Weiss’ seminal work for Baroque lute, Tombeau sur la mort de M. Comte de Logy arrivée, has become a standard in classical guitar repertoire, and a great piece for guitarists to understand deeply.
In this article, learn about the many interpretive possibilities in key selection, Baroque-era ornaments, and more from acclaimed lutenist Nigel North.
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This Baroque lute Tombeau was written as a tribute to Comte d’Logy (Jan Antonín Losy, Count of Losinthal) in 1721 upon his death. Mr. Logy lived in Prague and was an amateur violinist, lutenist, composer, and aristocrat.
A “tombeau,” French for “tomb,” is a musical style associated with an affect of deep grief and sadness, with the occasional happy nostalgic memory. The first musical tombeau was written in the 1640s or 50s for the lute by Ennemond Gaultier dedicated to his teacher Rene Mezangeau.
It’s in the form of an allemande, a typical dance movement for the era (two parts, each repeated).
Many French composers also adapted the pavane for their tombeaus, which had three sections. We know that Weiss had a lute very similar to North’s 13-course lute after 1719, and this work (titled “Sur la Mort de Mr. Comte d’Loggy”) was written two years later.
Many tombeaus for harpsichord have an expression “with discretion,” suggesting you can vary the speed of each phrase. Imagine you’re giving a eulogy where you occasionally have to hold back tears, take a breath, or pause to listen to church bells.
Now that we understand the context behind this Baroque lute masterpiece, let’s dive into the next subject for discussion:
Weiss’s ornament symbols aren’t extremely common.
Two symbols refer exclusively to vibrato from the 18th century: one is used in higher registers where you pull the string in both directions.
This emphasizes and prolongs a note, also called a “sting,” notated with a wavy sign. You can vary the speed to express different things.
Several Baroque sources tell us that bending a lower string in the same way wasn’t practiced because the audible change in pitch is too small.
Instead, as many blues guitarists in the 20th century learned, they bent the string vertically to pitch bend a low note (pictured below). The notation for a vertical vibrato is a single cross, or an X. The auditory effect is much like church bells.
This piece is notated in B♭ minor, which sounds very dark on the lute.
Low B♭ is almost the lowest note, and there aren’t many open strings in this key.
On the guitar, North has gotten used to renditions in B minor (you can read a B♭ minor edition and simply change the key signature).
The guitar already sounds darker and has fewer bass notes than the lute, so shifting it to A minor might allow for more open strings. Many passages work out best in A minor, so this is North’s suggestion to most.
Always begin the arpeggiation from the bass.
A more modern approach is to emphasize the top note, entering slightly before the beat.
The traditional approach is to put the bass on the downbeat, giving each note roughly equal time and volume.
Though Weiss didn’t explicitly tell us to, you can take discretion with your tempo. There is no indication of arpeggiation in measure two.
There’s an anguished character to playing these three chords as written, perhaps fitting with the mood.
On the repeat of the first section, you might make the arpeggiations in the first measure more rhythmic. In vocal music, apply a technique called mezzo di voce: on a long note, first intensify and then back off.
Bells and phrasing
In the pickup to measure 3, we can imagine someone singing.
Every vibrated note in measure three should take a slightly different amount of time. Weiss’s comma means to play some kind of grace note from above (either one note or a trill).
His half-moon means to come up from underneath to a note, adding one step below. The second and third beats of measure 7 echo the previous idea.
Baroque lute analysis
Bells are present throughout; the low A at the end of measure three and the oscillating between G and F in m. 8 are two obvious examples.
Vibrato ornaments and cadenza
Alternate between the thumb and index finger for the Cs in bar 12.
Arpeggiate the last chord in measure 13.
Then, the descending diminished seventh chord is almost out of time.
Measure 15 should be arpeggiated, but there is nothing that tells us exactly how to do so. Follow the surprise, tension, and release of each harmony.
It was normal for 18th-century musicians to play a repeated section quite differently.
Without losing the depth of the music, try to change your interpretation slightly on the repeat.
North has an “inner picture” of what’s happening in the scene as the music progresses as if accompanying a film.
In measure 16, everyone is walking and carrying the coffin, while someone remembers something joyful and soft about Logy in m. 17. It’s unusual to find the treble note on the downbeat, but this is what we see in the pickup to m. 22.
This is reversed m. 26, with a bass line to the lowest note on the lute. Perhaps m. 28 is where the coffin is lowered into the ground.
The interrupted cadence in the second half of m. 31 sounds quite desolate, but the resolution in the following bar says, “it’s going to be ok!”
Finally, a chromatic ascent in mm. 35-36 is the soul rising up to heaven. There is no Picardy third where the mode goes to major; the mood remains somber.
Because of the octaves in the bass courses of the lute, some overtones simply can’t be replaced on a single-strung guitar.
Weiss doesn’t specify if this is an Allemande, though it does feature two sections.
However, only the first is generally repeated. Once arriving at the final chord, there is no need to repeat the B section. The most important thing to know about this work is that it was written in memory of a beloved lutenist and how the variety of sounds the lute can create contributes to the atmosphere of a funeral: wailing, sobbing, bells, and more.
Bring together the dissonances, ornaments, and vibrato into an experience that you might relate to anyone you’ve lost in your personal life.
With this thorough analysis of the Tombeau sur la mort de M. Comte de Logy arrivée, you now have a deeper understanding of how lute music from the Baroque period was approached.
If you’d like to watch the full lesson on this topic by Nigel North for free, click here.
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