Libro Terco De Musica en Cifras y Canto, 1546
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In the same fashion as Orpheus, as described by Boscan, sang to the vihuela. Spanish Sixteenth-Century musicians availed themselves of plucked-string instruments to accompany their vocal works. Archpriest Alamela's Compendio Historial of c. 1479 already refers how minstrels and jongleurs sang romances of chivalry with lutes and vihuelas; the emerging genre of the novel also contains abundant references to this practice, such as the one found in a treatise by Nicolas Ninez appended to Diego de San Pedro's Ca'rcel de Amor (1496), where the author describes himself taking up the vihuela, in order to sing a cancion and a villancico or the anonymous Cuestion de Amor (1513) that tells how the main character also sang, now to the lute, now to the vihuela, canciones and villancicos. The high esteem in which singing with an instrument - especially the lute or vihuela - was held is later corroborated by Juan Boscan's translation of Baldassare Castiglione's Book of the Courtier, published in 1534, where the author states that "but to sing to the lute is much better, because all the sweetness consisteth in one alone, and a man is more heedful and understandeth better the feat manner and the air or vein of it, when the ears are not busied in hearing any more than one voice: and beside every little error is soon perceived, which happeneth not in singing with company, for one beareth out another" (this quotation is drawn from Sir Thomas Hoby's translation, which rendered viola as "lute" - the closest match - rather than "viol" which would mean a bowed instrument in English). Castiglione's treatise, which describes the desirable traits of the perfect courtier, is particularly germane to Spain because the author held the post of legate of the Pope in this country and could have therefore been influenced by Spanish practices. It is important to stress this point because, although the lute was normally used in Italy to accompany singing, Castiglione mentions in the original cantare alia viola, the Italian equivalent of vihuela, and also because the Italian lutenists seldom, if ever, included vocal pieces in their books, while all the known sources of vihuela music contain songs, a fact which again points to the great popularity that singing to the vihuela enjoyed in Spain.
The Tres Libros de Musica en Cifra para Vihuela (1546), or "Three books of music in tablature for vihuela" is the third known collection of music for this instrument, preceded by the works of Luis Milan (1536) and Luis de Narvaez (1538). The author, Alonso Mudarra was, according to his own preface to the Tres Libros, "raised in the household of Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and Ihigo Lopez de Mendoza, third and fourth dukes of the Infantado", where "there were excellent men in all kinds of music"; and he "had seen good things [i.e. good music] in this house and in other parts of Spain and Italy". This statement suggests that Mudarra spent his early years at the duke's palace in Guadalajara, where he would have been surrounded by a highly cultured environment where love for music must have flourished. According to the chronicler fray Hernando Pecha, Inigo Lopez de Mendoza (1493-1566), the fourth duke, was "a great lover of books and of dealing and talking with learned and wise men (...), even though his ancestors bequeathed him a great library, he enlarged it to such an extent that it became the best in Spain at the time (...), he was a great musician, he played all the instruments, and was specially adroit in plucking a lute". In 1529 Lopez de Mendoza accompanied Charles V to Bologna in order to attend to the latter's coronation as Emperor, and it has been proposed that Mudarra could have been part of the duke's retinue, and that this could have been the trip he mentions in his preface. A few weeks before his book appeared, Mudarra took possession of a canonry in Seville's cathedral, a post he would hold until his death in 1580. Already in 1555 Juan Bermudo had enumerated the best vihuelists he knew in his Declaration de Instrumentos, including "Mudarra, canon in Seville's cathedral"; it is therefore all the more surprising not to find him among the illustrious Sevillians mentioned by Francisco Pacheco in his Description de Verdaderos Retratos (1599). In this work Pacheco offers biographical sketches of the main personages from Seville, their cultural interests and achievements, including musicians such as Francisco Guerrero and Francisco de Peraza. It is certain that Mudarra had a close contact with the former, since both served the Sevillian cathedral, and it is also possible that he knew Peraza, a celebrated organist. Pacheco's biographical compendium shows that Seville was an important cultural centre at the time, a meeting place for artists such as Gutierre de Cetina and Baltasar de Alcazar, besides other great musicians not mentioned by Pacheco, such as Cristobal de Morales, Juan Navarro, or Juan Vazquez. Mudarra's vocal works reflect clearly this humanistic atmosphere, revealing him, at the same time, as a highly cultured musician that fits squarely into the Sevillian atmosphere of his time.
The vocal repertoire in the Tres Libros de Musica en Cifra may be divided broadly into two large groups: the pieces whose texts belong to a traditional style (romances and villancicos), and those of humanistic or italianate trend (sonnets and Latin verses). Mudarra, besides, included intabulations of motets by Willaert, Gombert and Pedro Escobar, as well as psalm-settings; all these works, with the exception of the intabulations and a Beatus Ille (music by Paul Hofhaimer) are Mudarra's own compositions. The romances and the villancicos are the product of a popular spirit; the romance was generally a narrative poem about the war with the Moors or the deeds of Charlemagne's knights, although some may be found dealing with biblical passages, as those examples included by Mudarra; the villancicos, on the other hand, were commonly love poems of a lighter character: the word villancico comes from "villa" or "town", whence also "villano" or (peasant) and similar terms derive from Mudarra deals with these two genres in a different fashion. The romances evince a limited melodic movement, almost recitative-like; this trait may seem like the natural consequence of a narrative tradition, but this is not necessarily the case. It should be enough to remember that the romances included in Luis Milan's El Maestro (1536) bear rubrics such as " the singer must 'make throat' [i.e. ornament] when the vihuela is not making fast runs". Even though Milan's words point to the practice of improvised ornamentation, vocal as well as instrumental, and which may also be considered as relevant to Mudarra's works, the handling of the vihuela also differs considerably: Mudarra's accompaniments show a greater restraint. This discrepancy in treatment appears clearly when we compare any of Milan's romances, crowded with virtuosic runs and scales, with the simple chordal accompaniment of Triste estaba el rey David, or the scarce melodic figures in Israel mira tus monies. This comparison discloses one of Mudarra's main characteristics as a song-writer: sobriety and economy of means without, however, neglecting expressiveness, as shown, for example, by King David's dramatic lament in the romance that bears his name. The villancico, on the other hand, receives a more varied, even lighter, melodic treatment which, despite its popular character, also displays a great elegance. The accompaniment may be quite simple, as in the case of Si viesse e me levasse, but in other cases it becomes a true polyphonic complex in which the imitative technique prevails. See, for example, the introductions to Si me llaman or to Isabel perdiste la tu faxa, that quote the theme later sung by the voice, making these pieces true fantasias for voice and vihuela.
According to some specialists, the difference between villancico and cancion is insignificant, but the treatment that Mudarra accords to the latter differs from that which he uses for the villancicos. The text of Recuerde el alma dormida is drawn from Jorge Manrique's Coplas a la muerte de su padre; the treatment is very similar to that which appears in the romances: almost a recitative of great simplicity and gravity, probably due to the fact that Manrique lived and worked in the fifteenth century, and Mudarra may have thus considered his work as pertaining to the same early tradition of the romance. The text of Claros y frescos rios, on the other hand, is due to Juan Boscan, one of the propagators of the new italianate movement in poetry, and it is therefore treated in a different fashion: over the barest chordal accompaniment Mudarra creates a subtle melody that conveys with eloquence the gentle melancholy depicted by the text.
Luis Milan had already included Italian sonnets by Petrarch and Sannazaro in El Maestro (1536), but this collection does not betray any signs of the new trends in poetry that emerge in the 1530s, restricting his Spanish repertoire to romances and villancicos. The second known book, Luis de Narvaez's Seis Libros del Delfin (1538), does not contain any texts from the new trends either; the italianate style makes its musical appearance in Mudarra's songs. In a brief way, this trend may be outlined as the adoption of Italian metres (especially the sonnet), now cast in Spanish, as Boscan states in his second book of poems (1543) when describing how the Venetian ambassador Andrea Navagero suggested him in 1526 "why did he not try [to write] in Spanish sonnets and other poetical forms used by good Italian authors?". As a result of this advice Boscan and, later, Garcilaso de la Vega, paved the way for a new form of poetical expresion in Spanish. The treatment that Mudarra employs for the sonnets, both Italian and Spanish, is very similar: an elegant and simple melody is supported by a discreet polyphonic accompaniment. O gelosia d'amanti is noteworthy because it again affords us the opportunity of showing some stylistic differences between Mudarra and Milan, who also set this sonnet to music. While Milan used mainly small formulae for his accompaniment, and his vocal line is reminiscent of an improvised tune, Mudarra offers a carefully constructed melody, set in the framework of a continually developing instrumental polyphony, evident from the initial bars of the instrumental introduction. This small comparison shows the prevailing traits of each vihuelist: Milan was a virtuoso instrumentalist, probably excelling in improvising; in fact, all his works bear the signs of written improvisations; Mudarra, on the other hand, appears as a mature composer, fully aware of the possibilities and limitations of both the voice and the vihuela, who does not care to astound with virtuoso displays, but prefers, rather, to search for expressivity and eloquence with an aristocratic simplicity.
Mudarra's humanistic interests are also made clear by the inclusion of works based in Classical texts, such as Horace's Beatus Hie, from his first epistle, or Dulces Exuviae, Dido's lament from book four of the Aeneid. As mentioned above, the music for the Beatus Ille in Mudarra's book is by the German composer Paul Hofhaimer, appearing in his Harmoniae Poeticae (Nuremberg, 1539); it is an homophonous piece, with voice and vihuela moving together in long values. Dulces Exuviae, on the other hand, shows at times the same lyric style found in the sonnets and other italianate works, although at times it is closer to a recitative. As another sign of Mudarra's humanistic tastes, it is worthwhile to point out that the woodcut at the beginning of his book, which shows Mercury playing the lyre, bears a rubric drawn from Horace's first book of Carmina: te canam lovis, et Deorum? Nuntium, Curuae quae lirae parentem?
Finally, although it has already been mentioned, it is necessary to stress a feature of Mudarra's vocal works: the care with which he describes with his music the emotions and situations portrayed by the text. In the early sixteenth century the relationship between music and text was mainly formal: the literary structure was reflected by the musical form. With Mudarra, however, we begin to discern the interest for the correspondance between text and music that will eventually lead to the notion of musica reservata. This ideal was thus stated in Gioseffo Zarlino's institutioni Harmoniche (1558): "poetry may be so intimately coupled with music that, when an attempt is made to separate them, it will remain as a body without a soul". The Sevillian masters were equally aware of the need to endow music with the appropriate character, as shown (besides Mudarra's works), by the prefaces to the books by Francisco Guerrero and Juan Vazquez. The preface to Guerrero's Canciones y Villanescas Espirituales (1589) states that this composer was " amongst the first in our nation to make the music correspond with the rhythm and spirit of the poetry", whereas Vazquez wrote in the dedication of his Recopilacion de
Villancicos y Sonetos Espirituales (1560) that "how great, Illustrious Sir, is the power that music exerts upon the mind of men. [and] the effects it causes on them (...), arraying the spirit of the text with the body and music that suits it". Mudarra achieved this end with economy and simplicity, and his music produces the effect described by the poet Gutierre de Cetina, another distinguished Sevillian of his time:
Music is not tasteful, nor good,
even though well-sung, my lady,
if the text deviates from the music;
for it rather causes displeasure, annoyance and pain
But if, perhaps, what is sung sounds
with a music in accordance with its harmony,
instead of the pain that the soul bears
it is left full of sweet images.
- Antonio Corona-Alcade