While the Renaissance lute was played in most parts of Europe, it was the vihuela de mano that the 16th-century Spanish aristocracy preferred, the small guitarra being consigned to the hands of people of lower rank. Supported by powerful and wealthy patrons of music, professional vihuela players developed their art to a hitherto unknown level of excellence, combining polyphonic writing in the style of vocal music with a highly idiomatic use of the instrument. Seven books of tablature for the vihuela were published during the four decades between 1536 and 1576, a corpus of more than 700 pieces representing a veritable siglo de oro of Spanish musical culture.
Luys de Narváez, born in Granada around 1500, was employed at an early age by Francisco de los Cobos y Molina, who became secretary of state to Charles V and comendador of several provinces of Spain. Narváez accompanied the Regent Felipe (the later Philip II) on voyages to Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands, coming into contact with some of the most famous musicians of the time. At home, Nicolas Gombert and Antonio de Cabezón were among his colleagues at the Spanish court. In the latter part of his life Narváez was choirmaster of the royal chapel. He died probably around 1550.
Narváez's Seys libros del Delphín, published in Valladolid in 1538 and the first major collection of vihuela music after Luis de Milán's El Maestro (1536), contains the earliest purely instrumental sets of variations - diferencias - in the history of music. The best known are the variations on the popular theme "Guárdame las vacas", which every guitarist has in his or her repertoire. The Seys libros also include 14 fantasías, several adaptations of Josquin des Prez's Mass settings, French chansons by Josquin, Gombert, Courtois and Richafort, and other sets of variations on both sacred and popular themes. The fifth book is for voice and vihuela, but some of these romances and villancicos can also be played convincingly as solo pieces.
In this critical edition, all of Narváez's solo works are transcribed into staff notation for the guitar, the majority of the pieces appearing here for the first time. The easy-to-read score, which is entirely faithful to the original tablature, will open up this magnificent early repertoire to a new generation of performers and teachers.
In tablature transcription, voice-leading always involves some degree of interpretation, and Nesyba has solved this problem convincingly. Click here to read the full review (in German) Concertino
A few of the pieces are already well known and feature regularly in classical guitar recitals. However much of the music will be unfamiliar to all but specialists in the field of early plucked stringed instruments. This edition should encourage classical guitarists to explore the wider repertoire, which is different in many respects from the pieces which have been made popular by eminent guitarists such as Segovia. It may also be of use to those who are interested in Spanish instrumental music of the period more generally, who require a version in staff notation because they cannot read tablature. It is also much more affordable than other available editions of this repertoire.
Click here to read the full review The Consort