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The Consort

Monica Hall

Summer 2013, Vol. 69

Luys de Narváez
Vihuela Music from Los seys libros
del Delphín
(Valladolid, 1538)
ed. and transcr. for guitar by
Stefan Nesyba
Edition HH, HH306.sol, Bicester, 2012
(pbk, £18.95)
ISMN 979 0 708092 55 1

The vihuela, the flat-backed guitar-shaped instrument closely related to the lute, flourished in Spain and areas under Spanish influence during the 16th century. Like the lute it had six or occasionally seven courses, or pairs, of strings and was tuned in perfect fourths with a major 3rd between the third and fourth courses. Narváez’s Los seys libros del Delphín was the second of seven substantial collections of music for the vihuela which were printed in Spain between 1536 and 1576. It includes 14 contrapuntal fantasias, 9 intabulations of vocal pieces both sacred and secular, 5 sets of variations on sacred and secular themes, a baxa de contrapunto (a setting of a basse danse tenor) and 7 pieces for voice with vihuela, two of which can be played as vihuela solos.

This edition includes all except the five songs with essential voice parts. There is a clearly-written introduction in English and German, outlining the problems and tracing the history of the different ways in which vihuela music has been transcribed in the past, and explaining the procedures which have been adopted in this edition to make the music suitable for the modern classical guitar.

The classical guitar differs from the vihuela primarily in having the interval of a 3rd between the second and third strings instead of the third and fourth courses. By tuning the third string of the guitar down a semitone to F sharp, as indicated in this edition, the music can be transferred easily from one instrument to the other. The first course of the vihuela was usually tuned to g' or a', whereas the first string of the guitar is tuned a minor 3rd or perfect 4th lower to e'. When making a version for guitar, the music must be transcribed at the lower pitch if it is to fit conveniently on the fingerboard.

Tablature gives no indication of the underlying part-writing; the transcriber has to reconstruct the polyphony in a way that makes musical sense, while ensuring that it is playable on the guitar. The present edition is supplied with very detailed left-hand fingering, which should enable the player to understand and reproduce the musical structure in a manner which is faithful to the original. In the original manuscript, time signatures, note values and barring follow 16th-century conventions and need to be modernised. A fairly flexible approach has been adopted here; note values are usually halved, but bars of varying lengths are sometimes used to preserve the integrity of the phrasing; this sometimes makes the music appear more complicated than it really is.

The pieces are arranged in the same order as in the original source. The music is clearly printed, but often rather crowded on the page. There are very few inconvenient page turns, the exceptions being the lengthy variations on Conde claros, which occupy three pages, and the Baxa de contrapunto which, rather unfortunately, is split in the middle. Two of the sets of variations, O gloriosa domina and Sacris solennis, are based on metric versions of plainsong hymn tunes. The tunes are supplied at the beginning of each piece, with the text in Latin only.

The lyrics in the original French or Spanish, with English and German translations, are also included for the arrangements of vocal pieces. These should help the player to understand the character of the music and the context in which it would have been played in the 16th century. Narvaez’s tempo indications and his other comments on the music are supplied in Spanish only. The terms algo apriessa (‘quickly’) and muy de espacio (‘slowly’) are explained in the introduction, but the meaning of some of the other comments may not be immediately obvious to non-Spanish speakers. Facsimiles of the two pages of Narváez’s own introduction, explaining theoretical matters with examples in tablature, are also included, but the Spanish text is not easy to read and has not been translated.

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.

Monica Hall

We are grateful to the editor of The Consort for permission to reproduce this review.

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