Notes from “A Trove of Motetes on the Ukulele”

Selection of Music for these Books

All the pieces in these three books were written for the vihuela and are from Fuenllana’s publication Libro de música para vihuela intitulado Orphenica Lyra (Seville, 1554).

All of the arrangements are derived from music for the vihuela. These are instrumental arrangements of the motetes. Although the original folio had latin text associated with a tenor/bass voice (namely, the cantus firmus, highlighted in red), neither the text nor the specific identification of the associated vocal part is included in the arrangements in these books.

Notes on the Composers and Pieces

All sources are Wikipedia.

A motete or motet is mainly a vocal musical composition in several parts with words.

Medieval motets were two- to four-part compositions in which different texts were sung simultaneously over a cantus firmus usually adapted from a passage of Gregorian chant. Later the cantus firmus was instead played on an instrument.  Subjects included courtly love odes, pastoral encounters with shepherdesses, political attacks, and many Christian devotions, especially to the Virgin Mary.

The Renaissance period marked the flowering of the form, marked by cascading, passing chords created by the interplay of voices and the absence of an obvious beat. The Renaissance motet is polyphonic, sometimes with an imitative counterpoint, for a chorus singing a Latin and usually sacred text. It is not connected to a specific liturgy, making it suitable for any service.

Motets were mostly sacred madrigals.  Secular motets, known as “ceremonial motets”, were typically to praise a monarch, music or commemorate a triumph.

Miguel de Fuenllana (ca 1500 – 1579) was a Spanish vihuelist and composer of the Renaissance. Little is known of his life. It is assumed from his name that his roots lie in the municipality of Fuenllana, in the province of Ciudad Real, although he was born in Navalcarnero, Madrid. He was blind from birth and servied in the Spanish court to Philip II of Spain and Isabel de Valois, third wife of Philip II.  He later served Don Sebastian of Portugal in Lisbon starting in 1574.

He published a Libro de música para vihuela intitulado Orphenica Lyra (Seville, 1554), known briefly as Orphenica Lyra. His style is polyphonic and he was adept at finding apt harmonies and counterpoint to popular melodies.

Orphenica Lyra constitutes the largest collection of music for vihuela (and renaissance guitar).  It is made up of 188 pieces spread over six books.  Of these, approximately two-thirds are arrangements of pieces or transcriptions of polyphonic vocal work by other Spanish, Flemish and Italian Renaissance composers.

Andreas de Silva (flourished 1520) was a composer, probably of Portuguese origin, who is known mainly from inclusion of five motets in the Medici Codex.

Mathieu Gascongne (first name also Matthieu or Matthias; last name also Gascogne, Gascongus, Gascone, Gasconia, and Guascogna) (flourished early 16th century) was a French composer of the Renaissance. He wrote masses, motets and chansons, however, little of his output has survived.

Lupus Hellinck (also Wulfaert) (ca 1493/4 – 1541) was a Flemish composer of the Renaissance. He was a prominent composer of masses, as well as German chorales and motets. Although he was a Roman Catholic all of his life, his music shows evidence of sympathy for the Protestant Reformation, and three of his motets were probably inspired by the prison writings of the martyred reformer Girolamo Savonarola.

Adrian Willaert (ca 1490 – 1562) was a Flemish composer of High Renaissance music. Mainly active in Italy, he was the founder of the Venetian School. He was one of the most versatile composers of the Renaissance, writing music in almost every extant style and form. In force of personality, and with his central position as maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s, he became the most influential musician in Europe between the death of Josquin and the time of Palestrina. He owes much of his fame in sacred music to his motets.

Nicolas Gombert (ca 1495 – 1560) was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance. He was one of the most famous and influential composers between Josquin des Prez and Palestrina, and best represents the fully developed, complex polyphonic style of this period in music history. The motet was Gombert’s preferred form, and his compositions in this genre not only were the most influential part of his output, but they show the greatest diversity of compositional technique.

Cristóbal de Morales (ca 1500 – 1553) was a Spanish composer of the Renaissance. Almost all of his music is sacred, and all of it is vocal, though instruments may have been used in an accompanying role in performance. He wrote many masses, some of spectacular difficulty, most likely written for the expert papal choir; he wrote over 100 motets; and he wrote 18 settings of the Magnificat, and at least five settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Morales was the first Spanish composer of international renown. His works were widely distributed in Europe, and many copies made the journey to the New World. Many music writers and theorists in the hundred years after his death considered his music to be among the most perfect of the time.

Jacquet de Mantua (Jacques Colebault, dit Jachet de Mantoue) (1483 – 1559) was a French composer of the Renaissance, who spent almost his entire life in Italy. He was an influential member of the generation between Josquin and Palestrina, and represents well the transitional polyphonic style between those two composers.

Philippe Verdelot (ca 1480/85 – 1530/40) was a French composer of the Renaissance, who spent most of his life in Italy. He is commonly considered to be the father of the Italian madrigal, and certainly was one of its earliest and most prolific composers. He also composed motets and masses.

Josquin des Prez (ca 1450/5 – 1521) was a composer of High Renaissance music, who is variously described as French or Franco-Flemish. Considered one of the greatest composers of the Renaissance, he developed a complex style of expressive—and often imitative—movement between independent voices (polyphony) which informs much of his work. Josquin was a singer, and his compositions are mainly vocal. They include masses, motets and secular chansons.

Notes on the Tabulature

Italian tabulature was used by Spanish composers Mudarra, Fuenllana and others in the 16th century in music for the vihuela and Renaissance guitar. It almost looks like modern tabulation in that it uses numbers to represent the frets (zero for an open string, “1” for the first fret, “2” for the second fret, etc.) The duration of the notes are above the staff and look like our modern notes (whole notes, half notes, quarter notes), including dotted notes.  Italian tabulature has the highest sounding string on the bottom line and the lowest sounding string on the top line (i.e. upside down from modern tabulation).