Fantasia on A Theme

By Jan T. Parazi (Note 1)

One of the most astounding discoveries in recent memory was the finding by the world-renowned lute scholar Dr. Yan Omegusta, of the now famous fragment of Brazilian fifteenth century lute music known as the QL Codex. (Note 2) The fragment, the only known example of a rich tradition, first developed among the houhynhnm tribesmen in the Amazon river basin, was found among the papers of the late Dr. P.D.Q. Irving of the London Institute of Applied Research (L.I.A.R.) also known for his important discovery of the full biography of the Russian steam calliope virtuoso I.S. Ovsianiko-Kulikovski. (Note 3)

The fragment, unfortunately, is now lost and the only source we have available today for the QL Codex is the facsimile and transcription thereof published by Dr. Omegusta in the Ornery Review of Gullibility And Small Mindedness, a short lived scholarly periodical published by Fiodor Aronovich Pollack in Nizhni-Khelm, East-Galitsia. Here is the facsimile of the QL Codex tablature fragment:

And here is the transcription of the fragment made by Dr. Omegusta and published in the same location:

As explained by the author, the last measure of the fragment contains an obvious error in the ciphers, corrected by him in the transcription. His correction was, apparently, accepted by everyone. He also proposed that the QL Codex proves, beyond a shadow of a possible doubt, that the lute, as it existed in Brazil in the fifteenth century, was tuned in this manner: G’, C, f, b-flat, d, g’. When it was brought to England by Captain Kidd (would I kidd you? . . .) the tuning was changed, on orders of Queen Elizabeth the first, to the better known G’, C, f, a, d, g’. Apparently, the Brazilian tuning was said to be based on a cabalistic numerical formula (gimatria to the cognoscenti) which predicted the demise of the British monarchy. (Note 4)

The QL Codex fragment caused a great deal of interest among performers, arrangers and composers. The main task many set for themselves was to seek out the complex polyphony hidden in the rather simplistic tablature. Musicologists for the most part, considered Dr. Omegusta’s transcription as the epitome of epistemological epiphany which required no further refinement, thank you very much. Be that as it may, several proposals of different ways to represent the QL fragment tablature in pitch notation made their way into the secondary literature, mostly published in non-refereed amateur journals dealing, believe it or not, with the classical guitar!

The first of these to appear was a fatuous article by the wannabe musicologist Neil Illegitimoose, who proposed the silly idea that because the tuning of the Brazilian lute was essentially the same as that of the modern guitar, the music, in pitch notation, was better represented on a single staff and transposed a minor sixth higher. Here is Illegitimoose’s transcription:

In the accompanying text, this idiot-savant (Note 5) rejected Dr. Omegusta’s dechifrage of the tablature in five voices. His contention was that even if Omegusta was theoretically correct, it would have been practically impossible to perform the piece as notated by Omegusta, and actually bring out the five voices as distinct musical entities. As we can see, Illegitimoose’s solution was to transcribe the tablature fragment in three voices, use a repeat for the first two measures since they appeared to be identical, and propose the outrageous idea that perhaps all the measures in the piece were meant to be repeated. The end result was a tasteless imitation of nineteenth century homophony with a basso+soprano ostinato drone. Giuliani would have been proud of him.

Another proposal was published soon after by the Baron von Münchkolhausen who said that both Omegusta’s and Illegitimoose’s transcriptions, if adhered to precisely, would produce sounds reminiscent of those emitted by flatulent bull moose during their mating rituals. Since it is agreed, said he, that the QL Codex was written for the lute, any transcription thereof must follow the traditional notation for lute music, as designed and ordained by the good Baron himself. This, von Münchkolhausen tells us, is the only way to do it:

It was not long thereafter that an angry retort was published in Guitar Infomercial magazine by the Greek/Italian virtuoso Milares Olsimi V.P.E. (Note 6) According to him it was a lamentable waste of paper to notate on grand staff music which could be efficiently placed on a single staff thusly:

This argument was later echoed by the serendipitous ecolomusicologist Alph Madeher who fell upon a method of calculating how many trees in the forest were mercilessly cut-down by the editorial practices of von Münchkolhausen and his ilk of self-appointed arbiters of notational traditions.

The final episode in this tempest in a chamber-pot was the utterly shredable proposal by the Brazilian ethnoidologist Don Leonidas da Schradeus to simplify the notation and reduce it to stick-type violinistic notation thus:

The idea, according to da Schradeus, was that the piece was evidently meant to be played at a very fast tempo. Therefore, any attempt to decipher the polyphony and voice-leading was bound to fail, since no player could possibly read the discombobulation. Besides, he further argued, lutenists who anyway paid no heed to pitch notation transcriptions and preferred to play directly from the tablature, were perfectly able to decide for themselves how to bring out the inner voices implied by the tablature and how to organize the polyphony and voice-leading, all by themselves, without the meddlesome interventions by transcribers. Guitarists, he further argued, are no less musically capable to elicit the proper polyphony from a simplified notation, without having to put-up with condescending elitist spoon-feeding of transcribers who cannot play the guitar. Of course, he suggested, there is no harm done in some reasonable suggestions by the transcriber. He himself had chosen to indicate the obvious notion that the bottom course would sound not for the indicated duration of a sixteenth note, but for the duration of at least a dotted half, if not for the entire measure. The main issue, as far as he was concerned, was that the transcription was clear, easy to read and faithfully represented the original source.

The poor fellow was laughed off the pages of most scholarly journals and became so ostracized by the musicological community that he was finally obliged to abandon the field altogether. He wandered for a few years between various occupations and finally became a very rich man by selling used cars to unsuspecting guitarists.

Apparently, his harebrained proposal was found by a young Brazilian composer named Heitor Villa-Lobos. Not only did Villa-Lobos accept da Schradeus’ methodology of notation, he even went further and reconstructed the missing parts of the QL Codex. After a long and arduous field trip among the huyña (Note 7) tribes in the rain forest, he was able to record several procreative ceremonies, celebrated by the younger members of the tribe as part of their annual fertility rites. The grants and moans of the action which took part in the main square of the village, was craftily concealed by loud ululations of older members of the tribe both male and female. Their lack of ardor, young Heitor had discovered, relegated them to the role of a mere vocal-musical accompaniment to the proceeding. According to him, some of the noise they produced proved to contain elements found in the QL codex. This was the discovery which enabled him to reconstruct the entire piece and later publish it as his Etude No. 1 for solo guitar in which he chose to emulate the primitive notation proposed by his countryman Da Schradeus. In spite of this regretable choice, Villa-Lobos’ creation has been successfully learnt by thousands of guitarists. It was performed and recorded more times than any other guitar piece, with the possible exception of the famous tremolo study by the Polish virtuoso Stanislaw Szczepanowski known as Souvenir de Zakopane (erroneously reffered to mostly as Recuerdos de la Alhambra).

End Notes

1. In trying to follow up on this amazing article, we found out that shortly after submitting the material to us, the brilliant career of Dr. Parazi came to an abrupt end. His iniquitous affair with Elsie Lavache, a promising student of his, became the center piece in a scandalous palimony court case. (It was never actually disclosed in the course of the trial what precisely she promised, but he, poor soul, simply disappeared.) Return to text

2. So named after its owner, the Queen of Lilliput, a famous nineteenth century guitarist and collector of curiosities. For more details see: Domingo Prat, Diccionario de Guitarristas, Buenos Aires, 1934, p. 261. Return to text

3. See: Shutka O. Yerundovski, “The life and work of Ivan Smertzeyevich Ovsianiko-Kulikovski (1856-1913)”. In Soundboard, Vol. IX/2 (1982) p. 174-177. Return to text

4. We are told that in according several knighthoods to British guitarists who play the guitar in a cognate tuning, the current monarch was trying to demonstrate a more politically correct attitude towards the cabalah and its practitioners. Return to text

5. There are many today who think that the moniker “idiot-savant” is only partially applicable. When they refer to Neil at all, they usually drop the second part of the appellation. Return to text

6. Signor Olsimi always signed his name with the alphabet soup of V.P.E. This did not represent any special honors or a degree, but rather the opinion of his sales manager. V.P.E. stands for Virtuoso Par Excellence. The real virtues of Signor Olsimi are not proper for description in a family magazine such as this. Return to text

7. The present day descendants of the houhynhnm tribesmen in the Amazon river basin. With the passage of time, and the influence of Russian land-owners in the slash-and-burn economy of the region, the houhynhnm lost their original equine national pride. Their conversion en-masse to the strange religion known as bilbul beitsim (a mixture of cabalah, Scientology, supply-side economics and the hero worship of Andrés Segovia, Carlos Gardel and Elvis Presley) earned them the new appellation. Return to text

Copyright © 1996 by Editions Orphée, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


Una Respuesta

por Antonio Osirb de Lumis

Estimado señor Parazi,

He leído muy atentamente su artículo, bien agarrado a la silla y con mi diccionario de inglés a un lado. ¡Un sorprendente descubrimiento! ¿Quien iba a pensar que Don Heitor tomó su inspiración de una tan recóndita e inusual fuente? Hay que agradecer al señor Yan Omegusta (mi diccionario virtual traduce su nombre como Idont L. Ikeitmore) su gran descubrimiento.

Por otra parte, la importante e interesante bibliografía que usted cita en su artículo es algo que todos los lectores debemos agradecer, especialmente la que hace referencia a Prat y su entrada sobre la “Reina de Lilliput”. Afortunadamente para usted, Don Domingo ya no puede responderle... Hubiera debido tener usted mucha más consideración con nuestro querido colega catalán; el señor Prat Marsal siempre tuvo gran cuidado en sus investigaciones, tratando de tener en todo momento las fuentes “a la vista”. Si alguna vez dejó volar su fantasía, eso es algo que deberíamos perdonarle.

Le agradezco también que haya hecho referencia al edicto de la reina Isabel I sobre el cambio de afinación. Así deberían de producirse siempre la evolución en las costumbres artísticas: por Decreto Real, y no por necesidades musicales, coyunturas históricas, gustos personales y otras zarandajas.

Es una verdadera pena que el QL Codex se haya perdido. ¿Cree usted que puede haber sido quemado por la señorita que usted cita en la nota 1?

Si usted me lo permite desearía hacer algunos comentarios sobre su artículo.

Estoy en total desacuerdo con la transcripción de Don Leónidas. Ideas musicales de tan grande importancia como las expresadas en el fragmento conservado del QLC NUNCA pueden ser expresadas convenientemente en un solo pentagrama.

La versión del virtuoso, señor Olsimi V.P.E... Por cierto, desconozco sus conocimientos del idioma castellano, pero ha pensado usted si esas siglas no significarán “Vaya Pájaro Este”?...

Decía... que la versión del señor Olsimi se acerca algo más a la verdadera representación gráfica del contenido musical del fragmento, pero deja de lado un montón de consideraciones.

El Barón de Münchkolhausen ha acertado, por lo menos, en algo. Ha intuido que era necesario más de un pentagrama.

Neil Illegitimoose consigue reducir la cantidad de papel necesaria para escribir la música. Estoy seguro de que esta es una idea que aplaudirán efusivamente los ecologistas de todo el mundo. Sin embargo, no termina de escribir correctamente las duraciones verdaderas de todas las voces y convierte en cuatro (4) los tres (3) compases del fragmento original.

Sin lugar a dudas y bajo mi punto de vista, la transcripción más acertada es la del Dr. Yan Omegusta, pero a mi tampoco me gusta porque ha olvidado anotar en el papel los sonidos resultantes de la interacción de las cinco voces. Cualquier estudiante de primero de Física simple sabe que dos o más ondas que se producen simultáneamente dan lugar a otra nueva llamada “interferencia”. Esto es algo básico que debería conocer el Dr. Omegusta.

Por todo lo anterior estoy preparando una nueva y personal transcripción a nueve voces (en cuatro pentagramas distintos) que estoy seguro de que terminaré el viernes...

Espero que mis comentarios hayan servido de ayuda para su nueva edición de este artículo y le recomiendo que lea el trabajo de Thomas F. Heck, titulado “Lute Music: Tablatures, Textures and Transcriptions” que fue publicado en el número VII del Journal of the Lute Society of America Inc. (1974), pp. 19-30. Puede serle de gran ayuda.

Si me permite otra sugerencia me gustaría decirle que su próximo artículo podría ir firmado por Pete N. Mahoaya o por Mat Ohana y Pee, dos preciosos nombres con posibilidad de reordenarse.

Sin otros asuntos que comentarle, quedo a su disposición para lo que guste mandar...

Antonio Osirb de Lumis

N.B: Para cualquier contacto posterior diríjase por favor a mi estimado amigo Luis Briso de Montiano Madrid, Spain.

Copyright © 1996 by Antonio Osirb de Lumis. All Rights Reserved.


A Response

by Antonio Osirb de Lumis

Translated by Mat Ohana y Pee

Dear Mr. Parazi,

I have read your article very carefully, sitting at the edge of my seat and with my English dictionary by my side. A surprising discovery! Who would have thought that Don Heitor took his inspiration from so secret and unusual a source? One must thank Dr. Yan Omegusta (my virtual dictionary translates his name as Idont L. Ikeitmore) for his great discovery.

Moreover, the important and interesting bibliography that you cite in your article is something that all readers should thank you for, especially the one which makes reference to Prat and his entry on the “Queen of Lilliput.” Fortunately for you, Don Domingo is no longer in position to respond to it. But you should have had a bit more consideration with our beloved Catalan colleague: Mr. Prat Marsal always took great care in his investigations, trying to always hold his sources “a la vista” (in full view.) If he sometimes allowed his fantasy to fly, that is something for which we should forgive him.

I thank you also for the reference you made to the edict of Queen Elizabeth I on the change of tuning. That is how the evolution in artistic customs should occur: by Royal Decree, and not by musical necessities, historical conjectures, personal imagination and other trifles.

It is a great pity that the QL Codex had been lost. Do you believe that it could have been burnt by the young lady that you cite in note 1? If you permit me I would like to make some comments on your article.

I am in utter disagreement with the transcription of Don Leónidas. Musical ideas of such a tremendous importance as they are expressed in the surviving fragment of the QL Codex, could NEVER be expressed conveniently on a single staff.

The version of the virtuoso Mister Olsimi V.P.E.... Certainly I am not acquainted with his knowledge of the Castilian language, but have you perhaps considered if these initials may actually mean “Vaya Pájaro Este?” [Translator's note: A correct translation of this Castilian colloquialism might provoke a libel suit against us by Signor Olsimi's sales manager. We shall leave it at that...]

I said... that the version of Mr. Olsimi is a bit closer to the true graphic representation of the musical content of the fragment, but he leaves a pile of considerations unmentioned. At least, the Baron of Münchkolhausen has guessed something right. He understood that more than one staff was necessary.

Neil Illegitimoose succeeds in reducing the quantity of necessary paper in order to write the music. I am confident that this is an idea that will be applauded effusively by environmentalists all over the world. However, he fails to write correctly the true durations of all the voices and transforms the three (3) measures of the original fragment into four (4).

Without giving in to doubts and according to my own point of view, the transcription that is more guessed right is that of Dr. Yan Omegusta. But I must take some exceptions to it because he has forgotten to record on paper the resulting sounds of the interaction of the five voices. Any first year student of simple physics knows that two or more sound waves that are produced simultaneously, generate a new sound by sympathetic resonance. This is something basic that Dr. Omegusta should have known. All of which is to say that I am now preparing a new and personal transcription of the fragment in nine voices (on four different staves) that I am sure I will finish on Friday. [Translator's note: Unfortunately, señor de Lumis did not say which Friday...]

I hope that my comments have been useful to you as assistance for your new edition of this article and recommend you that you read the work of Thomas F. Heck, titled “Lute Music: Tablatures, Textures and Transcriptions”. which was published in Vol. VII of the Journal of the Lute Society of America Inc. (1974), pp. 19- 30. It could be of great help to you.

If you allow me one other suggestion: I would like to say that your next article could be signed by Pete N. Mahoaya or by Mat Ohana y Pee, two precious names so susceptible of other arrangements. With no other matters that need comment, I beg to remain at your disposal for whatever you may wish to send me.

Antonio Osirb de Lumis

For any further contact please address yourself to my esteemed friend Luis Briso de Montiano Madrid, Spain.

Copyright © 1996 by Antonio Osirb de Lumis. All Rights Reserved.


The QL Codex?

by Götz von Berlichingen
(University of Leckmeinarsch)

Not only is the QL Codex tablature clearly written for modern guitar tuning, the rhythm signs are not of the type then used in tablature of Iberian origin, and no guitar at that time had six courses, though if it was around long before 1536 the vihuela did. Dr. Lamebrainovitch, a specialist in Allesfickology (on the Internet) has suggested that there may have been one of the Houhynhnm tribe (Note 1) whose forecasting abilities would have made him the friend of everyone who backs horses. When it comes to horse races, who better than one of that race! Horses for courses— five or six makes no difference. The whole scenario drives a horse and cart through the widely held belief, that there were no stringed instruments in South America before the arrival of the Spaniards in the sixteenth century. The assumption by transcribers, that the modern-guitar tuning was intended, is not proven. The piece sounds even more interesting if played with the standard tuning of G’, C, f, a, d, g’, and even better on a guitar with a capo three frets behind the nut fret. The myth, once given credence in the Harvard Dictionary, that Newsidler's Juden Tanz was an early example of bitonality, has been revealed for what it was, but has a similar bêtise been committed (in reverse) in accepting that the QL Codex fragment really was intended for the modern-guitar tuning?

If it were always true, that what you see on the page is what you hear, then Dr. Omegusta (Note 2) has clearly failed to notice that the top strings don’t stop sounding when you’re on the way down. Baron von Münchkolhausen failed likewise, though his reason for using keyboard notation was different (Note 3). The truth is, that the only one who has been able to play this piece exactly as it is given by da Schradeus is Fujiama Stakato, the current Japanese champion of speed-typing, who returns to each string before it has had time to sound longer than its indicated length.

The re-emergence of this historic tablature, notionally completed as the Study No. 1 of Villa-Lobos prompts the notion, that the visual appearance of the tablature may have inspired Jobim to contribute “Wave” to the bossa-nova repertory. The history of “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” also began before its renaming by Szczpanowski. Its original composer was Valdimerde Twitchovich (Note 4), a virtuoso of the six-string samovar (Note 5), and its original title was “Kremolo Study”. Thus are composers deprived of their rightful Royalties, though Twitchovich, having suffered a fatal attack of death, and leaving no next-of-kin, has slipped through the safety net for all times.

End Notes

1. The sound of their musical offerings later caused the Iberian desecrators of the rain forests to lodge futile complaints with the Society for the Conservation of Hardwoods, Ecology, Industry, and Double-Standard Education (SCHEISSE) — (Villa-Lobos Museum, shelf reference S/0/D.t0.d0). Return to text

2. A schizophrenic whose entire life (1724-1688) was devoted to rewriting everything, even recorder music, in Zweischlüssel notation. He simultaneously lived in two adjacent houses. Return to text

3. The Baron (1788-1839), a lutenist who wished he could play the harpsichord, got his idea from J.S. Bach, a harpsichordist who always regretted his inability to play the lute. Return to text

4. Tárrega inherited the tremolo from Twitchovich, its inventor. It remains the only known beneficial by-product of delirium tremens, for Twitchovich used vodka instead of water in his samovar. Return to text

5. Notable contributors to its repertory included Earl Grey (English) Lap Sang Souchong (Chinese) and Red Zingerovski (an early communist), indicating international popularity of the samovar. It also found a place in early jazz, solo improvised passages being known as “tea breaks”. Return to text

Copyright © 1996 by Götz von Berlichingen. All Rights Reserved.


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Last Modified: 12:58pm , November 12th, 1996