Luis Milan on Sixteenth-Century Performance Practices.
Luis Milan (c.1500-c.1561) was a member of the Valencian court of Fernando de Aragon. His books El Cortesano (1561) and El Maestro (1536) are the bases for Gasser's study. Quoting from his introduction, "this study can be used as an instructional text for those interested in early sixteenth-century performances, theoretical conventions and historical context" (3).
El Cortesano, a sizable tome (472 pages) is patterned after II Cortigiano by Castiglione. Milan's book mixes prose and poetry, lyrics and sensible advice to a society, uninhibited and fond of amusement. He uses a mixture of languages - Spanish, Catalan (in its Valencian dialect), Italian, and Portuguese together with slighter touches of French and Latin. Texts of songs needed to be clearly understood and singers were expected to apply dynamics (tone color) and improvised ornaments to make apparent the in-depth meaning. Some songs seem to have been incredibly long; Gasser cites one as having 152 stanzas.
The major portion of the study is devoted to E/Maestro which is the earliest example of instrumental music to be printed in Spain. It is, as well, the earliest Spanish work, printed or manuscript, designed as a teaching manual. "The purpose of this volume . . . is to instruct a musician on the vihuela de manoin the same way as a teacher would do for a pupil who had never played."
Basic information, necessary to the performer is presented - selection of strings, tuning, and facts about the notation which is a form of lute tablature usually called Spanish lute tablature but which is known only in Milan's book. Gasser further amplifies Milan's explanation of technical terms that the player should understand, e.g., mode, tactus, clausula, as well as the mixing of the modes. The modal system was, indeed, in dissolution, as Gasser says, "Some of Milan's songs are so unfocused that it is difficult to assign a mode" (59).
Ornamentation is treated differently in vocal and instrumental parts. Instrumental ornamentation is written out in full while the vocalist is instructed to learn how to improvise these ornaments. To do this convincingly requires intimate knowledge of the style. The rhythmic structure of Milan's music is not readily discernible from the tablature. Gasser transcribes several pieces into modern notation that reveals a flexible rhythmic feeling. Milan provided a large number of tempo indications. These are not rigid. Here are the first examples of rubato style in instrumental music. "Play all the chords slowly and the runs fast, and pause a little at each fermata."
El Maestro contains fifty-two instrumental pieces and twenty-two songs - some in two versions. Most early sixteenth-century lute collections contain intabulations of pieces by other composers. El Maestro has none. Gasser says that the voice range demanded by Milan's songs corresponds to that of a mezzo-soprano and that they might well be performed by a counter-tenor to be consistent with the male point of view of many of the songs. This voice, suitable to the demands of a Handel opera, is, in my opinion, too pointed and penetrating for these fragile delicate pieces. I suggest listening to the beautiful recording of these songs by Monserrat Figueras.
For anyone interested in Milan's music, this is an excellent source of information. Many of the pieces, both instrumental and vocal are reproduced in full in modern notation. The author has the advantage of being an expert vihuela player himself. He uses his knowledge to good advantage.
HOYLE CARPENTER Rowan University
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1998|
|Previous Article:||Treasures in Heaven, Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts.|
|Next Article:||Spanish Comedies and HIstorical Contexts in the 1620s.|