A Thourough Analysis of the Improvisatory Models of the Songs of Luis de Millán and their Applicability in the Reconstitution of Vihuela Accompaniment Parts

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


In his text titled “Improvisation and Composition in the Vihuela Songs of Luis Milán and Alonso Mudarra” (2003), John Griffiths explores evidences of improvisatory practices in the vihuela arrangements of secular songs in Milán’s El Maestro (1536) and Mudarra’s Tres libros de música (1546), by analysing two pieces from each book in order to detect marks of extemporaneous composition in the melodic structure of the solo voice parts and in the harmonic progression of the homophonic accompaniment chords. He suggests that the same principles of improvisation could be applied to various different melodies; in other words, that the experienced vihuelist-improviser would resort – consciously or not – to a limited number of formulas, to which he would apply the necessary adaptations depending on the melody he would be accompanying.
Based on the work of Griffiths, this paper aims to identify all the formulaic schemes of harmonic progression and chord sequences found in Luis Milán’s collection of song arrangements for vihuela, taking into account their respective solo voice melodies. The identification of these patterns, of their variations, and of the musical context in which they were used will potentially allow for historically informed reconstitutions of extemporised composition and improvisatory performance of the vihuela repertory, according to the early 16th-century Iberian tradition. As an illustration of this, we conclude by presenting possible recreations of instrumental accompaniments for the monodic songs of the Portuguese Cancioneiro de Paris collection.
Period7 Apr 2018
Event titleDe Canciones y Cancioneros : Music and Literary Sources of the Luso-Hispanic Song Tradition
Event typeConference
LocationPrinceton, United States, New JerseyShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational