Welcome back to my column. This time I’d like to concentrate on another perennial favourite from the classical guitar repertory, Alonso Mudarra’s Fantasia X, subtitled “que contrahaze le harpa en la manera de Ludovico” – translating as “which imitates the harp in the style of Ludovico”.
Mudarra (1510-1580) was a Spanish composer of songs and music for the vihuela and four-course guitar; he is the composer of the earliest surviving guitar music. The majority of his vihuela music appeared in the collection: Tres libros de musica en cifras para vihuela published in Seville in 1546. The second of the three volumes contains eight works, each in several movements, arranged by mode. The pieces include fantasias, pavanes, variations, galliards, tientos and songs. The celebrated Ludovico, mentioned in the work’s subtitle, was harpist to King Fernando el Católico.
The four-course guitar of Mudarra’s time was relatively new but his favoured instrument appears to have been the vihuela which was (over simplifying, perhaps) an instrument with a guitar-shaped body and renaissance lute tuning. By lowering the 3rd string of the modern guitar by a semitone we can reproduce this tuning although one should also bear in mind that, at this time, pitch was not yet standardised. By placing a capo at the second or third fret of the guitar it’s possible to achieve a lightness of sound appropriate to this style of music.
Mudarra’s Fantasia was published in tablature – a system with which the majority of you will be familiar. For many years the piece was performed on the guitar incorrectly; the harp style mentioned in the subtitle being enhanced by deliberately fingering as many adjacent notes as possible on different strings. Although the effect is quite attractive, it’s not an authentic approach. I have avoided this temptation and located the notes exactly as Mudarra intended; the only additional feature being my suggested left hand fingerings. By holding some fingers down beyond their printed note values, this will provide a certain amount of campanella effect. If you are not familiar with the piece, it may be worth spending a short time searching for it on Spotify, iTunes or YouTube before you attempt to play it. One thing you’ll almost certainly notice is how modern some of the harmonies and syncopations sound. At the beginning of bar 126, you’ll see the composer’s comment in Spanish, but translated at the end of the piece – if you play the odd sounding notes with conviction, it will sound convincing. Certainly some of the harmonies will take a little getting used to if you haven’t encountered the piece previously. The term “false relation” mentioned in the footnote refers to two notes played, or sounding, simultaneously with the same letter name but with one altered, for example, in bar 129 there is a D natural in the bass with a D# above it. With the best will in the world there is absolutely no way of avoiding a clash but, of course, the effect is intentional.
Technically, apart from the occasional left hand stretch, there is not too much to cause concern, although you may find the right hand fingering creates more problems than the left – a combination of a variety of arpeggios and scales. Dynamics, of course, are never suggested in music of this period so experiment. In bar 136 the barré necessary for the opening chord must be lifted to release the open E but make sure the bass B is not released early. I hope you enjoy this piece from a less familiar renaissance composer.
Download the tablature here: Mudarra