Researching music by Luys de Narváez

The works of Luys de Narváez (flourished 1526-49) in Del Delphin are beautifully illustrated and presented (the computer screen photo below show a scan of the cover). Printed in 1538, it is actually a set of six books (hence the full title of Los seys libros del delphin) of polyphonic music for the vihuela. Although Narváez was Spanish, he adapted the contemporary Italian style of lute music. He was highly regarded during his lifetime, particularly for his vihuela playing and ability to improvise. With the exception of two motets, no other works of Narváez survives.

The challenge of reading this music today is twofold, the tuning of the vihuela which has a third string which is tuned a half tone lower than a ukulele or guitar, and the Italian tabulature which is “upside down” to our modern tabulature (i.e. the lower line on the printed page corresponds to the highest sounding string on the vihuela).  Of course, the vihuela has 6 string courses so the bass notes on the lowest sounding strings need to be harmonically analyzed and rewritten/arranged to fit the 4-stringed ukulele. I would also arrange the music so that you do not have to re-tune the ukulele.

The works in Del Delphin include the first known variation sets. There are six diferencias, in the 4th to 6th volumes, most of them with 3 to 7 variations however one of the pieces has 22 variations.

PS. The small rocket ship is a figurine based on the Tintin books “Destination Moon” and “Explorers on the Moon”. The silver coffee spoon is a Dutch tradition and this spoon was given to me when I was just one year old and is expected to last my lifetime. The Canadian art on the mug is a salmon by artist Jamie Sterritt. And yes, I still us a mechanical metronome from when I first started learning classical guitar.

Update as of June 4, 2021 — Two books of arrangements of Narváez’s music are now complete and available (click on an image below to see an expanded view).

Update as of June 16, 2021 — Third book of arrangements, with lyrics, of Narváez’s music is now complete and available (click on an image below to see an expanded view).

Recordings by Performers

The audio and/or video files posted on YouTube and SoundCloud are great for analyzing and practising but have several challenges and limitations, namely the sound generated by the software which is not close to sounding like a ukulele, the slow speeds chosen to allow you to practice by playing along which makes the music sound plodding in some cases, and the total lack of performance dynamics (tempo, volume, part differentiation, phrasing, strum versus block chords, etc).

Here are some references to recordings by world-class performers to help guide you.

Here are some recordings of Renaissance music by vihuela and lute performers that have inspired my arrangements:

PerformerInstrumentAlbumComposers FeaturedLabel
Jose Antonio EscobarVihuelaEl Maestro, Libro 1 (1536)MilánNaxos
Ralph MaierVihuelaThe Art of the VihuelaNarváez, Mudarra, Milán, Fuenllana, Daza, ValderrabanoPrivate
Christopher WilsonVihuelaMusic for VihuelaMilán, NarváezNaxos Early Music
Christopher Wilson, Shirley RumseyLuteLute Music – Fantasias, Ricercars and DuetsMilanoNaxos Early Music
Christopher Wilson, Shirley RumseyLuteLute MusicJohnson (John)Naxos Early Music
Christopher Wilson, Shirley RumseyLutePavans and GalliardsHolborne, RobinsonNaxos Early Music
Nigel NorthLuteThe Prince’s AlmainJohnson (Robert)Naxos
Robert BartoLuteSolo Works for LuteHagenNaxos
Christopher WilsonLuteLute Music – Ricercars, Intabulations, DancesDall’Aquila, Da CremaNaxos Early Music
Shirley RumseyLuteMusic of the Italian RenaissanceArcadelt, Azzaiolo, Milano, Cara, Dalza, Caprioli, Capirola, Spinacino, Tromboncino, Aquila, Despres, Borrono, NolaNaxos Early Music
Marco PesciLuteRenaissance Lute MusicLiuto, Palestrina, Lasso, RoreNaxos
Shirley RumseyLuteMusic of the Spanish RenaissanceUppsala, Daza, Narváez, Fuenllana, Milán, Pisador, Morlaye, Mudarra, ValderrabanoNaxos Early Music
Christopher Wilson, Shirley RumseyLuteEarly Venetian Lute MusicDalza, Spinacino, Bossinensis, CapirolaNaxos Early Music
Nigel NorthLuteJohn Dowland Lute Music (Volumes 1 to 4)Dowland (John)Naxos
Marc Lewon & Paul Kieffer & Grace NewcombePlectrum Lute & VoiceTwo Lutes with Grace (Plectrum Lute Duos of the Late 15th Century)Agricola, Bedyngham, Dalza, Des Prez, Frye, Ghiselin, Ghizeghem, Roelkin, Spinacino, TinctorisNaxos Early Music

Here are some recordings of Baroque music by lute and other performers that have inspired my arrangements:

PerformerInstrumentAlbumComposers FeaturedLabel
Nigel NorthLuteBach on the Lute (Volumes 1 to 4)BachLinn Records
Yasunori ImamuraBaroque LuteComplete Works for LuteBachNaxos
Robert BartoBaroque LuteWeiss Sonatas for Lute (Volumes 1 to 11)WeissNaxos
Danijel CerovicGuitarWorks for Lute … arranged for guitarWeissNaxos
Jeffrey McFaddenGuitarCello Suites (Volume 1) … arranged for guitarBachNaxos

For your information, I own every CD in the Naxos Guitar Collection (most of them produced by Norbert Kraft) and Naxos Laureate Series for Guitar. Of course, I have recorded music from Segovia (who I saw in concert in Washington DC in 1980), Yepes and others, as well as recordings by every one of my teachers/leaders (Beauvais, Mahon, Maier, Visscher, Arnold, Bradley) at the Royal Conservatory of Music (Toronto), the Mount Royal Conservatory of Music (Calgary) and the Asylum for Art (Calgary).