Sebastian Virdung

Musica getutscht und aussgezogen . . .(1511)

I. Overview

Virdung claims to have written a much larger work of which Musica getutscht is only a small extract, but no version of the larger book has been found. The present treatise deals specifically with the intabulation of mensural music for the clavichord, the lute, and the recorder. It takes place as a dialogue between Andreas Silvanus (an educated man interested in learning instrumental music) and Sebastianus (Virdung). There is only one piece for lute and it is technically in four parts, not a solo, but the early date gives it unusual historical, if not musical, importance.

Musica getutscht und aussgezogen . . . (Basel: Michael Furter, 1511).
112 pp. (movable type with woodcuts)
3 pieces (1 for lute)
Foliation: ABCDEFGHJKLMNO (4 ff. each)

II. Text

f. A1) "Musica getutscht und aussgezogen durch Sebastianum virdung Priesters von Amberg und alles gesang auss den noten in die tabulaturen diser benanten dryer Instrumenten der Orgeln: der Lauten: und den Flöten transferieren zu lernen Kurtzlich gemacht zu eren dem hochwirdigen hoch gebornen fürsten unnd herren: herr wilhalmen Bischove zum Strassburg seynem gnedigen herren." [title page]

f. A4v) Virdung begins his discussion by dividing musical instruments into three main types: stringed instruments, wind instruments, and percussion instruments. In the first type he includes stringed instruments with keys (e.g., the clavichord, virginal, etc.), those with frets (the lute, viol, quintern), those without frets or keys (e.g., harp, etc.), and finally those without frets (e.g., rebec). Wind instruments are grouped by their source of air, either from the performer (e.g., the shawm, fife, etc.) or from some type of bellows (e.g., the organ, regal, etc.). The percussive group includes instruments like bells and chimes. Virdung also alludes to ancient instruments (the instruments of Jerome), but states that he is primarily concerned with those in common knowledge in his own day. Importantly, many of the instruments of both types are pictured in woodcuts in the treatise.

While Virdung states that some knowledge of mensural notation is necessary to play an instrument, especially at a more advanced level, tablature can be used by those who don't otherwise understand music. In his larger work, he promises to delve into more advanced topics such as counterpoint and the playing of diminutions on a cantus firmus; for now it will suffice if the player merely learns the note names and their location on the instrument.

Three instruments are covered: the clavichord, the lute, and the recorder. The principles of intabulation are the same for all three, although they each use a distinct type of tablature.

Keyboard intabulation is covered first, beginning with the keys. Virdung distinguishes two genera: the diatonic and the chromatic. The first is a perfect fourth divided into two whole steps and one half step (accounting for the white keys of the keyboard) and the second a division of the perfect fourth into five half steps (necessitating the use of the black keys). A normal clavichord would have three octaves of 38 keys. The keys are labeled "a b c d e f g" and represent the Guidonian notes "ut re mi fa sol la." Different octaves of keys can be distinguished by using capitals, doubled letters, or small lines above or below the letters. Accidentals were indicated with small loops attached to the letters. Therefore, each key on the keyboard has its own particular symbol.

The next topic is rhythm, with a rather extended discussion of mensural notation and ligatures. Virdung attempts to show how the various note shapes came about and how they are related to tablature (in order to intabulate pieces in mensural notation). He speaks briefly of the use of the dot, both as a punctus additionis (which increases the preceding note's value by half) and the punctus divisionis (used only in perfect time). Five mensurations are covered, with the most important, for purposes of learning to intabulate, being de tempore imperfecto (4 breves = 1 maxima) which is symbolized by a half circle with a vertical line through it. Virdung next presents the song "O haylige, onbeflecte, zart junckfrawschafft marie" in parts and then in keyboard tablature.

f. J2v) The section on the lute begins with a woodcut of a lutenist by the well-known artist Urs Graf. Virdung states that five things are necessary to learn to intabulate for the lute--one must know: 1) how many strings and courses the lute has, 2) how many frets it has, 3) the various symbols used for the fingerboard, 4) the symbols and scale of Guido, and 5) rhythm in de tempore imperfecto. Three types of lutes are discussed: the 5-course lute with 9 strings (the older form of the instrument), the 6-course lute with 11 strings (the most common), and the 7-course lute with either 13 or 14 strings (rare). The 6-course lute had five pairs of doubled strings (courses) and one single string (the highest-pitched course). Virdung labels the strings, beginning with the bass, der gross prummer ("the great rumbler"), der mittler prummer ("the middle rumbler), der clain prummer ("the small rumbler"), die gross sancksaytt ("the great singing string"), die claynen sancksaitte ("the small singing string"), and the quintsait ("the fifth string"; i.e., of a 5-course lute). The three bass courses each have a thinner octave string, for volume, and each sancksaytt is doubled at the unison. All of the strings are sheep gut.

The strings are tuned in the normal interval pattern (P4 P4 M3 P4 P4), but Virdung alludes to the fact that some lutenists tuned the lowest course to a P5 with the next course (cf. the "bordon descordato" in Spinacino 1507). An assumed pitch of "a re" is used for the lowest note (= A), while the other strings are "d sol re," "g sol re ut," "b fa h mi," "e la mi," and "a la mi re" (A d g b e' a'). Seven frets are generally used, with the total range of the instrument thus being from "a re" (A) to "e la" (e''). He states that many notes can be found in different places on the instrument (except in the extreme ranges).

f. K4) Next come the symbols for lute tablature, beginning with the open strings. Since, according to Virdung, this tablature was developed by Conrad Paumann for the 5-course lute, the numbers 1-5 signify the open strings (beginning with the mittler prummer). Several systems were invented for labeling notes on the additional bass course; Virdung uses a large "1" with two dots over it for the open course and capital letters similar to the fifth course for the fretted notes. He promises to explain the other systems in his larger book. For the other notes, the entire alphabet is used twice, the second time with doubled letters, as follows:

  6th  course 5th  course 4th  course 3rd  course 2nd course 1st  course
Open ..
1 2 3 4 5
1st fret A a b c d e
2nd fret F f g h i k
3rd fret L l m n o p
4th fret Q q r s t v
5th fret X x y z 7 9
6th fret AA aa bb cc dd ee
7th fret FF ff gg hh ii kk
8th fret           ll

Virdung states that lutenist can go beyond the seventh fret, but there are no fixed rules for notating it. Next the entire gamut is outlined, with each symbol located on the neck and in alternate unison positions where possible. The symbols are then written out with their appropriate note names, in effect comparing them with the keyboard symbols, and are also placed on a drawing of a fingerboard. He then intabulates the same song used in the clavichord section for the lute.

f. M2v) The tablature is clearly not playable by one lutenist; several times the same string is needed to play different notes and the left-hand fingering is quite awkward. Rather, as Beth Bullard (see bibliography) has explained, it seems most likely that the intabulation consists of four individual parts, with each voice intabulated separately. It could thus have been played by four lutenists. I might also note that each voice is given a separate rhythm sign, rather than having one row of signs running across the top as in most German lute tablature. Each voice could thus be played through separately, by an amateur learning to intabulate, and compared to the original. More advanced intabulation of two or all parts for one performer is again postponed for the larger book. Whether the song should be conceived as an ensemble piece for four lutes is less important than the pedagogical intent of the intabulation itself. Perhaps such literal, part-by-part intabulations were regarded as a necessary first step in learning the art, especially for those not familiar with the technical aspects of the instrument.

f. M3v) The book closes with a discussion of the recorder and tablature for wind instruments. Unlike the two previous sections, no musical example is provided, but Virdung does mention performance by a chest of four recorders.

III. Notation

Tablature: German lute tablature

Instrument(s): 6-course lute(s)

Range: highest fret used on each course (all parts)

6th course 3rd fret
5th course 3rd fret
4th course 3rd fret
3rd course 3rd fret
2nd course 3rd fret
1st course 7th fret

IV. Indices

Index of Pieces:
Folio Title
f. H4v O haylige, onbeflecte, zart junckfrawschafft marie
de tempore imperfecto
mensural notation
f. J1v O haylige, onbeflecte, zart junckfrawschafft marie
de tempore imperfecto
keyboard tablature
f. M2v O haylige, onbeflecte, zart junckfrawschafft marie
de tempore imperfecto
lute tablature


1. Assuming a tuning based on A.Return to text

V. Bibliography

Brown, Howard Mayer. Instrumental Music Printed before 1600: A Bibliography. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965, 15113

Bullard, Beth. "Musical Instruments in the Early Sixteenth Century: A Translation and Historical Study of Sebastian Virdung's Music getutscht (Basel, 1511)." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1987.

________. Musica getutscht: A Treatise on Musical Instruments (1511) by Sebastian Virdung (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

Corona-Alcalde, Antonio. "The Vihuela and the Guitar in Sixteenth-Century Spain: A Critical Appraisal of Some of the Existing Evidence." Lute Society Journal (UK) XXX (1990): 3-24.

Danner, Peter. "Before Petrucci: The Lute in the Fifteenth Century." Journal of the Lute Society of America V (1972): 4-17.

Henning, Rudolf [transl. by Uta Henning]. "German Lute Tablature and Conrad Paumann: Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of His Death." Lute Society Journal (UK) XV (1973): 7-10.

Henning, Uta. "The Lute Made Easy: A Chapter from Virdung's Musica Getuscht (1511)." Lute Society Journal XV (1973): 20-36.

Lesure, François. Écrits imprimés concernant la musique. RISM (Répertoire International des Sources Musicales), B/VI/2. Kassel: Bärenreiter-Verlag, 1971- .

Meucci, Renato. "Da 'chitarra italiana' a 'chitarrone': una nuova interpretazione." in Enrico Radesca di Foggia e il suo tempo: Atti del Convegno di studi Foggia, 7-8 Aprile 2000, Francesca Seller, ed. Strumenti della ricerca musicale collana della Società Italiana di Musicologia 5. (Lucca, Italy: Libreria Musicale Italiana, 2001): 37-57.

Minamino, Hiroyuki. "Miscellanea: Transformation in Intabulation." Journal of the Lute Society of America XVII & XVIII (1984 & 1985): 114-117.

________. "The Schlick-Virdung Lute Intabulation Controversy." Lute Society Journal (UK) XLVI (2006): 54-67.

Scharenberg, S. "Sebastian Virdungs 'Musica getutscht': ein Sachbuch?" Tibia: Magazin fuer Holzblaeser xviii, n. 2 (1993): 421-30.


Musica getutscht. (Kassel: Bärenreiter-Verlag, 1931).

Musica getutscht. Faksimile. (Kassel, Basel: Bärenreiter, 1970). Documenta musicologica. 1. Reihe, Druckschriften-Faksimiles, 31. ISBN: 3761800045

Musica getutscht 1511. (New York: Broude Brothers, 1966). Publikation aelterer praktischer und theoretischer Musik-Werke, bd. 11.

Related Editions:

Second edition: Virdung 151?.

Vorsterman 1529--French translation.
Luscinius 1536--Latin translation.
Second edition: Luscinius 1542.
Ghelen 1554--Netherlandic translation.
Second edition: Ghelen 1568.

VI. Exemplars

There are two slightly different printings of this book (see Bullard 1993), generally labeled A1 and A2. Copies of A1 are at CH-Bu (imperfect), D-B, D-Mbs, D-Ngm (imperfect), GB-Er (imperfect), GB-Lbl, and US-Bpm;copies of A2 are at D-W and GB-Lbl (imperfect). RISM lists other copies in A-Iu, A-Wgm, A-Wn, D-KA, and NL-DHgm.