"Tres Libros de Música" de Alonso Mudarra. Seville, Spain (1546)

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Audio "Romanesca" by Alonso Mudarra recorded by Al Pérez

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        Introduction. The following is one of the chapters that belongs to the PHD (work in progress) “The History of the Guitar” (through its methodology and beyond), original title “La Historia de la Guitara” (a través de su metodología y otras fuentes). The original tablature of “Romanesca or Keep my cows”, which is one of the pieces for Renaissance guitar from Alonso Mudarra’s work, my own transcription and embellishments as well as the Audio track of the piece that I recorded in Madrid in 2003 are included. This transcription was issued by the publisher Alpuerto in Madrid 2004 within “Volumen I Grandes Maestros de la Guitarra.”

    In this chapter I would like to expound some of the main ideas from the work of Alonso Mudarra, "Tres Libros de Música" (Three Books of Music). Its importance in “The History of the Guitar” is capital. Original works and transcriptions of well-known works for vihuela, musical genres, embellishments, his own musical notation, the polyphonic concept of the era, a compendium of parts for vihuela and voice and the plucked style are the main features of the work of Mudarra.

    We must bear in mind that despite the numerous editions of music for lute in Europe during the 16th century, the lute was not well regarded in Spain (the Arabs had been recently expelled and everything that made reference to them was poorly received). Therefore, contemporary publications for lute at that time are not known in Spain. However, during the sixteenth century numerous editions of music for vihuela were published in this country; a wholly Spanish indigenous instrument which was in decline during the 17th century mainly due to the rise of the guitar. On the other hand, while in Spain the vihuela was losing popularity, in the New World and especially in Mexico, the vihuela established itself. In fact, in this country there is today the figure of the vihuelist.

    The contribution made by Emilio Pujol transcribing for modern guitar a series of music publications of the Spanish Golden Age, including Mudarra’s work, is of vital importance. This importance lies in the possibility of opening this repertoire to the performer as well as to the schools of music. Likewise, Pujol’s research is very important because it gives researchers the opportunity to go deeper into the stylistics of the time since his work was the first complete transcription of several music publications for vihuela by diverse Spanish authors in the 16th century.

    Nevertheless, Pujol’s transcription is completely literal (number-musical note) and is not subject to the interpretive canons described in the treaties of the time. The strict interpretation of his transcription would be out of style since at that time the music would not be played as written, as happens today with jazz music.       

    Due to that, Pujol in his transcription adopts the same time value rhythm as Mudarra and it could seem that the music were too slow. The musical notation of the epoch used longer time value rhythms than we use today. That is why recently transcriptions adopt half time value rhythm from the original works of Mudarra. We have to take into account that Mudarra used terms such as “Apriesa” (quickly) to express the tempo.

    The statements of the three books will be presented in detail and certain relationships derived from the technique of execution, interpretation and organology of the three main instruments of the epoch: vihuela, lute and guitar will be pointed out. Moreover, the characteristics of the musical notation, embellishments, tempo and rhythm (bars), voice and vihuela, tecnique and stylistics, music genres, along with other contributions by musicologists and performers will be introduced as well.

   Mudarra’s life and work. We do not know many details about the life of Mudarra. It is believed that because of the date of publication of his book, “ Tres Libros de Música en Cifras para Vihuela y para Canto y Vihuela" in 1546, he could have been born within the first decade of the 16th century since his book presents a great musical maturity.

    He was raised in the House of the Dukes of the Infantado, Don Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and Don Íñigo López. His book was published on the 7th of December of 1546 in the printing house of Juan de León. Mudarra had prepared another book in tablature for harp and organ as well.

    As a vihuelist, Mudarra is closely linked to the Spanish tradition. It seems that he traveled throughout Italy, as he mentions the good things he saw in that country and possibly knew the first lute books published in Italy containing works by Spinacino, Bosinensis, D'Alça, Tromboncino, etc. He would surely have met Francesco de Milano, known in Europe as “The Divine” during his trips.

    Mudarra was also a great humanist setting music to texts by Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Petrarch and Garcilaso among others. It is also known that he was a canon of the Cathedral of Seville around 1547, where he served until his death on the first of April 1580.

   Mudarra wrote six works for four-course guitar five years before Adrian Le Roy did the same in France. In this way, Mudarra became the first composer who wrote for guitar in the world. He wrote fine music for an instrument that was almost exclusively used for strumming in songs and dances.


"Tres Libros de Música"

    In the (BN) Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid there are three facsimiles with signatures R/100708, R/101100 and R/101097, containing the work of Mudarra “Tres Libros de Música en Cifras para Vihuela”. R/100708 and R/101100 are the same facsimile including an introduction by James Tyler and R/101097 is the facsimile presented by the BN. Mudarra’s work consists of three books published as one volume containing 44 pieces for vihuela, 26 pieces for vihuela and voice and 6 pieces for Renaissance guitar or four-course guitar. The work of Mudarra is the third one issued in Spain in the 16th century containing tablatures for vihuela after "El Maestro" by Luys Milan (Valencia 1535) and "Los Seys libros del Delphin" by Luis de Narváez (Valladolid 1538). It is also the first edition in the world containing music for four-course guitar or Renaissance guitar.                                                                             

    According to the music catalogue of the BN of Madrid elaborated by Higinio Anglés and José Subirá, the volume containing the work of Mudarra has "landscape format, 4 unnumbered folios plus 24 belonging to the first book. 1 unnumbered folio, cover, plus 27 numbered folios corresponding to the second book and 53 unnumbered folios corresponding to the third book and appendix." After the colophon, there follow 16 unnumbered pages, the last seven contain empty staves that are written by a copyist hand writing in the 17th century. Following this, there are seven folios with tablatures and 9 folios with staves. There are two blank pages at the beginning and one at the end. The size of the volume is "14 ' 1 x 20 cm. binding in white leather."    
    R/101097 is mutilated and missing several sheets of the third book. Some pages are torn off at the right upper corner. According to James Tyler, there are only two original copies in the world, both in Spain. One in the BN of Madrid and the other in the library of “El Escorial”, both are imperfect, but between them they are complete. Tyler ruled out the possibility that there is another copy, as previously though,t in Zurich.  

    The volume contains some engravings showing harp and vihuela performers.

     On the first page of the first book Mudarra wrote the following:

   “Alonso Mudarra/ Tres libros de Musica en cifras / para vihuela. En el primero ay musica facil y difi/cil en fantasias: y composturas, y pavanas: y gallardas: y algunas fantasias para guitarra. El segundo trata de los ocho tonos ( o modos )/ tiene muchas fantasias por diversas partes: y com/posturas glosadas. El tercero es de musica / para cantada y tañida. Tiene mo/tetes. Psalmos. Romances. Canciones, Sonetos en castellano: y italiano/ versos en latín. Villancicos. Di/rigidos al muy magni/fico señor/ else/ñor don Luys / Çapata.”
    “Fue impreso el presente libro en la muy noble y leal ciudad de Sevilla en casa de Juan de Leon.”
    Then follows an epistle to Señor Don Luys Çapata. In this epistle the stylistics of the time can be seen making reference to classical Greece and the proportion of its forms. This is a general feature that we will find in the European Renaissance during the 16th century and particularly in the Italian Renaissance of the 15th century. The purpose of this letter is to raise the essence of the vihuela to the divine condition where the spirit lies.

    From my point of view, there are certain spiritual connections between the mystical significance of Indian music and the music for vihuela. In both, the search for ecstasy can be appreciated from stillness. This point will be explained in another chapter of this ambitious work "The History of the Guitar".
    Following, we have contents of Book I where at the end are placed the six pieces for Renaissance guitar or four-course guitar (first pieces for guitar published in the world). I have chosen "Romanesca or keep my cows" in order to write its transcription, variations, embellishments and finally record it.

    The Romanesca is based on a modal progression (III/VII/Im/V). Mudarra repeats the structure twice (with a slight variation at the end of the second repetition to create a cadence and adds two more bars (IVm-V/I)  as a clause of union with the following variation. This union is perfectly comparable with the “turn around" used in blues and jazz. The complete structure is (III/VII/Im/V/III/VII/Im-V/I/IVm-V/I). It is repeated in order to improvise and make variations with new embellishments following the same structure from the beginning to the end. Mudarra wrote the structure three times. My transcription is based on the interpretative stylistics of the era, following rules of the treaties by Diego Ortiz, Bermudo, Sancta Maria, Milan and others. That is to say, it is not a literal transcription (number-musical note) I have also written down some slight modifications according to the stylistics of the epoch as well.

    Some scholars prefer to see the progression like this (I/V/VI/III). The pitch of the guitar is "a lo nuevo" (the new pitch of the epoch) 4 = D 3 = G 2 = 1 B = E.

    Regarding variations, I have entirely respected the structure of the piece and the embellishments are very diverse. Most of them conform to the modality of the first tone or Seculorum. However, others following the tuition of the cited authors, my professors, along with my own experience, reflect a compendium of different techniques and musicality even pooled from the electric guitar technique. As a matter of fact, the relationship between the whole and one part of the whole can be entirely appreciated even if it is the minimum musical expression. As far as I am concerned, anything that intends to be music, if the spirit enjoys it, then there is a connection with the creation and for some people “The Divine” is in between.                                                                                      

    To relate to his work, Mudarra refers to two other books for vihuela already published in Spain; they are logically Milan’s and Narváez’s. According to John Griffiths, Narváez is the most intelligent vihuelist of the Spanish Renaissance as he is capable of developing polyphonic ideas for four voices in the vihuela. Mudarra absorbs Narváez’s ideas and especially this polyphonic technique and so he is considered by Bermudo (Declaración de Instrumentos Musicales 1555) as one of the best vihuelists.
    Notation. It is interesting how Alonso Mudarra describes his musical notations, especially those ones at the end of clauses (bars, tempo, tablature, time value of the rhythm, and rests). This indicates the diversity of musical notations used by composers; each one used his own.

    Alonso Mudarra uses the Italian tablature to write his music. He explains what it consists of (basically, six-line hexagram, representing the courses of the vihuela and numbers indicating where to press the strings). There are no indications concerning stylistics of the interpretation. In this way the articulation of the music is subject to the interpretation of the artist. This is a constant from Renaissance music to early Baroque music where composers do not write articulations practically.

    Broadly, there were two different tablatures. The Italian which used numbers to indicate which fret the note was to be played at, whereas the French system, also adopted by German lute performers, used letters instead. To give an example, while in the Italian system the numbers “0 and 1” meant open string and first fret respectively, in the French tablature the letters "a and b" had the equivalent meaning. These two tablature systems were used throughout Europe to write music for long-necked instruments.

    Mudarra writes the time value of the rhythm on top of the tablature. No new time value appears until the music requires it. For example, if 8 eighth notes are to be played, he only writes the time value of the first one then the rest of the notes have the same value until a new time value of the rhythm is written. He also uses bar lines to separate bars. Regarding this matter, vihuelist Diego Pisador (1552) uses the same system as Mudarra.  

    During the 16th century in Europe, long-necked instruments are grouped under the same name. This is testified by Luys Venegas de Henestrosa in his "Libro de Cifra Nueva" and Mateo Alemán in his "Ortografía Castellana." Similarly, Fray Juan Bermudo determines a long-necked string instruments with the name of vihuela.

    The system adopted by Mudarra to write for voice and vihuela consisted of two separate staves. The part of the vihuela was written  in a six-line tablature (hexagram) and the part for the chant in a staff into rhombic notation.                                                                      

    Another interesting relationship in “The History of the Guitar” is how electric guitar tablatures are basically equal to those of the 16th century. Obviously, they include other annotations to reflect the modern language of this instrument as, for example, bendings. On the other hand, I would like to highlight that tablatures were in use and evolving until the mid-18th century when violin notation replaced tabs progressively.
    Here are contents of Book II:

    “Libro Segundo de Música/ En cifras pa vihuela. En el cual ay muchas/ fantasías y algunas Composturas Glosadas/ por los ocho tonos que por otro/ nombre mas propio/ se llaman mo/ dos.”

    “Fue impreso el presente libro en la muy noble y leal ciudad de Sevilla en casa de Juan de León. /1546.”

    Here are contents of Book III:

   “Libro Tercero/ de musica, en cifras y canto/ de organo para tañer y cantar con la vihuela en el/ qual ay Motetes, Psalmos, Romances, Canciones, Sonetos, Versos en latín, Villancicos, como versan en la tabla que/ a la buelta de esta hoja esta.

    Fue impreso el presente libro en la muy noble y muy/ leal ciudad de Sevilla en casa de Iuan de Leon./ 1546”

    Mudarra includes at the end of book III some pages showing corrections. This indicates that it was easier for him to write corrections rather than changing the press. Unlike in France, most of the Spanish composers made their own editions. To conclude his work Mudarra, presents some tablatures for harp and organ. The book ends with more tablatures for vihuela but this time they seem to be rather sketch-like. On the last page there are several blank hexagrams.

    Mudarra’s work is very extensive and copious where we find music in abundance. Still, there are a very few explanations concerning how to play the vihuela, its technique and how to develop variations. For this reason, I am inclined to believe that the book was aimed at advanced performers instead of beginners.  Likewise, this is the case of Francisco Guerau “Poema Harmónico” Madrid 1694.

   Embellishments. Jorge Fresno, Renaissance guitar and vihuela performer, indicates in his wonderful recording on the integral of “Tres Libros de Música” by Mudarra that musical suggestions have been offered by great music masters of the Renaissance embracing rhythmical liberties and elements of embellishments with all sorts of combinations. This knowledege provides the interpreter a surprising range of expressive possibilities. As a matter of fact, this is something that I have already been reiterating in some chapters of the dissertation”The History of the Guitar”. According to the treatises of the epoch, the music was not played as it was written at least from the 16th century to the end of the 18th century.

    Enriquez de Valderrábano said that each performer should make variations according to his possibilities. An interpreter was allowed to perform long time value rhythm parts with half time value rhythms at a double speed, hammer-ons and pull-offs by creating new variations. Additionally, Jorge Fresno, points out that half time value rhythm at a double speed were to be played by vihuelists on slow passages while for the keyboard instrumentalists, these embellishments should be added to decorate the clauses without exceeding the length of a bar.

    Related to this issue, Venegas de Henestrosa says that a “Quiebro” is two different things: 1) A kind of wagging on a course produced by a left hand finger while holding a fret. 2) A kind of hammer-on by holding on a string and fret with a finger then move another finger two or three frets up by using a hammer-on. Similarly, Tomás de Sancta María describes ”Quiebro” in his book “El Arte de Tañer Fantasía.” This description is mentioned in the Chapter dedicated to him in “The History of the Guitar”.

    Inequality or “inégalité” is another feature for interpreting the music of the time. Today, we can find these interpretative techniques in masters such as Francisco Ortiz, Jorge Cardoso, Ahmet Kanneci, Ingolf Olsen and Javier Hinojosa.

    These systems of embellishments, puts forward Jorge Fresno, are based on texts by Spanish theoreticians and they were widely used in all European Renaissance music. Even during the Baroque period we can find many treatises such as that of flutist Quantz in France showing how the music of this era had to be interpreted.
    Tempo and rhythm (bars). Tempo indications responded to the personal principle of each vihuelist, Mudarra employs three different signs to indicate the basic movements: “Apiresa, ni muy apriesa ni muy a espacio, a espacio”. That is to say, quickly, not too quickly nor slowly, slowly.

    Technique and stylistics. The vihuela, the four-course guitar or Renaissance guitar and lute are united by the same musical concept. Performing techniques are very similar in all of them. The main right hand techniques are: 1. Figueta Castellana (fingers p,i and thump outwards) 2. Figueta extranjera (fingers p,i and thump inwards) 3. Dedos ( fingers m,i) 4. Dedillo (finger i up and down). 5. Rasgueado (Strumming)
    Differences among the three instruments are not aesthetic or technical-interpretive (pieces for an instrument can be played in either of the other two) but simply of cultural origin.

    The imitative counterpoint is the base and most prolific element in the musical production of the 16th century. This counterpoint is used on plucked instruments (vihuela, lute and guitar).  It is the main technique used by Mudarra. He wrote chords on his tablatures, especially at the end of clauses but he did not employ chord alphabets in order to be strummed. Strumming was very popular at that time and it is also possible to carry it out on Mudarra’s music. Nevertheless, he did not write it, that is why he is considered by scholars as one of the finest vihuela performers.
    In terms of interpretive technique, Mudarra used the technique of “dedos” for quick notes. According to James Tyler (1980), Mudarra used Figueta Castellana (fingers p,i and thump outwards). Still, Luys Venegas de Henestrosa (16th century) describes “dedos” as fingers (m, i). Mudarra did not specify which fingers to use. In addition, both figuetas “Castellana and Extranjera” could also be done with fingers (p,m). I would like to highlight that “Dedos” technique has been developed progressively by classical and flamenco guitarists. The latter call it “Picado”.

    It is in his first fantasies (to warm up) where Mudarra mentions that although he likes both techniques, he prefers “dedos” to “dedillo”. Miguel de Fuenllana was not fond of the latter technique since he considered that the alternate nail-flesh sound combination produced by the finger in contact with the gut string was not divine. According to his conceptual understanding, Bermudo (1555) also established that alternate nail-flesh technique in the right thumb (alzapúa) was not pure either. For both authors, the divine and pure sound had to be obtained from the union of flesh with flesh. However, three hundred years later, “The History of the Guitar” shows that one of the most important techniques of flamenco guitarists is “Alzapúa”.
    Furthermore, Dionisio Aguado left established on his method for guitar (Paris-1820 and Madrid 1825) that the use of nails in the right hand gives greater support, robustness, sound power, as well as greater agility to the interpretation. Fernando Sor himself, after his conversations with Aguado, let his thumb nail grow.

    Voice and vihuela. The meaning of the text justifies the flight of the melody. Works by polyphonists of the Renaissance were great master pieces in this technique from which vihuelists such as Milan, Narváez, and Mudarra, learned how to put it on their tablatures for vihuela. The chant fits the text by eliciting its expression. During the historical music periods, the interpretation is different but it keeps the concepts in terms of differences, variations and embellishments at least from the 16th century to the 18th century.

    The psychological density of the text and its emotional charge was enriched by the great Italian masters, such as Monteverdi and  Caccini who created the atmosphere from which Mudarra became  aware of the importance of the chant accompanied by vihuela and devoted a large section in his three books of music to this combination. The duo formed by voice and an instrument was not unknown for him. We can find sources that attest this combination in: literature of early Greece, troubadours and minstrels of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Cancionero de Palacio 15th century and in several publications of vihuelists of the 16th century. Moreover, after Mudarra, many composers wrote music for this small chamber music combination, by way of example: Fernando Sor (19th century) in his “Seguiriyas” for guitar and voice and, in modern times, in a different way, many songwriters such as John Lennon and Bob Dylan.                                                                                            
    The organological development of the instruments makes these able to afford harmonic parts while the voice sings the melody, for instance Christmas carols, madrigals, ballads, etc. Popular songs treated within an educated manner collaborate directly with the origin of accompanied monody, especially liras, lutes and later vihuelas .

    Music genres. As for the musical production of Mudarra, he used a broad range of musical forms. The most widely-used genre was the fantasy in its different forms of “consonancias y redobles” (slowly-quickly). Likewise, Mudarra presents carols, pavanas, gallardas, motets, psalms, adaptations of vocal polyphony and songs. The songs are written in Spanish, Italian and Latin (used by educated people in Europe).

    These forms have been treated by Mudarra so profoundly and sensitively that he is acclaimed as one of the finest composers of the Spanish Renaissance.

    The work of Mudarra is very important not only because it displays the first works for guitar published in the world but also because it reflects on the vihuela polyphonic concepts of his time, along with technical aspects of his writing and his own musical notations. Mudarra’s repertoire contributed to widening the literature for vihuela and was later on to be continued by other vihuela players such as Diego Pisador, Valderrábano and so many others. His work has also inspired other guitarists.
    Bibliography: “Cancionero de Palacio Biblioteca Real Madrid siglo XV”. Luys Milan “El Maestro 1535” Biblioteca Nacional (BN) Madrid. Luys de Narvaez “Los Seys Libros del Delphin 1538” BN Madrid. Alonso (de) Mudarra “Tres Libros de Musica 1546” facsimile BN Madrid. Enríquez de Valderrábano “Silva de Sirenas 1547” BN Madrid. Diego Pisador 1552 “Libro de Música para vihuela” BN Madrid. Diego Ortiz “Tratado de Glosas 1553” BN Madrid. Miguel de Fuenllana “Orphénica Lyra 1554” BN Madrid. Fray Juan Bermudo “Declaración de Instrumentos 1555” BN Madrid. Luys Venegas de Henestrosa “Libro de cifra nueva 1557” BN Madrid. Tomás de Sancta María “El Arte de Tañer Fantasía 1565” BN Madrid. Esteban Daza “El Parnaso 1576” BN Madrid. Dionisio Aguado “Método de Guitarra 1825” BN Madrid. Fernando Sor “Método de Guitarra 1829". Romanillos “Diccionario de Constructores de Instrumentos Punteados y de Arco” BN Madrid. Higinio Anglé-José Subirá “ Catálogo de Música de la  BN Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas. Instituto Español de Musicología 1951” BN Madrid. Emilo Pujol “Transcripciones Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas. Instituto Español de Musicología 1965 BN Madrid. James Tyler “Tres Libros de Música complete facsimile edition with an introduction.  Chantarelle, Monaco 1980”.

    Other sources: Conversations with Dr. John Griffiths Melbourne Australia. Conversations with Dr. Ahmet Kanneci, Ankara-Turkey. Conversations with Dr. Jorge Cardoso, France. Conversations with Francisco Ortiz, France. Conversations with Ingolf Olsen, Copenhagen-Denmark. Conversations with Miguel Ángel Jiménez Arnaiz, Madrid-Spain. Jorge Fresno music record of Mudarra’s integral work. Conversations with Indian musicians, Varanasi-India.