Notes from “Pisador Favorites on the Ukulele”

All sources are Wikipedia.

Diego Pisador (1509/10 – after 1557) was a Spanish vihuelist and composer of the Renaissance.

Little is known of the details of Pisador’s life, not even the exact dates of his birth and death. It is known that he was born in Salamanca around the years 1509 or 1510.  His grandfather on his mother’s side, Alfonso III of Fonseca, Archbishop of Santiago, was a great patron of music.

In 1552, he published a book of works for vihuela titled Libro de música de vihuela, dedicated to Philip II of Spain. It is divided into 7 books and consists of 95 pieces, although if one considers, as Pisador did, each one of the parts of the compositions as a separate work, the book contains a total of 186 pieces. Pisador worked on the book for six years. 58 of the 95 are for voice and vihuela, and 37 are for vihuela solo.

As was common at the time, many of the works are transcriptions (or intabulations) for vihuela of works by other composers such as Juan Vásquez, Juan García de Basurto, Mateo Flecha el viejo, Josquin des Prez, Nicolas Gombert, Adrian Willaert, Jean Mouton, Jacques Arcadelt, V. Fontana and Costanzo Festa.

Juan Vásquez (ca 1500 – 1560) was a Spanish priest and composer of the Renaissance. He can be considered part of the School of Andalusia group of composers along with Francisco Guerrero, Cristóbal de Morales, Juan Navarro Hispalensis and others.

Alonso Mudarra (ca 1510 – 1580) was a Spanish composer of the Renaissance, and also played the vihuela, a guitar-shaped string instrument. He was an innovative composer of instrumental music as well as songs, and was the composer of the earliest surviving music for the guitar.

Nicolas Gombert (ca 1495 – 1560) was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance. 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.

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, and owes much of his fame in sacred music to his motets.

Juan Garcia de Basurto (c.1480–1548) was a Spanish composer and cantor of the Cathedral of Tarazona. He first appeared as a singer heard during the Holy Week festivities April 1517.

Jean Mouton (c. 1459 – 1522) was a French composer of the Renaissance. He was famous both for his motets, which are among the most refined of the time, and for being the teacher of Adrian Willaert, one of the founders of the Venetian School.

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. 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.

Vincenzo Fontana (fl 1550) was an Italian composer. He was mainly known for his canzoni villanesche.

Mateo Flecha the Elder (1481–1553) was a Catalan composer born in Kingdom of Aragon, in the region of Prades. He is sometimes known as “El Viejo” (the elder) to distinguish him from his nephew.

Sebastiano Festa (ca. 1490/5 – 1524) was an Italian composer of the Renaissance, active mainly in Rome. While his musical output was small, he was one of the earliest composers of madrigals.

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. He was also one of the most famous of the early composers of madrigals.


All selections are from Pisador’s seven (7) volume publication Libro de musica de vihuela (1552)

Arrangements in Book 1

This book of ukulele arrangements contains all the pieces Libro Primero including these types of works: differencia, pavana, cancion, romance, endecha, soneto and fantasia.

Arrangements in Book 2

This book of ukulele arrangements contains all the pieces Libro Segundo including these types of works: villancico, himno and salmo.

Arrangements in Book 3

This book of ukulele arrangements contains all 24 of the fantasias in Libro Tercero.

Arrangements in Book 4

This book of ukulele arrangements contains most of the motetes in Libro Sexto (excludes the motetes of Josquin des Prez which are in “Josquin Favourites on the Ukulele” by Ancient Music for Ukulele.

Arrangements in Book 5

This book of ukulele arrangements contains all the pieces Libro Septimo including these types of works: villanesca, cancion, and madrigal.

Notes on the Pieces

Differencia:: This is a set of variations based on a theme.  In Conde claros, there are 37 variation in 6-bar phrases.  For Las bacas, there are 12 variations in 24-bar phrases.  Each variation is numbered for convenience (numbering does not appear in the original folio).

Pavana: The pavana or pavane is a slow processional dance common in Europe during the 16th century.

Cancion: This is a French chanson (song).

Romance: A romance is a characteristic poem of the Spanish oral tradition. Romances reworked legends, fairy tales, and history to suit the readers’ and hearers’ tastes.  They were very popular during the 15th century when compilations of romances were made in books called “romanceros”.

Endecha: This is a subgenre of lament, planto, found in early Iberian music.

Soneto: The generic term soneto had no consistent meaning among Spanish vihuelists. It is certainly a setting of a poem, not necessarily a sonnet. The term sonnet is derived from the Italian word sonetto (literally “little song”, derived from the Latin word sonus, meaning a sound).  By the 13th century it signified a poem of fourteen lines that follows a very strict rhyme scheme and structure.

Fantasia: 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”).

In Fantasias por todos los tonos sobre passos remedados (Fantasies for all the tones on imitated steps – 12 pieces), the steps are presented in solfège.  In eleventh-century Italy, the music theorist Guido of Arezzo invented this notational system that named the six notes of the hexachord after the first syllable of each line of the Latin hymn “Ut queant laxis”, the “Hymn to St. John the Baptist”, yielding ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la. In modern solfège, ut is replaced by do.

Ut queant laxīs    resonāre fibrīs                       Do let our voices         resonate most purely,
ra gestōrum    famulī tuōrum,                      miracles telling,           far greater than many,
Solve pollūtī        labiī reātum,                          so let our tongues be  lavish in your praises,
Sancte Iohannēs.                                               Saint John the Baptist.

In the original folio, the steps are shown under the tabulature markings throughout the piece.  In the arrangements in this book, only the first pattern is shown in the upper part (sometimes more that one, and in one piece there is an overlapping canon with the steps). Can you find it repeated later in the piece?  Hint: The progression is not necessarily in the upper part elsewhere.

Villancico: 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. It is a poetic and musical form and was sung with or without accompanying instruments. Originally a folk song, frequently with a devotional song or love poem as text, it developed into an art music genre. With the decline in popularity of the villancicos in the 20th century, the term became reduced to mean merely “Christmas carol”.

Himno is a Hymn.

Salmo is a Psalm.

Motete:: A motete or motet is mainly a vocal musical composition in several parts with words.  The Renaissance motet is polyphonic for a chorus singing a Latin and usually sacred text. It is not connected to a specific liturgy, making it suitable for any service.

Villanesca (also villanella) s a form of light Italian secular vocal music which originated in Italy just before the middle of the 16th century. The subject matter is generally rustic, comic, and often satirical; frequently the mannerisms of art music, such as the madrigal, are a subject of parody.

Madrigal: A madrigal is a secular vocal music composition of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. The composer expresses the emotions contained in each line and in single words of the poem being sung.

Notes on the Tabulature

Italian tabulature was used by many composers in the 16th century in music for the lute, 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).

In some of the music, a separate vocal line appears, lining up bar-by-bar with the instrumental line. This is presented in Mensural notation.