Notes from “Fuenllana Favorites on the Ukulele”

All sources are Wikipedia.

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.

The pieces composed by Fuenllana himself consist of 51 fantasies, 8 tentos, 2 duets and 1 motet and some counterpoints of secular melodies and hymns. The fantasies and tentos constitute pieces of great solidity and complexity, with dense counterpoints.  They are difficult to interpret, which makes them rarely heard in concert halls or on recordings.  In many cases, the pieces are identified as easy (facile) or difficult (dificil).

Arrangements in Books 1 to 4

All the selections are from Fuenllana’s publication Libro de música para vihuela intitulado Orphenica Lyra (Seville, 1554) as follows:

  • Orphenica Lyra Libro I:
    • Duo Contrapunto & Duo
    • Fantasia 1 to 6
  • Orphenica Lyra Libro II: Fantasia 7 to 23
  • Orphenica Lyra Libro IV:
    • Fantasia 24 to 36
    • Motet “Sacris Solenniis”
    • Marian hymn “Ave Maris Stella”
  • Orphenica Lyra Libro VI:
    • Fantasia 37 to 42 and 49 to 51
    • Motet “Gaudeamus”
    • Endecha “Si los delfines mueren de amores”
    • Tento (primero a octavo tono)
    • Motet “Bendicamus patrem”

The following pieces by Fuenllana for 4-course guitar are arranged in the book Mudarra & Fuenllana on the Ukulele by Ancient Music for Ukulele:

  • Orphenica Lyra Libro VI: Fantasia (43 to 48) primera a sexta

The remaining works in Orphenica Lyra have not been arranged as of the date of this publication.

Selection of Pieces for Inclusion in Book 1

This book of ukulele arrangements contains two duos and twelve Fantasia pieces (out of a total of 51).

Selection of Pieces for Inclusion in Book 2

This book of ukulele arrangements contains eleven Fantasia pieces (out of a total of 51).

Selection of Pieces for Inclusion in Book 3

This book of ukulele arrangements contains thirteen Fantasia pieces (out of a total of 51) and a tento in eight sections.

Selection of Pieces for Inclusion in Book 4

This book of ukulele arrangements contains nine Fantasia pieces (out of a total of 51), a Motet and four other compositions.

Notes on the Pieces

Duo is a musical composition for two voices or parts.

Fantasia or Fantasie is a musical composition with its roots in the art of improvisation. The term was first applied to music during the 16th century, at first to refer to the imaginative musical “idea” rather than to a particular compositional genre. Its form and style consequently ranges from the freely improvisatory to the strictly contrapuntal, and also encompasses more or less standard sectional forms (i.e. it sometimes but doesn’t always follow the “rules”).  They should be played using varying tempos and styles to fit the mode of the music.

Tento or Tiento is a musical genre originating in Spain in the mid-15th century. It is formally analogous to the fantasia (fantasy). The word derives from the Spanish verb tentar (meaning either to touch, to tempt or to attempt), and was originally applied to music for various instruments. The tento is formally extraordinarily diverse, more a set of guidelines than a rigid structural model. Nearly all tentos are imitative to some degree.  They should be played using varying tempos and styles to fit the mode of the music. The chords are often strummed and the scale passages start slow, accelerate and then slow down at the end.

Motet is mainly a vocal musical composition in several parts with words.  It was one of the pre-eminent polyphonic forms of Renaissance music. Marian hymn is a Christian song focused on Mary, mother of Jesus. Endecha is a lament.

Notes on the Tabulature in Orphenica Lyra

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).

All of the arrangements are derived from music for the vihuela; however, it has been altered so that the 3rd string on the modern or Renaissance guitar or ukulele need not be lowered by a half tone (i.e. normal tuning is keep for your guitar or ukulele).  Also, since the vihuela has 6 strings and the ukulele only has 4 strings, the bass notes have been changed while retaining the original harmonies whenever possible.

NOTE: The numbering of the fantasies and tentos is for convenience only.  No such numbering appears in Orphenica Lyra.