Anthology of Spanish Renaissance Music for Guitar

Works by Milán, Narváez, Mudarra, Valderrábano, Pisador, Fuenllana, Daça, Ortiz
Transcribed by Paolo Cherici
Bologna: Ut Orpheus, 2017 CH273

This well-chosen anthology comprises solo music for the vihuela transcribed into staff notation for the modern guitar, and music for the viola da gamba with SATB grounds arranged for two guitars. For the vihuela pieces the guitar must have the third string tuned a semitone lower to bring it into line with vihuela tuning. Paolo Cherici selects a wide variety of pieces from all seven printed sources of vihuela music, including well-known favourites and pieces which are not too difficult. From Luis Milán’s El Maestro  (1536), there are ten Fantasias (nos 1-5, 8, 10, 11, 12 and 14), all six of the popular Pavanas, and a long prelude-like Tentos (the only piece in the anthology which has a page-turn). Milán’s information preceding each piece has been included in Spanish with the music, and a translation into Italian and English is helpfully provided in Cherici’s Preface. Editorial changes are given as footnotes, and missing notes are supplied in brackets. In Fantasia 2 I would have let Milán’s accidentals stand in bars 30 and 31, but I like the inclusion of a’ in bar 57, which maintains imitation amongst the voices. A footnote for Fantasia 4 offers an alternative transcription of six bars, which is no different from the main text. I guess the editor meant one version to have a strict three-voice texture and the other not, but somehow the two versions have accidentally ended up the same. From Luys de Narváez’s Los seys libros del Delphin  (1538) come four Fantasias (including the delightful Fantasia 2, which found its way into the Willoughby lute book in Nottingham), variations on Conde Claros, his evergreen variations on Guardame las vacas, and La Cancion del Emperador (which is an intabulation of Josquin’s Mille regretz). There are 13 pieces from Alonso Mudarra’s Tres Libros de Musica en Cifras para Vihuela  (1546). I suppose it is inevitable that Cherici should choose the old war-horse, Fantasia che contrahaze la harpa en la manera de Ludovico. Where else does a renaissance composer advise the player that the “wrong” notes towards the end of the piece are deliberate, and won’t seem so bad if you play them well? In bars 115 and 117 Cherici reproduces the notes as Mudarra had them, but I wonder if there is a case for changing them to match the rest of the sequence from bars 111 to 122, if only in a footnote. In three of the Fantasias by Mudarra the player is required to use the “dedillo” technique – using the index finger to play up and down like a plectrum. Of the nine pieces from Enriquez Valderrábano’s Silva de Sirenas (1547), three are marked “Primero grado”, i.e. easiest to play. Diego Pisador is less well known than the other vihuelists, perhaps because his Libro de musica de vihuela  (1552) contains pages and pages of intabulations of sacred music by Josquin and others. However, there are some small-scale attractive pieces of which Cherici picks five including a simple setting of La Gamba called Pavana muy llana para tañer. The eight pieces from Miguel de Fuenllana’s Orphenica Lyra  (1554) include Juan Vasquez’s well-known De los alamos. Estaban Daça is represented by two Fantasias from his El Parnasso  (1576), the second designed to “desemvolver las manos”. Cherici completes his anthology with eight Recercadas and Quinta pars from Diego Ortiz’s Tratado de glosas  (1553), which he has arranged for two guitars. Guitar 2 plays a simple ground – Passamezzo Antico, La Gamba, etc. – arranged for four voices, while Guitar 1 plays Ortiz’s entertaining divisions, noodling around the other voices up and down the fingerboard. To maintain a range similar to the bass viol (with a top string tuned to d’) for a guitar (with a top string e’) Cherici raises the pitch by a tone for Recercadas 4, 6, 7 and 8, but for the other pieces the music is transposed down a third for Guitar 2, and up a sixth for Guitar 1. This is sensible, since the original keys of G minor and F major, which are somewhat awkward to play on the guitar, are now transposed to a more comfortable E minor and A major. Lowering the third string of the guitars by a semitone to match the tuning of the vihuelas is not essential for the Ortiz pieces, but it would make life easier for Guitar 2, particularly for chords of B major and some chords of D major.

All in all this is an excellent anthology, with lots of useful information in the Preface, and I wish I had a copy when I used to play Spanish renaissance music on my classical guitar years ago.

Stewart McCoy

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