Dove son quei fieri occhi?—transcribed by Oscar Chilesotti

Classical guitar This piece is drawn from Da un Codice Lauten-Buch del Cinquecento: Transcrizioni in notazione moderna di Oscar Chilesotti as published by the German publishing house Breitkopf & Härtel in 1890. I was lucky enough to obtain scans of an original copy of this book from a university library, allowing me to retranscribe (in this case, really just copy and add fingering) Dove son quei fieri occhi? from a primary source. My original transcription was based on a secondary source and differs in minor, but impactful ways. Given that I prefer the alternative arrangement to the Chilesotti version, I've included both the original Chilesotti lute transcription (which is playable without changes on the guitar) and the alternative guitar arrangement.

Historical Background

If we are to believe Chilesotti, this song was written for the lute no later than the 16th century. Oscar Chilesotti's book is a transcription into modern music notation of lute music from what he believed to be a late 16th-century codex—notated in Italian lute tablature—assembled by a German lutenist. The songs from the codex could originate before the 16th century as Chilesotti writes that the songs were allora più famose (the most famous at the time). Of course, if Chilesotti was wrong about the origin of the codex, the songs could be from a later time period. He writes that the codex was put together probabilmente verso la fine del secolo XVI (probably toward the end of the 16th century), which means he wasn't certain about its date of origin.

I've read some doubts about the authenticity of Chilesotti's codex, which was supposedly destroyed in a fire. Is it plausible that the codex would be the only surviving source of these songs if they were among the most famous of their time? Why was a German lutenist singing Italian lyrics (or did Chilesotti translate the lyrics)? I cannot answer these questions authoritatively, although I know the Tuscan and Venetian dialects[1] were languages of commerce in medieval times and Italian per se was the language of art and culture in Europe during the Renaissance. If you like the songs, their exact origin is only of academic interest.

The Lyrics

When performing music from other instruments on the guitar, it can help one's performance to keep in mind the context of the music as it was originally performed. Lute music often served as background accompaniment to vocals. Sometimes the music would specify sections where the lutenist should play embellishments while the vocalist was silent or not himself elaborating the melody.

Dove son quei fieri occhi? was written to accompany singing and Chilesotti does not notate any embellishments. As a result, it is a challenge to make it sound interesting as a solo piece. That is why I prefer the alternative arrangement I've provided, which injects a little more melody to keep it interesting.

Lyrics from Chilesotti's book

Dove son quei fieri occhi
Che mi ferirno il core?
Ahi! crudo amore!
Vado cercando chi porga aiuto al mio martiro.[2]

Approximate English translation

Where are those proud eyes
That wounded my heart?
Oh! Cruel love!
I go searching for whom will relieve my suffering.[3]

The Transcriptions

Chilesotti's transcription notates the song in A major, even though it should clearly be A minor/C major. His version is littered with many natural signs cancelling the sharps from the key signature, which is often a clue you've misidentified the key.[4] Therefore, I have changed the key signature to A minor. Other than adding fingerings (that includes positions, barres, and string numbers), I believe that is the only change to the original I've made. I've preserved all pitch values and note durations exactly as Chilesotti wrote them down.

The second barre in measure 2 is awkward, but necessary to preserve the bass F as a quarter note. Playing the F on the fourth string instead of the fifth string would necessitate shortening it to an eighth note, as is done in the alternative arrangement. If you give it a chance, you will find you can keep your number four finger on the fifth string while moving your first-finger barre from the fifth to the seventh fret. Does keeping that F ringing make it sound better? That's for you to decide.

A major difference between the alternative arrangement and the Chilesotti transcription is the first half of measure 14. In order to preserve the initial E as a quarter note, it is necessary to shift to the fifth position using the original transcription. If one is willing to shorten that E to a sixteenth note, one can play the sixteenth note sequence in the first position. The alternative arrangement avoids this choice by moving the sixteenth note sequence up three semitones, continuing from G to A instead of from G to F♯. The alternative arrangement could have shortened the E and played the original sixteenth note sequence. I don't find it makes much of a difference to the listener and am content to play the alternative sixteenth note sequence even though it is not true to the Chilesotti transcription. Between the two versions you can mix and match the parts you like best.

Renaissance music translated to the guitar can sound quite boring; but it need not be played so. To make this piece sound more like guitar music, do not merely pluck the chords. Make good use of your thumb and fingernails to create rich tone and texture. It really does make a difference if you use p m a versus p i m or i m a for the initial chords. This piece presents an opportunity to experiment with technique to breathe life into music.

Actively Maintained LilyPond Output
Sheet Music

Revision History

Corrected left-hand fingering in measures 1 and 2. Fingers 1 and 2 had been inadvertently juxtaposed in the A minor chord.


Added source reference as subtitle.


Corrected extent of third-position barre in measure 7. It needed to span the low G in the second voice because the purpose of the barre is, in fact, to enable the playing of the low G while the first-voice notes continue to sound.


Renotated using LilyPond, adding the original Oscar Chilesotti lute transcription from 1890 alongside a later guitar arrangement, which used to be the only version I knew. I've made minor corrections to the later guitar arrangement, as some note durations were too long. I've retained the previous version generated with Sibelius for those who want tablature or wish to compare Sibelius and LilyPond output.

Unmaintained Sibelius Output[5]
Sheet MusicSheet Music w/o Tablature

[1] I put dialects in quotes because Venetian is really a distinct Romance language separate from Florentine Italian.

[2] Note that not all of the spelling matches modern Italian.

[3] Other translations, with slightly different shades of meaning are possible. Please don't get hung up on my decision to translate crudo as cruel instead of something along the lines of indifferent or rigid. I know that crudo by itself does not mean the same thing as crudele, but taken in context I think the expression cruel love translates the sentiment reasonably well for the English speaker.

[4] Except when dealing with modal music.

[5] Does not include Chilesotti transcription.