Notes from “A Trove of Strambotes on the Ukulele”

Selection of Music for this Book

All the pieces in this book were written for the vihuela and voice and are from Libro V of Fuenllana’s publication Libro de música para vihuela intitulado Orphenica Lyra (Seville, 1554).

The vocal line is arranged as the first part in the music (i.e. stems up on the notes) and is based on the tab markings in the original folio being written in red while the vihuela part is written in black.  The vocal melody sometimes drops below the pitch of the notes in the accompaniment.  For many strambotes, the bass vocal line has been raised an octave to fit the musical range of the ukulele, which causes conflicts with the accompaniment (i.e. two notes to be played on the same string), so the two parts have been written out separately.

Notes on the Composers and Pieces

All sources are Wikipedia.

A strambote is a set of verses, that by humor or gallantry, is usually added to the end of a metrical combination, especially of the sonnet.  It is usually three verses added to the 14 verses of a sonnet. This addition is called a strambote or an estrambote and the poem is called a strambotic sonnet. The term derives from the Italian strambotto (“extravagant, irregular”). Since the sonnet is characterized exactly as a poem of 14 verses, traditionally two quartets and two tercets, the addition of one or more verses at the end of the poem makes the work an irregular sonnet.

While the pieces in Fuenllana’s publication are identified and named strambotes, other indexes and complications list them as madrigals.

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.

Jacques Arcadelt (ca 1507 – 1568) was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance, active in both Italy and France, and principally known as a composer of secular vocal music. Although he also wrote sacred vocal music, he was one of the most famous of the early composers of madrigals. He was equally prolific and adept at composing chansons, particularly late in his career when he lived in Paris.

Arnoldus de Bruck (ca 1500 – 1554), also known as Arnold von Bruck, Arnold de Pruck, and Arnoldus Brugensis, was a Franco-Flemish composer of Renaissance music, active in several Habsburg courts. He was one of the most famous and influential composers in German-speaking areas during the first half of the 16th century, the period of the Protestant Reformation.

Costanzo Festa (ca 1485/1490 – 1545) was an Italian composer of the Renaissance, best known for his madrigals but he also wrote sacred vocal music. He was the first native Italian polyphonist of international renown, and with Philippe Verdelot, one of the first to write madrigals, in the infancy of that most popular of all sixteenth-century Italian musical forms. Most of Festa’s madrigals are for three voices and he liked quick, rhythmically active passages.

Claudin de Sermisy (ca 1490 – 1562) was a French composer of the Renaissance. He was one of the most renowned composers of French chansons in the early 16th century. In addition he was a significant composer of sacred music. Sermisy was well known throughout western Europe, and copies of his music are found in Italy, Spain, Portugal, England and elsewhere.

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. His style balances homophonic with imitative textures, rarely using word-painting, and are for five or six voices. Verdelot’s madrigals were hugely popular, as can be inferred from their frequency of reprinting and their wide dissemination throughout Europe in the 16th century. He also composed motets and masses.

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).