Notes from “Narváez Favorites on the Ukulele”

All sources are Wikipedia.

Luys de Narváez (flourished 1526 – 1549), also Luis de Narváez, was a Spanish composer and vihuelist.  The exact date or even year of Narváez’s birth is unknown. He was born in Granada and the earliest surviving references to him indicate that as early as 1526 he was a member of the household of Francisco de los Cobos y Molina, a well-known and very successful patron of the arts who was the Secretary of State and commentator for the kingdom of Castile under Charles V. Narváez lived in Valladolid with his patron until the latter’s death in 1547, although he was working for the Duke of Medina Sidonia between 1539 and 1540. By 1548 Narváez was employed as musician of the royal chapel, where he also taught music to choristers. His colleagues there included the famous keyboard composer Antonio de Cabezón. Narváez and Cabezón were both employed as musicians for Felipe, Regent of Spain (later Philip II of Spain), and accompanied him on his many journeys. The last reference to Narváez is from one such journey: during the winter of 1549 he resided in the Low Countries.

Narváez was very highly regarded during his lifetime, particularly for his vihuela playing; he was reported to be able to improvise four parts over another four at sight. His son Andrés also became an accomplished vihuelist.

The 6-volume collection Los seys libros del delphin de  musica de cifras para taner vihuela or Del Delphin for short, was published in Vallodolid in 1538.  This polyphonic music for the vihuela includes the earliest known variation sets (or diferencias in Spanish). He is also notable for being the earliest composer for vihuela to adapt the contemporary Italian style of lute music.

Arrangements in Books 1 to 3

All the selections are from Narváez’s 6-volume publication Los seys libros del delphin (1538), musica de cifras para taner vihuela, or Del Delphin for short.

Selection of Pieces for Inclusion in Book 1

This book of ukulele arrangements contains all eight Fantasia pieces from the first book (Libro Primero) and all six Fantasia pieces from the second book (Libro Segundo).

Selection of Pieces for Inclusion in Book 2

This book of ukulele arrangements contains all the pieces in the fourth and sixth books (Libro quarto y sesto) which contains two hymns with variations, two ostinato harmonies with variations and a dance in counterpoint.

Selection of Pieces for Inclusion in Book 3

This book of ukulele arrangements contains all the pieces in the fifth book (Libro quinto) which are romances and villancicos, some with variations, and two canciones from the third book (Libro tercero).  In the original folio, the melody is highlighted using red ink (appears grey when printed in black and white).

Selection of Pieces for Inclusion in Book 4

This book of ukulele arrangements contains some of the pieces in the third book (Libro tercero).

Notes on the Pieces

Fantasias: A 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.

HymnsO gloriosa domina (Igno de nuestra Señora or Hymn of our Lady) has six variations (diferncias) where the hymn tune is altered, including the rhythm and tempo, where the conterpoints are in the top voice and sometimes the tenor. Sacris solemniis is a hymn written by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) for the feast of Corpus Christi (also known as the Solemnity of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ). The hymn expresses the doctrine that the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. This hymn has five variations (contrapuntos).

Conde Claros:  This is a set of 22 variations is considered an ostinato harmony, a motif or phrase (6 bars in this case) that persistently repeats in the same musical voice, Unlike other sets of variations, this is meant to be played continuously with no pauses between each variation.

Guardame las vacas:  Also an ostinato harmony, it consists of a set of variations on a Spanish folk theme. There are first four main variations and the next three variations are identified as “Otras tres diferencias hechas por otra parte”.

Baxa de contrapunto:  This is a dance in counterpoint.

Villancicos and Romances:  Derived from medieval dance forms, the 15th century, a villancico was a type of popular song sung in the vernacular and frequently associated with rustic themes.  With the decline in popularity of the villancicos in the 20th century, the term now means just “Christmas carol”. A romance is a characteristic poem of the Spanish oral tradition. It was very popular during the 15th century when compilations of romances were made in books called “romanceros”.

An excellent source for the lyrics and translations is in a doctoral thesis (available online) “A Historical and Performance Companion to the Art Song of the 16th Century Spanish Vihuelistas with Text and Translations” by Mark David Covey, University of California Santa Barbara, June 2015.

In these arrangements, the melody with words has been included. Often, the accompaniment crosses the melodic line and both cannot be played at the same time. In these cases, you will either have to overplay the melodic note when using a solo ukulele or split the parts and play the piece as a ukulele duet or a ukulele/voice duet (note stems up for the first part and note stems down for the second/third parts).

Canciones: These are French chansons (songs). “Mille Regretz” (a thousand regrets) is by Josquin des Prez (ca 1450/55 – 1521) but this attribution is often disputed. The piece is subtitled “La caoncion del Emperador”, probably suggesting that was a favorite of King Charles I of Spain. “Je veulx layser melancolie” (I want to be left melancholy) is by Jean Richafort (ca 1480 – 1547). “Jamais je n’eus tant de soulas” is by Franco-Flemish composer Nicolas Gombert (ca 1496 – 1560). “Si par souffrir” is not by Gombert as indicated in Del Delphin, but is actually by Franco-Flemish composer Jean Courtois (fl 1530–1545).

Missa:  These movements are from the masses of French composer Josquin des Prez (ca 1450/1455 – 1521).  He is usually considered to be the central figure of the Franco-Flemish School. Josquin is widely considered the first master of the high Renaissance style of polyphonic vocal music that was emerging during his lifetime. He wrote towards the end of the period in which the mass was the predominant form of sacred composition in Europe. The mass, as it had developed through the 15th century, was a long, multi-section form, with opportunities for large-scale structure and organization not possible in the other forms such as the motet. Josquin wrote some of the most famous examples of the genre, most using some kind of cyclic organization.

Missa Hercules dux Ferrariae: The movements in this mass are written for three, sometimes four different voices. The first two voices are arranged as written by the composer, however, the third and fourth voices are too low to be arranged for the solo ukulele without radically altering the harmonic structure of the music. These lower voices are arranged an octave higher to maintain the harmonies but then they often cross over the first and second voices (cutting those voices short when this occurs), and may also be further simplified or eliminated as the higher voices are already using the lowest ukulele strings.  As an alternative, two duet versions of the movements in this mass are included.  The first duet pairs the ukulele with a classical guitar so that the music and fingering matches what the composer wrote.  The second duet pairs the ukulele with a baritone ukulele, however, the baritone ukulele cannot play the very low notes so the entire work has been raised by five semi-tones which keeps the musical relationship between the voices but affects the fingering of the upper parts.

Notes on the Tabulature in Del Delphin

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 is 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. To modern performers, Italian tabulature is “upside-down” in that the highest sounding string is on the bottom line and the lowest sounding string is on the top line, as shown in these illustrations of the same line of music, one using ancient tabulature and the other using modern notation and tablature:

All of the arrangements are derived from music for the voice with vihuela accompaniment or solo 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.