The Repertoire of the Renaissance Guitar

The repertoire of the guitar during the sixteenth century, or at least that which remains, is not very wide and it is possible to make a detailed yet brief account of it (1).
First of all let us note that the authors of sixteenth century guitar music are generally names associated with the vihuela (Mudarra, Fuenllana) or the lute (Le Roy, Phalèse, Barberiis, De Rippe, etc.). In fact the repertoire, musical style, and technique were more or less the same for these three instruments (2). The Spanish theoretician Bermudo (3) compares the guitar to a vihuela without its top courses, and Fuenllana talks of a four-course vihuela "que dizen guitarra", ("which is called a guitar"). The border between the two instruments seems difficult to define, however for the benefit of this account, let us take care to break down habitually recognised facts.


As far as we can know, the ancestors of our repertoire appear in the first of the "Tres Libros de Musica" by Alonso Mudarra (4), published in 1546 in Seville. Ancestors, yes; primitive, no. These few pieces are of remarkable inspiration and quality, but are limited to four fantasias, a pavan and three variations on the Romanesca, o guardame las vacas. Unlike the so-called baroque guitar of the seventeenth century (5), it is impossible for us to trace the instrumental and musical evolution of our instrument to the Renaissance, since with these works, we immediately find highly developed musical style unrestrainedly exploiting the "limits" of the instrument in the Fantasia del quarto tono, and freshness of inspiration in the Romanesca which seems to be more spontaneous than the version for vihuela in the same collection.
In 1554, Miguel de Fuenllana also included a small series of pieces for guitar in his Libro de musica para vihuela, including six Fantasias, a Crucifixus a tres and two Villancicos set to words. With their greater austerity, these pieces appear less attractive than those of Mudarra, but this is a question of taste. In fact, the quintessence of the renaissance guitar repertoire is illustrated by the fifteen Spanish pieces which I have just discussed. This is highbrow music where the quality of writing, dances, variations and song accompaniment dominates.
Thankfully, France has been a little more generous with her legacy, leaving us some nine complete books.


Shortly after Mudarra, in 1551, Adrian Le Roy published a Premier Livre de Tablature de Guiterre in Paris, and in the following years, at least four others (6). He also edited in 1551 Instructions for this instrument, but they have not yet been found. At the same time, the printers Robert Granjon and Michel Fezandat published four books for the guiterne, written out into tablature by Simon Gorlier and Guillaume Morlaye (7). These nine books contain between them nearly 250 pieces of good quality: preludes, fantasies (8), songs with guitar accompaniment, instrumental songs, psalms, canons, variations, pavans, galliards, almands, branles, or various other pieces such as Séraphine, l'Alouette, Conteclare, Buffons, etc.

However, the repertoire proposed in these guitar books is not entirely composed of original works. Some of them are also to be found in lute tablature, and in different vocal or instrument forms. In 1570, Pierre Phalèse and Jean Bellère published in Leuven a collection containing instructions in Latin, and some 115 pieces for guitar, 87 of them taken in fact from books by Le Roy mentioned above, and the 28 remaining pieces also show similarities with lute music by this author, such as the famous Passemèze, or the four Gaillardes Milanoises.
These two plagiarists, Phalèse and Bellère, also propose as solo pieces the song accompaniments which make up the second and fifth books by Le Roy. Since the melodic line is always present in the fabric of the accompaniment, this is quite possible. Our repertoire is therefore increased by around 30 pieces!

Other references

Still in the middle of the sixteenth century, in 1549, the Italian Melchior de Barberiis included four short pieces for seven string guitar (9) in his lute book. We also find tablature for four-course guitar in manuscript form in Paris and Brussels. Then, in the seventeenth century we can still find some music for this four-course instrument together with the lute and theorbo for an anonymous Concerto Vago written in Rome in 1645 (10) (11).Strumming is very popular on the five-course guitar from the beginning of the seventeenth century onwards (5), and is also practiced on its little sister, as shown by Amat (1596) and Pietro Millioni (1627). Used in solo pieces, as voice accompaniment, or teamed with the lute or theorbo, our little guitar can even be found mixed in with the orchestra in the Rappresentatione de Anima e di Corpo de Cavalieri (12). And if we take into account the many types of instrumentation used during the sixteenth
century, we realise that this instrument's repertoire is not limited to these written pieces which we have inherited. For example, Phalèse's Danceries published from 1571 onwards, can be adapted to all musical instruments (convenables sur tous instrumens musicalz). As for the question posed by the fictive character Capriol, "Is it necessary to use the tambourine and flute for pavans and basse-dances ?", Thoinot Arbeau replies,"No, but you can if you wish: for they can be played with violins, the spinet, flutes, recorders, oboes, and all sorts of instruments. They can even be sung." (13)
In other words, this relatively small repertoire can be infinitely enlarged.

© Gérard Rebours, 2000. Translated by Laura Brownrigg.

Notes :

(1) such as the one I wrote in Tablature published by the French Lute Society, vol. 11,3 ; vol. 111, 1, 2, 3, et vol. IV, 1, 2, 3.
(2) this will not be the case in the following year when the guitar will tend to become individual in its style and repertoire.
(3) in Declaracion de instrumentos, Ossuna, 1555
(4) well known by guitarists for his Fantasy which imitates for harp, and other beautiful pieces for vihuela.
(5) see "La trajectoire de la Guitare Baroque" in Cahiers de la Guitare, n° 6, 7 et 8
(6) the musical content of the Quart Livre being entrusted to Grégoire Brayssing
(7) as we do not always have the first editions, the dates of these four books as we currently know them are 1552, 1553, 1551, and 1552, following the above order.
(8) including the two remarkable "Fantaisies d'Albert" (de Rippe), with a long development punctuated by surprising cadences - in Morlaye, Quatriesme Livre, folio 1v and 4r.
(9) that is to say, 3 double strings and one single.
(10) "composti da buono, ma incerto Auttore" (composed by a good but unknown author)
(11) The series of very easy pieces, aimed at "Young practitioners" by Benson and Playford in London in the collection entitled "A Booke of New
Lessons for the Guitern
" in 1652 is to be played on the gittern, however the tuning is similar, in this case, to that of the four-course guitar.
(12) Rome, 1600
(13) in "Orchésographie", 1596, folio 52v

(Taken from my article published in "Les Cahiers de la Guitare", n° 45 (1/1993) p. 24 / 25, with kind permission of the editor.)
See also "The Lute ain't me Grandfather !" and the pdf document "The Sixteenth Century Guitar".