(Het derde musyck boexken, 1551)
Extracts for the COMMENTARY to LPM 101
London Pro Musica Edition, PO Box 1088, Bradford, BD1 3XT U.K.


The full title of Susato’s Danserye is: Het derde musyck boexken begrepen int ghet al van onser neder duytscher spraken, dae inne beregpen syn alderhande danserye, te vuetens Basse dansen, Ronden, Allemaingien, Pavanen ende meer andere, mits oeck vyfthien nieuvue gaillarden, zeer lustich ende bequaem om spelen op alle musicale Instrumenten, Ghecomponeert ende naer dinstrumenten ghestelt duer Tielman Susato, Int iaer ons heeren, MDLI, Ghedruckt Tantwerpen by Tielman Susato vuonende voer die niewe vuaghe In den Cromhorn. CUM GRATIA ET PRIVILEGIO.

The repertoire found in Danserye does reflect Susato’s geographical position, combined with a certain conservatism. The presence of many basse danses, and of many pieces based on chansons of the 1530s bring it closer to the first of Attaingnant’s dance books (1530) than to the ones that were issued in the 1550s. It is less cosmopolitan than, for instance, that of the Hessen books of 1555; there are few obviously Italian pieces, though some of the galliards, which Susato claims were new, have an Italian flavour. While there are plenty of concordances with other sources, there are relatively few of the international “standards” which appear in so many lute collections of the mid century. Where pieces are based on pre-existent models, these tend to be chansons of the 1530s, or in one case (Mille regretz) one a decade or two older. And, as we shall see, some of the harmonies are quite dark and northern, with some hangovers from Josquin’s time.

There is always a question with collections like the present one, whether the pieces really are genuine dance music, that is representative of what dance bands would have played. What is striking about Susato’s harmonisations is the fast harmonic rhythm; there are often more chord changes per bar than one would find in, for instance, much Italian dance music. For instance, in no. 8, Danse du Roy, which belongs to the general family of passamezzo-like pieces, there are six chord changes in the first bar, while most pieces that begin in this way stay on one chord for the whole bar. Fast chord changes do not in themselves preclude the use of this music for real dance music (though they can be a problem on the plucked instruments that figured so strongly in much dance music) – some of the settings in Praetorius’ Terpsichore, many of which came from French dancing masters, have similar fussy bass parts. But they do represent a phase of development that is a long way from improvisation.

As with all the books of ensemble dances from the sixteenth century, it is likely that Danserye was aimed at wealthy amateur musicians rather than professional dance musicians, who would most probably have worked out their own versions of the repertoire.

The Style of Susato’s Settings

Susato’s settings are different in a number of ways from those of other dance publications of the period. This is due partly to geography: his harmonies often have a distinctive “northern” sound that still owes a lot to older composers such as Josquin des PrĂ©s, and do not yet really reflect the Italian harmonic style that dominated much Renaissance dance music, even if he did include one or two Italian pieces (the Passamezzo antico, and Forze d’Hercole in the major).

Harmonically speaking it is possible to draw a map of Europe according to the relative frequency of major and minor chords. On one extreme, much Italian harmonically simple music, even that written basically in a minor mode, seems to include as many major chords as possible. On the other, there is a tradition closely associated with Josquin, and with certain German-speaking composers such as Ludwig Senfl, of writing endings of pieces that deliberately avoid the raising of the third in the final chord. Normally this latter phenomenon would not apply to dance music, but there are a couple of pieces in Danserye where this is precisely what is happening: the Pavane: Mille regretz after Josquin’s chanson, and the harmonically very curious Reprise: Le joly boys; another example can be found in the first Recoupe to no. 36, where the tenor part ends with an enforced F natural. A related question in decorated cadences is how soon the raised leading note should appear: in a typical Italian dance one would expect this to happen at least at the beginning of the penultimate chord, if not before. But in Susato’s no. 15 the contratenor moves in a way that allows one to raise the leading note in the superius only at the last minute.

There are two more distinctive harmonic tricks in Danserye. In pieces in the key of C Susato quite often introduces A minor chords rather more than most other dance arrangers of the time would have done (see La morisque, also Basse danse: Mon desir, Les quatre Branles, Allemainge 1, II). This is part of a general tendency towards quite fast changing harmonies in Susato’s settings, which would have sounded rather old-fashioned a few years later. And in Les quatre Branles there are a lot both of A minor and E minor chords; it is hard to believe that a real dance musician would have harmonised the tunes in this way. Another aspect of Susato’s fast-changing harmonic style is the use of E minor chords in Dorian pieces that produce interesting false relations, the B natural in the E chord being followed immediately by a B flat in another part (see no. 15).

Clefs and Transposition

The written pitch of most of the pieces in Danserye is really quite low, lower than that found in other similar collections, such as the Attaingnant books (though many of the Italian dances in British Library Add. MS 59-62 are also quite low-lying). It is unlikely that Susato would have notated the music in this way because he thought the music sounded best at this specific pitch. The choice of clefs in Susato’s time would have been determined by three considerations: (a) avoiding ledger lines (and the need to do this explains why Susato prints a couple of low-lying bass parts a fourth higher with a verbal instruction), (b) to allow the music to be transposed if necessary without too much difficulty, and (c) to preserve the modal/tonal character of the settings, bearing in mind that key signatures other than one or at most two flats were not in normal use at this time.

The majority of the dances in Danserye are written at a low pitch with a specific combination of clefs (mezzo-soprano/tenor/tenor/bass). At the end of the collection there is a group of galliards with a similar clef combination, but a fifth higher (treble/mezzo-soprano/mezzo-soprano/tenor). There are a few additional pieces where the clefs deviate from these two systems, but they are mostly numbers based on pre-existent pieces such as Mille regretz (often renaissance composers liked to preserve not only the written pitch, but the clefs of their models).

Although it is unlikely that Susato intended his particular arrangements for professional dance musicians, he may have been influenced by the traditions of the town bands, who must have been in the habit of transposing much of their music up a fifth. More than half a century later, Michael Praetorius refers to a G shawm as a tenor. And indeed, until the development of the curtal (dulcian) around the middle of the century, the town bands probably would not have included any reed instruments capable of playing parts of real bass range (i.e. going down to F or below). The chances are that in Susato’s day the town bands still consisted of two sizes of shawm, in D and G respectively, with the lower parts played on sackbut. Given that it was not usual to use sharps in the key signature until the next century, the most practical way to notate music for this particular combination was at the low pitch adopted by Susato, and transpose up a fifth by clef substitution. It is interesting in this context that many of the dances in the first of the two collections of dances published in Breslau by the Hessen brothers also appear at a very low pitch, even using the gamut (low G) clef; the music in this collection, which was compiled by a couple of Stadtpfeifer, cannot seriously have been intended to sound at the written pitch. Wind players must simply have been used to transposing their music up a fifth, or at least reading the music in such a way that it sounded a fifth higher.

The use of clefs a fifth apart is relevant to other wind instruments than shawms: most consorts were made with the various sizes a fifth apart. If Susato’s choice of clefs was determined by a possible market, i.e. amateur flute and recorder players, he could not have made a better choice of clefs: players could simply transpose by changing instruments.

Although the use of the fifth relationship between the clefs obviously relates nicely to the gap between the various sizes of shawms, recorders etc., the principle of clef substitution, and the wish to avoid the harmonic ambiguities that would have arisen by the absence of a sharp key signature, applies equally to other instruments, whether strings or wind. As far as strings were concerned, Susato’s market would have included plenty of players of the viol consorts, which work well at a low pitch; professional string players would have played overarm instruments, at a considerably higher pitch, like the shawms.

The prevailing clef combination reflects a distinctive early sixteenth century type of scoring, in which the parts are kept pretty close together most of the time, and in which the contratenor and tenor still occasionally cross. Later on in the century, the parts in dance music, as indeed in other kinds of music, tended to move away from each other, so that the total range of the parts became larger. It is possible that this reflected a shift away from wind to strings (studies of Stadtpfeifer bands in Germany have shown that around the end of the century many musicians changed from wind to strings). Certainly it is easier to balance chords on most Renaissance wind instruments if they are evenly spaced: this is especially noticeable on recorders and on reed instruments, but is less of a problem on cornetts and sackbuts.

Bernard Thomas, January 1993

Note by James Merryweather

LONDON PRO MUSICA editions include a lot of music of interest to musicians attempting to perform renaissance music in the style of the old town bands. Commentary such as this not only provides useful information with regard to early music performance, but also indicates where over interpretation of history as presently known can lead us to assume more than is truly available. So, let us explore this music, but not leap to the conclusion that, for example, because Susato was a stadspijper in Antwerp as a young man, his Dancerye (order code: LPM 101), published much later for the pleasure of amateur musicians, necessarily represents the music he would have played in the town band. Let us also not ignore the possibility that much of this music would have been known by and available to town bandsmen and, therefore, might well have been played by them.London Pro Musica has transcribed a wealth of wonderful music, which those of us who are keen to recreate the old town bands must explore. We must repay Bernard Thomas for this labour – his own “Force d’Hercole” – by purchasing his publications. The LPM catalogue will astound those who have not yet discovered it and the LPM transcriptions of Attaingnant, Gervaise, Susato, Brade, Holborne, Praetorius, BL Add. MSS 59-62 and many others, in particular the Hessen brothers, Stadtpfeifer of Breslau (1555), should be the foundation of all our music collections. Without reservation, I recommend you buy now from:

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