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ClassicsOnline Home » Music of the Spanish Renaissance
"Her voice is wonderfully seductive"
"something completely different and deeply satisfying"
Music of the Spanish Renaissance
Shirley Rumsey - Voice, Vihuelas, Lute & Renaissance guitar
'But go, fetch my vihuela
perhaps I will sing a song
so wrapped up in my passion
that everyone will feel pity.'
(Bartolome de Torres Naharro, Comedia Ymenea, 1517)
The long reigns of King Charles V and King Philip II in 16th
century Spain gave rise to a flowering of native culture both artistically and musically.
Music reached the highest level of perfection and there were many musicians of excellent
quality. Amongst these, some of the most important were the seven vihuelistas; Milán,
Narváez, Mudarra, Valderrábano, Pisador, Fuenllana and Daza. All players of the vihuela,
a guitar shaped instrument tuned and played like the lute, they published their individual
books of compositions for this instrument during the period 1536 - 1576.
The instrumental repertoire in these seven books for solo
vihuela consists mostly of fantasias which, according to Milán, are so named because
'they proceed solely from the author's fancy', and therefore are not subject to a specific
form. Another favoured genre was the diferencia, or variation, usually based upon a
harmonic sequence or the melody of popular songs such as Guardame las vacas or Conde Claros. Smaller pieces such as the tiento,
which may be likened to a prelude, or the soneto, a little piece probably derived from a
popular son or tune, also appear frequently. There are fewer manuscript sources than
printed ones, but some, such as the Simancas fragments, include a few rare examples of
dance music such as the Pavanilla and La moreda.
The guitar was a popular instrument and frequently used to
accompany both love songs and the long epic ballads called romances. The two romances
included on this recording; La mañana de San Juan
and De Antequera sale el moro, both
commemorate the heroic deeds of battle between Moors and Christians that took place before
the final expulsion of the Moors in 1492. Initially songs in the aural tradition they came
to be written down and continued to be performed long after the events they describe,
hence their inclusion in the vihuela books.
Although these publications are described as being for the
vihuela we have both written and iconographical evidence that the lute was played in Spain
throughout the 16th century particularly in aristocratic circles. The vihuela, lute and
guitar all share an ability to deliver simultaneously the various voices of a polyphonic
composition and consequently are particularly suited to accompanying the voice. Examples
of songs with vihuela accompaniment appear in all seven books, as well as in several
manuscripts. The way of annotating these songs was particularly unique to the vihuelists
as the voice part is generally shown as part of the tablature, picked out either in red
cyphers or with a little dash to distinguish it from the rest of the notes thereby
suggesting that the player and singer were one and the same.
Many of the songs were not actually composed by the vihuelist
responsible for the publication, but arrangements of polyphonic pieces by other composers
adapted for a single voice with accompaniment. The normal procedure was to single out one
voice from the original while the remaining were played on the instrument. In the same way
it is possible to augment the existing repertoire by adapting the anonymous compositions
from the "Cancionero de Uppsala" included on this recording, whilst at the same
time remaining within the boundaries of the purest Renaissance tradition.
Shirley Rumsey studied lute and singing at The Royal College of
Music in London where she became interested in the enormous repertoire for lute and voice
and began to combine the two. She now gives recitals, singing and accompanying herself on
the lute, vihuela, viola da mano, renaissance and baroque guitar; selecting music from the
solo lute and lute song repertoire of renaissance Europe. She has performed extensively
throughout Europe and Scandinavia, taken part in numerous festivals, appeared a number of
times on television, made frequent recordings for BBC Radio 3 and broadcast on many
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