. The earliest chansons geste were the epic poems performed to simple monophonic melodies. These usually recounted the famous deeds (geste) of past heroes, legendary and semi-historical. The chanson courtoise or grand chant was an early form of monophonic chanson, the chief lyric poetic genre of the trouvères. It was a song of courtly love, written usually by a man to his noble lover. A Burgundian chanson is a polyphonic French song of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. The earliest chansons were for two, three or four voices, with first three becoming the norm. Sometimes, the singers were accompanied by instruments.
A Cantiga is a medieval monophonic song. Over 400 extant cantigas come from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, narrative songs about miracles or hymns in praise of the Holy Virgin. Derived from medieval dance forms, the 15th century Villancico was a type of popular song sung in the vernacular and frequently associated with rustic themes. With the decline in popularity of the villancicos in the 20th century, the term became reduced to mean merely “Christmas carol”.
Coventry Carol was simply “Song 2” from the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. It was named after the city of Coventry where theatrical performances about the theological mysteries of God’s creation were performed as early as 1392 until suppressed in 1579.

What’s Next – Medieval music

I was planning to start arranging music of the Classical and Romantic eras. The early to mid-19th century was considered “the golden age of the guitar” with many great performers who were also composers (Sor, Giuliani, Carcassi, Carulli and Aguado). This era was followed by the “dark period” (mid-19th to mid-20th century), despite great works by composers like Tarrega, when the guitar lost ground to the piano and became “old fashioned”. Of course, we all know that the classical guitar regained its status as a modern and delightful instrument and has become popular again — and, of course, the rise of the once lowly ukulele in the 21st century (if you haven’t seen it, I recommend watching the movie “Mighty Uke: The Amazing Comeback of a Musical Underdog” released in 2010).
However, I’ve decided to delay that, not because there aren’t any great works (there are), but because the music of those eras sounds so wonderful on the modern classical guitar with its additional 5th and 6th strings.
Instead, I’m heading in the other direction and have started arranging for an upcoming book, The Medieval Ukulele.
Illustration of a Medieval Score

A Branle Dance (with real dancers)

I talked about imaging the dancers when arranging a Branle.
You should watch one of the dances sometime — the most famous one is “Branle de l’officiel” which we know as “Ding Dong Merrily on High”. I’ve arranged this piece (it’s in the book “The Yuletide Ukulele”). Here is nice YouTube video of a group of students dancing to it. They are in costume but performing in an empty studio (you’ll have to image an appropriate setting).