Vihuela

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For the guitar-like vihuela native to Mexico and used in Mariachi groups, see Mexican vihuela.
Orpheus playing a vihuela. Frontispiece from the famous vihuela tabulature book by Luis de Milán, Libro de música de vihuela de mano intitulado El maestro (1536). The text surrounding the image praises Orpheus as the inventor of the vihuela.
A vihuela playing 'Jamaica' from Playford's The Dancing Master (c.1670

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Vihuela is a guitar-shaped string instrument from 15th and 16th century Spain, Portugal and Italy, usually with six doubled strings.

History[edit]

The vihuela, as it was known in Spain, was called the viola da mano in Italy and Portugal.[1] The two names are functionally synonymous and interchangeable. In its most developed form, the vihuela was a guitar-like instrument with six double-strings (paired courses) made of gut. Vihuelas were tuned identically like its contemporary Renaissance lute4ths and mid-3rd (44344, almost like a modern guitar tunings, with the exception of the third string, which was tuned a semitone lower).

Plucked vihuela, being essentially flat-backed lutes, evolved in the mid-15th century, in the Kingdom of Aragón (located in north-eastern Iberia (Spain), filling the gap that elsewhere in Europe was taken up by the lute; for the Spanish and Portuguese the lute was too close to the oud. In Spain Portugal and Italy the vihuela was in common use by the late 15th through to the late 16th centuries. In the second half of the 15th century some vihuela players began using a bow, leading to the development of the viol.

There were several different types of vihuela (or different playing methods at least):

  • Vihuela de mano — 6 or 5 courses played with the fingers
  • Vihuela de penola — played with a plectrum
  • Vihuela de arco — played with a bow (ancestor of the viola da gamba)

Tunings for 6 course vihuela de mano (44344):

  • G C F A D G
  • C F B D G C

The vihuela faded away, along with the complex polyphonic music that was its repertoire, in the late 16th century, along with the other primary instrument of the Spanish and Portugal Renaissance, the cross-strung harp. The vihuela's descendants that are still played are the violas campaniças of Portugal. Much of the vihuela's place, role, and function was taken up by the subsequent Baroque guitar (also sometimes referred to as vihuela or bigüela). Today, the vihuela is in use primarily for the performance of early music, using modern replicas of historical instruments. Today, instruments like the tiple are descendants of vihuelas brought to America in the 16th century.

Construction[edit]

Vihuela bodies were lightly constructed from thin flat slabs or pieces of wood, bent or curved as required. This construction method distinguished them from some earlier types of string instruments whose bodies (if not the entire instrument including neck) were carved out from a solid single block of wood. The back and sides of common lutes were also made of pieces however, being multiple curved or bent staves joined and glued together to form a bowl. Made from Cypress with a Spruce or Cedar top.

Vihuela (and viola) were built in different sizes, large and small, a family of instruments. Duet music was published for vihuelas tuned one step, a minor third, a fourth, or a fifth apart, as well as unison tuned.

The physical appearance of vihuela was varied and diverse—there was little standardization and no mass production. Overall and in general, vihuela looked very similar to modern guitars. The first generation of vihuela, from the mid-15th century on, had sharp cuts to its waist, similar to that of a violin. A second generation of vihuela, beginning sometime around c.1490, took on the now familiar smooth-curved figure-eight shaped body contours. The sharp waist-cut models continued to be built into the early-to-mid-16th century, side by side with the later pattern. Many early vihuela had extremely long necks, while others had the shorter variety. Top decoration, the number, shape, and placement, of sound holes, ports, pierced rosettes, etc., also varied greatly. More than a few styles of peg-boxes were used as well.

Vihuela were chromatically fretted in a manner similar to lutes, by means of movable, wrapped-around and tied-on gut frets. Vihuela, however, usually had ten frets, whereas lutes had only seven. Unlike modern guitars, which often use steel and bronze strings, vihuela were gut strung, and usually in paired courses. Gut strings produce a sonority far different from metal, generally described as softer and sweeter. A six course vihuela could be strung in either of two ways: with 12 strings in 6 pairs, or 11 strings in total if a single unpaired chanterelle is used on the first (or highest pitched) course. Unpaired chanterelles were common on all lutes, vihuela, and (other) early guitars (both Renaissance guitars and Baroque guitars).

Repertoire[edit]

Example of numeric vihuela tablature from the book Orphenica Lyra by Miguel de Fuenllana (1554). Red numerals (original) mark the vocal part.

The first person to publish a collection of music for the vihuela was the Spanish composer Luis de Milán, with his volume titled Libro de música de vihuela de mano intitulado El maestro of 1536 dedicated to King John III of Portugal. The notational device used throughout this and other vihuela music books is a numeric tablature (otherwise called "lute tablature"), which is also the model from which modern "guitar tab" was fashioned. The music is easily performed on a modern guitar using either standard guitar tuning (44434), sometimes called "new lute tuning", or by retuning slightly to Classic lute and vihuela tuning (44344). The tablature system used in all these texts is the "Italian" tablature, wherein the stopped frets are indicated by numbers and the lowest line of the staff represents the highest-pitch course (or string), as if the performer were looking "through" the neck of the instrument; Milán's book also uses numbers to indicate the stopping of the courses but exceptionally it is the top line of the staff that represents the highest-pitch course, as in "French" tablature.

The printed books of music for the vihuela which have survived are, in chronological order:

Surviving instruments[edit]

There are three surviving historic vihuelas:

  • the well-known example in the Musée Jacquemart-André, the 'Guadalupe' vihuela;
  • the recently re-discovered 'Chambure' instrument in the Cité de la Musique (both of the above in Paris)
  • a relic of Saint Mariana de Jesús (1618–1645), kept in the Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús de Quito.

Modern versions of the vihuela continue to be made. Performers adept with the vihuela include the Scottish composer Robert MacKillop [1] and the American artist Crystal Bright.[2]

Notes[edit]

^ The words vihuela and viola are etymologically related.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Batov, Alexander (2012). "Vihuela de mano index". Vihuelademano.com. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  2. ^ Mellor, JG (2012). "Crystal Bright and The Silver Hands announce new album". Shufflemag.com. Shuffle Magazine. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  3. ^ "Vihuela." Real Academia Española, Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, 23d ed. Online. Accessed 25 Dec. 2008.
Sources
  • Ronald C. Purcell. Classic Guitar, Lute and Vihuela Discography, Belwin-Mills Publishing Corp., Melville, NY, 1976, 116 p., LC: 75-42912 (no ISBN) ("There are more than 100 artists listed as well as approximately 400 composers and 400 individual records.")
  • Ian Woodfield. The Early History of the Viol, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1984 (includes much early Vihuela history, viols are bowed vihuelas)

External links[edit]

Media related to Vihuelas at Wikimedia Commons

Gallery of images of vihuelas[edit]

Detail from a Madonna Enthroned altarpiece by Girolamo dai Libri, Italian painter, c.1520. Featured is an angel playing a six-course viola da mano (or vihuela de mano). Notice the sharp waist-cuts on this instrument. This is not a fluke or one-off. More than half of the instruments seen in surviving early vihuela/viola iconography have such cuts.
Detail from a large fresco located in the Borgia Apartments of the Vatican (Rome, Italy). The subject matter is Music, from the Quadrivium of Liberal arts, painted by Bernadino Pinturicchio in 1493. The detail is of a Spanish musician playing a long-necked Spanish vihuela de mano (or de penola) with waist-cuts. In 1492, a new pope, Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI), was installed. Borgia came from Valencia Spain, where he served as Cardinal. When he took the papacy, Borgia brought with him from Valencia his court chapel, including his musicians, among them his vihuelistas or violists. This is how we can say with near certainty that the instrument depicted in the Bogia Apts Quadrivium fresco is a Spanish vihuela, even though it appears in an Italian fresco. Borgia commissioned this and other frescos shortly after taking up residence in the Vatican. Important early images like this are key and essential for seeing and understanding the origins and connections between plucked vihuela and bowed vihuela, that is vihuela de arco, otherwise known as viola da gamba (in Italian) or viols.
Angel-musician playing a Vihuela. Detail from an anonymous 16th century Iberian fresco.
Rare image of a soprano vihuela, detail from an anonymous 16th-century Spanish painting titled La Virgen con el Niño y San Juanito.
Viola da mano (vihuela de mano). Detail from an Italian engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi, made before 1510.
Bass vihuela, detail from a mid-16th-century Spanish painting by Juan de Juanes (1523-79). Original is located at the Convento de Santa Clara, Gandia, Valencia, Spain.
Extremely rare image of a contrabass vihuela, detail from a late 15th or early 16th century Catalan (Spanish) fresco, St. Vincent enthroned with music making angels, by the Master of Javierre.