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Which instruments to choose for the music of the Harmonice Musices Odhecaton A

Throughout the whole Renaissance era, instrumentation was not specified in music scores — which is great because it provides a huge variety of possible instrumentations and interpretations. Amongst the most standard instruments for this repertoire are probably recorders, viols, brass instruments and lutes.
One thing that can be helpful on choosing the instrumentation is the range of each line. Normally the lowest voice is called Contra or Bassus, middle voices Altus and/or Tenor and the upper voice’s name is Cantus.
The upper voice is normally played by an alto instrument (sometimes soprano), the middle voice(s) by a Tenor, and the lowest voice by a bass instrument.

A quick indicator of the ranges are the line’s individual original clefs:

  • G2 for soprano instruments
  • C1 and C2 for alto instruments
  • C3 and C4 for tenor instruments
  • F3 and F4 for bass instruments

Since I play the recorder I can be more precise on the choice of recorders for this repertoire. In the renaissance era polifonic music was often interpreted by instrument families, also known as consorts. In a small recorder consort the lowest note of each recorder is tuned at a distance of fifths (sometimes fourths):
Bass recorder in f — 2 tenor recorders in c’ — alto recorder in f’ — alto recorder in g’ — and soprano recorder in c”.
The corresponding clefs are:

  • G2 for soprano recorder in c”
  • C1 for alto recorder in g’
  • C2 for alto recorder in f’
  • C3 and C4 for tenor recorders in c’
  • F3 for bass recorder in f or g
  • F4 for bass recorder in f

Of course the choice of instrumentation always depends on which instruments are available to you and on how much importance you give to historical correctness. Transpositions and arrangements are always an option.

I hope this helps a bit!

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