here for Tracks
here for Credits
repertoire of the vihuela - the guitar-shaped instrument which
played the same role in 16th-century Spain and Portugal as the
lute did elsewhere - has come down to us almost exclusively through
a series of seven printed collections, published between 1536
and 1576. Luis Milán's was the first, and in some ways
the most original, of these seven volumes.
Published in Valencia, Miláns Libro de musica de
vihuela de mano intitulado El maestro ('Book of music for the
vihuela de mano entitled The Teacher) consists of a graded
sequence of fantasias and two groups of songs, each piece being
preceded by helpful instructions for the performer. It is the
earliest known musical source with tempo indications, and even
prescribes variations in tempo within certain pieces.
Luis Milán (c.1500-after 1561) was associated with the
ducal court at Valencia, and was certainly a professional courtier
rather than a professional musician. He had some reputation as
a poet and man of letters, and his published works, besides El
maestro, are E/ juego de mandar (1535) and El cortesano (1561),
which between them paint a picture of courtly life comparable
to Castigliones much more famous account of the court of
Urbino in II libro de/ cortegiano.
the instrumental pieces in Miláns book are called
fantasias: even the dance tunes, the pavanas, are strictly speaking
'fantasias... which in their style and composition imitate the
pavanas played in Italy. The fantasias proper have a loosely-constructed,
improvisatory character which is closer to the style of earlier
Italian lutenists such as Dalza and Capirola than to the more
rigorously contrapuntal manner of the other vihuelists. In his
dedicatory epistle the composer claims that I have always
been so inclined to music that I may state and affirm that I have
never had any other teacher than music itself - a suggestion
which seems to accord particularly well with the spontaneous,
unstudied character of these pieces. Especially characteristic
of this approach are the unusually long pieces called
fantasía de tentos, or tentos for short. He explains that
the purpose of these pieces is to put the vihuela through its
paces (tentar means literally to feel or to
explore by touch), which he does by combining chords with
running passages, and conspicuously making use of the entire three-octave
compass of the instrument.
the vihuela was played much like the lute, vihuela technique had
one or two extra refinements which were not used by lutenists.
One of these, seldom attempted by modern players, was the dedillo
(fingertip') style, in which rapid passages are played with
alternate up-and-down strokes of the index finger alone. Its distinctive
breathy sound can be heard here in Fantasia No.12.
keeping with the didactic intention of El maestro, Milán
scrupulously indicates the musical mode of each fantasia. The
modes of the songs are identified by Luis Gásser in his
Luis Milán and Sixteenth-Century Performance Practice (Bloomington
and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996), and both songs
and instrumental pieces have been grouped by mode in this recording.
songs fall into three categories: there are twelve villancicos
(all of which are included here), four romances, and six Italian
songs, which Milán calls sonetos, though not all of them
are in sonnet form.
villancico is the most typically Spanish song form of the period.
It is popular in style, but often refined and sophisticated
in feel, and Milán's are, characteristically, more polished
than most. For many of them he gives two versions: one with a
simple accompaniment, to which the singer is encouraged to add
embellishments, and one with a florid accompaniment, to be sung
'straight'. This recording usually presents both versions.
Since Milán dedicated his book to King John III of Portugal,
it is not surprising that half the villancicos are in Portuguese
- albeit a rather hybrid Portuguese with many Castilian features.
These are the only Portuguese pieces in the vihuela repertoire,
apart from one very simple villancico in Mudarras book of
1546, which uses a similar linguistic mix. Castilian and Portuguese
were less divergent then than they are now, and educated readers
would have been at home in both languages.
romance is the Spanish equivalent of the narrative ballad, though
this is not at all evident from Miláns treatment
of the form. Other vihuelists are content to give the beginning
of the romance narrative in truncated form, breaking off after
the first few lines, but Miláns approach is to select
a single poignant moment invariably a speech or dialogue - and
rework this as a lyric set piece which can stand by itself. He
sometimes expands the musical structure by providing new music
for the third and fourth quatrains.
Of the Italian songs, we hear Miláns three settings
of Petrarch, which are remarkable for their through-composition
and avoidance of obvious musical repetition. Milán, like
most 16th-century poets, evidently had a particular affection
for Petrarch, and quotes him at the beginning of his dedication:
Ogniun seque sua stella' (Each of us follows his own
is no evidence that Milán was an influential composer,
or even a well-known one in his own day. His name does not feature
in the list of famous vihuelists drawn up by the theorist Juan
Bermudo in 1555, which begins with Luis de Narváez; and
Narváez himself evidently believed that his own vihuela
book, published in Valladolid in 1538, was the first of its kind.
The distinctive form of tablature used by Milán does not
appear in any of the other vihuela books (which use ordinary Italian
lute tablature), and even the name by which Milán called
his instrument - vihuela de mano - was not adopted by any of his
successors, who called it simply vihuela. Either Milán
is the representative of a tradition somewhat apart from that
of the mainstream vihuelists, or he did indeed 'follow his own
Stephen Haynes 1998