It all started with one music video. I enjoyed this music very much but knew nothing about the vihuela or Renaissance music in general. To remediate my own educational gaps, I started reading. As usual, the more I learn about the culture and history, the more I appreciate the music, and the post keeps growing.
For this post, the music is the star. 🙂
Who is Luis de Milan?
Luis de Milán (also known as Lluís del Milà or Luys Milán) (c. 1500 – c. 1561) was a Spanish Renaissance composer, vihuelist, and writer of music books. He was the first composer in history to publish music for the vihuela de mano, an instrument employed primarily in the Iberian peninsula and some of the Italian states during the 15th and 16th centuries. The music of Luis Milan, easily adapted to classical guitar, is still popular with performers today.
Renaissance music is vocal and instrumental music written and performed in Europe during the Renaissance era – roughly 1400 – 1600 A.D.
“Music was an essential part of civic, religious, and courtly life in the Renaissance. The rich interchange of ideas in Europe, as well as political, economic, and religious events in the period 1400–1600 led to major changes in styles of composing, methods of disseminating music, new musical genres, and the development of musical instruments.” (Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History)
The main characteristics of Renaissance music are (Fuller 2010):
- Music based on modes.
- Richer texture, with four or more independent melodic parts being performed simultaneously. These interweaving melodic lines, a style called polyphony, is one of the defining features of Renaissance music.
- Blending, rather than contrasting, melodic lines in the musical texture.
- Harmony that placed a greater concern on the smooth flow of the music and its progression of chords.
What is El Maestro?
In 1536 Luis de Milán published the first collection of vihuela music in history, El maestro (Libro de música de vihuela de mano intitulado El maestro). The book was dedicated to King John III of Portugal, It contains more than forty fantasias, six pavans, twelve villancicos, as well as sonetos (settings of Italian sonnets), and other pieces; some of the pieces are for solo vihuela, and others for voice accompanied by vihuela. Interestingly, half of the villancicos are in Castilian Spanish, and half are in Portuguese.
According to polivios.net,
“El Maestro” here refers to the “The Teacher” – there is no other manuscript previous to Milan’s publication that makes such a claim to its pedagogical purpose – as explicitly stated in its introduction.”
Click for enlarged view:
Description from copy of El Maestro:
- Publication data taken as a colophon
- On the cover: “Year M.D.xxxv., With real privilege” (1535)
- Xylographic engravings on the cover, cover verse and verse of h. A6: border, images of the king with royal shield and representation of Orpheus
- source: BIBLIOTECA NACIONAL DE ESPAÑA
The following passage is from the BIBLIOTECA NACIONAL DE ESPAÑA summary of El Maestro (found here). Roughly translated with the aid of google and a decades old minor degree in Spanish language, this passage gives more historical details about the vihuela. (ie, corrections are welcome): 😉
Despite the small number of publications, the Spanish vihuelistic repertoire was of great importance in European instrumental music of the sixteenth century, both for its high technical and musical level and for the innovative contribution in technique like instrumental accompaniment to the voice, the interpretation, and, above all, the introduction of variation, which they called differences. (Luis de Narváez, Valladolid, 1538).
The Teacher (El Maestro), the first of the vihuelistic books, is a superior innovative work, of higher character than the previously published and highly praised works of Italy, Germany and France. The book of Milan, written in the cipher or tablature system, was also the first vihuela book to have a modern transcription.” (Schrade, Leipzig, 1927).
Quoted in rough translation (original found here)
According to Encyclopedia Britannica,
“The pieces in Milán’s book are arranged in order of difficulty. The songs—Spanish and Portuguese villancicos and romances and Italian sonnets—are often of great beauty, and the instrumental writing is varied and resourceful. Milán is noted as the first composer to provide tempo indications in his music.”
What is the Vihuela?
The vihuela (Spanish pronunciation: [biˈwela]) is a guitar-shaped string instrument usually with five or six doubled strings. Vihuelas were popular from 15th and 16th century in Spain, Portugal and Italy.
According to The Met.
“During the medieval and Renaissance periods, a wide variety of plucked stringed instruments can be found in both literature and art. They include the citole, cittern, vihuela, mandore, gittern, and, of course, the lute and its variants. During the Renaissance, the guitar’s closest contemporary was the vihuela.(Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History)
From summary of El Maestro (found here).
“…The vihuela was the Spanish equivalent the lute in the rest of Europe – the role of courtier instrument. A total of seven books dedicated exclusively to the vihuela were published under the reigns of Carlos V and Felipe II. (Quoted in rough translation (original found here)
According to polivios.net,
” It is absolutely fascinating that despite the immense popularity of the Vihuela, there are only three surviving historic instruments.”
Vihuela vs. Guitar
According to Encyclopedia Britannica
“The vihuela was played by the aristocracy, the guitar by commoners. By the 18th century both instruments had given rise to the six-stringed guitar. The vihuela de arco was a viola da gamba, or viol. The term vihuela is also used to refer to a five-stringed instrument that became popular in Mexico as a feature of mariachi ensembles.”
The vihuela is a larger instrument than the guitar, with six or seven courses of strings and tuned like a lute. It is sometimes pictured with sharply cut waists, like on a violin(20.92), and sometimes with rounded corners like a guitar (25.2.26). The vihuela and guitar existed simultaneously until the seventeenth century, when the popularity of the guitar superseded the vihuela.” (Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History)
In Conclusion, Show Stoppers
Video 4 and 5 performed by Julian Bream
Thanks for reading! 🙂
- Arkenberg, Rebecca. “Music in the Renaissance.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/renm/hd_renm.htm (October 2002) (accessed August 14, 2018).
- Dobney, Jayson Kerr, and Wendy Powers. “The Guitar.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/guit/hd_guit.htm (September 2007)(accessed August 15, 2018).
- Polivios.net, “The Vihuela“, http://www.polivios.net/luys-milan(accessed Aug. 7, 2018).
- Wikipedia contributors, “Luis de Milán,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Luis_de_Mil%C3%A1n&oldid=839587497 (accessed August 7, 2018).
- Wikipedia contributors, “Vihuela,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Vihuela&oldid=851706637 (accessed August 7, 2018).
- Wikipedia contributors, “Renaissance music,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Renaissance_music&oldid=851695715 (accessed August 16, 2018).
- Read about surviving historic vihuelas HERE
- Hear more vihuela music HERE
- Read about the Spanish Guitar:
Hermenegildo Anglada Camarasa (Barcelona, 1871 – Pollença, 1959), “The Idol”, (c. 1910) Palma de Mallorca (Colección de Arte La Caixa), image source: Li Taipo via Flickr, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).