Nederlandsch Volksliederenboek

During a family gathering in late 2022, my cousin brought books of old family photos. My aunt, aged 81, and I had fun going through them trying to identify everyone and everyplace. My mother would have known more but she passed away 4 years ago at age 89. Nevertheless, we were quite successful except for the very early 1900’s. It was lots of fun with great memories and family history.

In the stack of photo albums, was a dark brown, hard cover book of music, called “Nederlandsch Volksliederenboek” (i.e. a book of Dutch folk songs) from 1916. It has writing in it on various songs. I picked a child’s song at random, Sint Nicolaas (Saint Nicholas; pronounce the “aa” as “ah” in Englsih) and showed it to my aunt. She read the words and then immediately sang it. Wow!
My aunt grew up in the Netherlands and emigrated to Canada when she was 18. My parents emigrated to Canada 2 years earlier when they were about 29 but I was only 3. I know a few Dutch folk songs but not too many (this one sounded vaguely familiar).
Here’s the suspected history of the book. It was in my uncle’s possession but it is much older than he is. It may have been my grandfather’s who was 10 years old when this book was published. Most likely, it was my great-grandfather’s book and, since he was a professional singer (operatic bass), he likely used this book to teach his students or it was a gift. The handwriting in it is likely his.
I looked online for this book and discovered that it was in continuous print from 1896 to at least 1925 (there is one version dated 1940). You can still buy second-hand copies of it at a reasonable cost.
So I decided to try to arrange a few of them and, of course, I’m starting with this one. By the way, Saint Nicholas day in the Netherlands is December 6. I do recall putting out my wooden shoe (yes, I had a pair) and getting an orange and chocolate from Saint Nicholas. If you were bad, Black Peter, his assistant, would leave you a lump of coal instead. I guess getting the belt was a much older corporal punishment that is now outdated.
I’ve provided a rough English translation. Some phrases just don’t translate well. If anyone has better wording, I’d be grateful. I’m also putting together a Dutch pronunciation guide for English speakers, first created by my mother (e.g. koek, or cake, is pronounced as kuk). I speak Dutch with an English accent so I need this too.
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I am just completing a set of three volumes of motetes (motets) and, to share my anticipation, I’m published this one motete as a free sample.

A motete or motet is mainly a vocal musical composition in several parts with words. Motets were mostly sacred madrigals.  Secular motets, known as “ceremonial motets”, were typically to praise a monarch, music or commemorate a triumph.

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I came across this piece while I was arranging a series of 16th century motetes in Orphenica Lyra by Miguel de Fuenllana. It is descirbed as “… en fabordon conpuestos” or using compound fabordon.

Fabordon (also fauxbourdon, fauxbordon, and falso bordone) – false drone – is a technique of musical harmonisation used in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. The homophony and mostly parallel harmony allow the text of the mostly liturgical lyrics to be understood clearly. In its simplest form, it consists of the cantus firmus (drone) and two other parts a sixth and a perfect fourth below. To prevent monotony, or create a cadence, the lowest voice sometimes jumps down to the octave, and any of the accompanying voices may have minor embellishments.

Think of it as a series of chord progressions with some passing notes.

This piece is written in “ochotonos” or eight different tones.

The text in latin “Donee ponam inimicos tuos …” means “Give me your enemies … and I will lay them at your feet” (i.e. slay them).

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Free vocal / instrumental music

In Libro III (book 3) of Tres libros de musica en cifras para vihuela (1546), Alonso Mudarra (ca 1510 – 1580) presents a series of pieces with separate but aligned vocal and vihuela parts. To celebrate my experience with reading Mensural notation (see more detail in “Music with vocal and instrumental parts”), I am making two of the versos and two of the psalms available for free.  The scores are available here.

A verso is simply a verse set to music.

“Regia qui mesto” is a lament for the death of Princess Mary Manuela of Portugal. View/listen to it on YouTube. In this recording, a clarinet is chosen to represent the vocal line and the vocal/instrumental phrasing matches the text in the first verse only (the phrasing should be changed based on the text in the next two verses).

“Beatus ille” is my favorite verso. It’s marked in his book to be played/sung at a moderate tempo. However, that sounded too much like a dirge so I listened to some recordings and found one at at quite a fast pace. Here it is at 200 bbm, more than twice as fast as Mudarra intended. I like it as the rhythms really stand out and are kind of off-kilter (i.e. short notes when you expect long notes, lots of notes on the off beats). A clarinet simulates playing the vocal part. Have fun listening to it on YouTube. Sorry, this one is not free and you’ll have to wait until I publish the book “Mudarra Favorites on the Ukulele (Books 4 and 5)” in about 10 days time.

“Dulces exuviae” is a setting of Dido’s final monologue from Book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid. View/listen to it on YouTube. In this recording, a clarinet is chosen to represent the vocal line and the vocal/instrumental phrasing is the arranger’s interpretation (the phrasing should be changed based on the text). NOTE that this verse has been set to music by many composers, including Josquin des Prez, so when searching for other performances, make sure to include “Mudarra” in your search criteria, otherwise all the results will be the music of Josquin.

The Mudarra psalms are the first instrumental fabordones, or for voice and instrument. A fabordone or fauxbourdon is a musical technique of harmonization, or chant, used in the music of the end of the Moyen Age and the debut of the Renaissance. The monotony of parallel cords favors the understanding of the text in Latin.

“Nisi Dominus” is a setting of Psalm 126. View/listen to it on YouTube. A clarinet is used to simulate the vocal part.

“Exurge, quare obdormis” is a setting of Psalm 43, verses 23-24. View/listen to it on YouTube. A clarinet is used to simulate the vocal part.

Music with vocal / instrumental parts

Libro III of “Tres libros de musica en cifras para vihuela” (1546) by Alonso Mudarra has a series of pieces for voice with vihuela accompaniment. In most other books, the vocal part is written in the same tabulature as the instrumental part with either a different colour or other marking to separate the parts (in fact, two of the pieces are written this way). Mudarra presents this differently with separate systems for each part. The vihuela lines use standard Italian tabulature (i.e. the highest sounding string is on the lowest line of music) using vihuela tuning. The voice is presented using Mensural notation (which I am learning how to read; good explanation in Wikipedia) but with a twist – there are bar lines in the music and it is aligned with the vihuela bar lines. The illustration attached of a Motet shows this as well as my arrangement for ukulele and voice/instrument (i.e. the voice line need not be sung, it can be played using any instrument such as a flute or oboe). I am looking up the words, in Latin in this case, and translations to ensure that I get them right as the original folio does not show the words, only the syllables – in my arrangement, the syllables are joined with dashes to form words. It’s a bit of a mind bender but it’s actually satisfying to hear the software play the music with ukulele and recorder.



Clamabat autem mulier channanea ad Dominum Jesum, dicens: Domine Jesu Christe, fili David, adiuva me; filia mea male a demonio vexatur.
Respondens ei Dominus dixit: Non sum missus nisi ad oves quae perierunt domus Israel.
At illa venit et adoravit eum dicens: Domine, adiuva me.
Respondens Jesus ait illi: Mulier, magna est fides tua, fiat tibi sicut vis.


A woman of Canaan cried to the Lord Jesus, saying: Lord Jesus Christ, son of David,
help me; my daughter is grievously troubled by a devil.
And he answering, said: I was not sent but to the sheep, that are lost of the house of Israel.
But she came and adored him, saying: Lord, help me.
Then Jesus answering, said to her: O woman, great is thy faith: be it done to thee as thou wilt.

Subsequently, in April 2022, several versos and psalmos were made available for free and, in May 2022, two books of vocal/instrumental music by Mudarra were published.

Working on music by Mudarra

Working on the music of Alonso Mudarra (ca 1510 – 1580), a Spanish composer, from his 1546 publication Tres libros de musica en cifras para vihuela (three books of music in numbers for vihuela). It’s quite refreshing after the dense and complex music of Fuenllana. Of course, reading Spanish tabulature is always challenging as it’s upside down to our modern notation. I’m starting with the first two libros (books) which are for vihuela or guitar only. The third and thickest libro has both vihuela and voice presented in separate staff lines which are aligned, much like a modern multi-part score (the music of Milan had the vihuela/voice lines combined but in different colours with the voice noted in red). I’ll need to learn how to read the voice notation, which makes arranging both challenging and enjoyable.

Subsequently, in April 2022, three books of instrumental music were published and, in May 2022, two books of vocal/instrumental books were published. Several versos and psalmos where were also made available for free.

Vihuela, Lute and/or Guitar

When music written for vihuela or lute is arranged for ukulele, there is some loss in the bass as the vihuela/lute has 6 strings while the ukulele (or Renaissance guitar) only has 4 strings. I do have to figure out the harmonies/chords to try to preserve what the composer intended but with a smaller range of notes.

Is anyone interested in arrangements that preserve the 6 string configurations? In other words, I would be arranging the music for vihuela, lute, or guitar with an F# tuning for the third string. Mel Bay has already done this with all 40 Fantasias in Milan’s “El Maestro” where all the music is transcribed/arranged for 6-string instruments. There are others who do this as well for individual pieces, but you have to hunt for them.

I thought of this as I’m working on the music of Fuenllana (and planning for the music of Mudarra, de Milano and others).

Working on music by Fuenllana

I’ve started arranging the the music by Miguel de Fuenllana (ca 1500-79) in his publication Orphenica Lyra (1554), especially the pieces written by the composer. There are 188 pieces in the six volume set of which 62 are written by Fuenllana with 52 fantasias, 8 tientos and 2 duos. The rest are arrangements or transcriptions by other Spanish, Flemish and Italian Renaissance composers of hymns, masses, motets, villancicos, outrages, madrigals, dirges, romances and sonnets.

Update January 12, 2022 – Wow, the fantasies by Miguel de Fuenllana (ca 1500 – 1579) in “Orphenica Lyra” are challenging. They are pieces of “great solidity and complexity, with dense counterpoints”. Many of them are marked as “dificil” and only a few are “facil”. My arrangements may be just one of many possible interpretations. No wonder they’re not heard too often.

Update March 7, 2022 – Now finished, four books of vihuela music written by Miguel de Fuenllana. The works in Orphenica Lyra (1554) are challenging with even the “facil” (easy) pieces requiring advanced performance capabilities. The music is dense and difficult to interpret so my arrangements for ukulele may be only one of many possibilities. The books are available for sale and recordings are available on YouTube.

Re-starting after a hot summer in Canada

Okay, I’m almost ready to re-start working on ancient music after a hot summer of travel within Canada. It’s still quite pleasant in the mountains this September so I’m enjoying the outdoors as much as possible before the cold weather settles in. In the meantime, here are my thoughts on composers/music to arrange first (see photo), including detailed work on the Canon by Pachelbel for both duet and solo ukuleles based on a request from a follower. If you have any favourite music/composers from the Medieval, Renaissance or early Baroque, please let me know.

Update October 13, 2021 — the book Pachelbel’s Canon on Ukulele(s) is now available.  Update October 23, 2021 — the book Narváez Favorites on the Ukulele (Book 4) is now available.  Update November 27, 2021 — — the books Milan Favorites on the Ukulele (Books 5 and 6) are now available.