Músicas de la España Mudéjar / liner notes
Grupo Cinco Siglos


loving things that they never saw...
(Alfonso X, Partidas II, 13, 14)

The sustained presence of Islam created a peculiar and unique Middle Ages in the Iberian Peninsula. Eight long centuries witnessed a divided Spain (not to mention two additional centuries of Morisco presence on Spanish soil) marked by a constant fight between Christianity and Islam. In spite of an atmosphere of constant conflict and belligerence, the period was relatively peaceful, enriched by mutual cultural influence. Without this mix of cultures, we would have missed many singular cultural wonders.

The Christians initially lived under Muslim rule. Many of them decided to adopt the Muslim religion: the so-called adopted (Arab: muwalladin; Spanish: muladíes). The rest remained faithful to their own religion but were inevitably influenced by the Arabic culture of their rulers. The word mustarib, literally 'would-be Arab', denoting this condition, is the origin of the generic term Mozarab. The Reconquista, or reconquest of Spain by the Christians, saw Toledo's recapture in 1085, followed by several victories over the Moors. The recently-liberated zones were extensive enough for a stable situation that had to be guaranteed by an increasing presence of the victors. At this point, a crucial decision was taken -a resolution that would affect the shape of Spanish culture in the Middle Ages radically. The defeated Hispano-Arabic people were allowed to remain under Christian domination while preserving their Islamic religion and Arabic language as well as their own judicial system and organization. The term mudayyan precisely refers to the 'settlers that were allowed to remain in the land'. This is the origin of the word Mudejar.

Broadly speaking, the terms Mozarab and Mudejar have been used to designate the product of that forced marriage between Christians and Moors. Thus, we give the name Mozarab to the chant of the Christians that flourished under Islamic rule and also to the particular Romance dialect intermingled with Arab words (and many times transcribed using the Arabic alphabet) that would eventually mark its presence in the origins of Spanish literature. The word Mudejar has been used in the realm of the plastic arts since the middle of the 19th century to denominate an astoundingly personal Peninsular style, an art full of Muslim inspiration whose development in Christian Spain took place between the 11th and 16th centuries. Also considered as Mudejarism is any cultural development that shows a fusion of Christian and Arabic elements, specifically in their customs and traditions. Authors such as Américo Castro, Márquez Villanueva, López-Baralt and others have given many examples of the changes that have flourished as a result of the constant contact between the two ethnic groups.

Like many aspects of life such as language, plastic arts, literature, science and customs, music did not escape intact from this abrupt change. Tunisian lexicographer Ahmad al-Tifasi (1184-1253) gave some valuable accounts of the music of al-Andalus. He tells us that the chant of the Hispano-Arabics in the old times was developed either in a pure Christian tradition or in the style of the rough chant of the cameleers. He points out that, in those primordial times, the Arab people did not follow any musical rule in the music-making process. In order to alleviate this chaotic state, some musicians from Northern Africa who were proficient in the musical style of Medina were invited to Spain. Afterwards, Ziryab also went to the Iberian Peninsula and was able to introduce some astonishing innovations. According to our researcher, the following years saw a period dominated by the figure of a native of Saragossa, Ibn Baya (d. 1139), usually regarded as the musician who successfully combined the chant of the Christians with the one originated in Masraq. Al-Tifasi specifically mentions that the Grand Imam Ibn Baya blended (mazaja) both musics. Musicologist C. Poché has interpreted this assertion by reasoning that Ibn Baya (Avempace) might well have founded some sort of repertoire based on certain musical structures of the Visigoths or perhaps derived from the Gregorian model. If this were not the case, it would be very hard to explain the presence of scales with no intervals shorter than a semitone in traditional Hispano-Arabic music, a characteristic totally unprecedented in and alien to other Arabic music. This point was already brought to light in 1863 by F. Salvador-Daniel, who considered that there was an amazing analogy between the musical scales of Arab-Andalusian provenance and those from Gregorian Chant, hardly a simple coincidence. In fact, from the modal point of view, there are no significant differences between, say, the melodic lines by Alfonso X and the more archaic pieces from the Andalusí tradition. These analogies would not only concern the underlying modes for the melodies, but also, as H. H. Touma claims, their melodic designs.

Further proof of some similarities shared by Arabs and Christians can be found in the following reference by F. Salinas, who published his Seven Books on Music (De musica libri septem, Salamanca, 1577). While explaining the catalectic verse, he refers to the air Rey don Alfonso and mentions that "its music and dance were very common (...) amongst the Moors." He adds: "Its Arab text is as follows: Calui vi calui Calui araui. And this is the music: ..." It was Carolina Michaellis de Vasconcellos who brought this fact to the attention of scholars for the first time in 1915. She traced the popularity of this particular song, how it was used in stage representations and popular festivities in the times of Gil Vicente, as well as in previous and subsequent centuries. In 1922, J. Ribera established that the fragment alluded by Salinas contains an unmistaken rhythm of five beats, very common in Iberian popular music. This scholar supports the concept of a possible link between the title of the piece and a still obscure quote by the Arcipreste de Hita (in his famous List of Instruments) "cabel el orabín." Similarly, other authors have also referred to this peculiar dance, most notably: M. Querol (1948), A. Salazar (1948), J. J. Rey (1978) and R. de Zayas (1981). Some 69 years before the publication of Salinas' work, an arrangement of the same piece appeared as the very first work in the Intavolatura de Lauto by J. A. Dalza, and published by Petrucci (1508) under the title Caldibi castigliano. J. J. Rey maintains when analyzing lutenist Dalza's output that "at the same time that he has been incapable of understanding the meaning of the text, he has not been able to capture its proper rhythm in the tablature." This particular rhythm is a rhythm of five beats that, according to the musicologist, "gives the piece a very distinctive character and, because of the particular mode in which it has been preserved, we can safely conclude that it is one of the oldest melodic exemplars of dance music in Spain." He has written elsewhere that "surely Dalza was trying to reproduce or assimilate a style foreign to him, perhaps after listening to an Hispano-Arabic lutenist..."

The character of the typical Hispano-Arabic dance was precisely one of the most seducing aspects for many Christians. They wanted to emulate the splendours of the Oriental courts, and it was usual that some Christian rulers favoured the presence of singers and dancing girls of Muslim origin. For instance, Castilian Count Sancho García, who ruled from 995 to 1017, owned such a group (a sitara) to entertain his social gatherings. This attitude was also common in 11th-century Pamplona, as narrated by Ibn al-Kinani, a physician from Cordoba who played an active role in the trade of musician slaves. Many Christian texts from that era usually refer to dance as the most natural artistic expression of the Moors, and this becomes more evident in later texts. Generally speaking, as observed in both Spanish and Portuguese courts, it was not unusual to find Moorish participation in dances during street and popular celebrations, and even in some official ceremonies. Christian descriptions of the Moriscos depict them as very passionate about any dance accompanied by instruments, a fervour that was certainly transmitted to many Christians. Some of the most beautiful descriptions of such an affection -and the hybridism that resulted from this obstinate mix of Christian and Arabic manners- are those from the Kingdom of Granada that have reached us through the elegant pen of G. Pérez de Hita: young Moors who usually alternate between songs sung in Arabic and Castilian, Christian knights who love to dance with Moorish ladies .... But these images were also observed in some regions that had been reconquered long ago. Czech traveller Baron of Rozmithal (15th century) relates that, while staying in the house of the Count of Burgos, he saw "several beautiful maidens and gentlewomen wearing very rich garments in the Morisco fashion, and who behaved following their peculiar customs in all of their activities, not to mention their exotic food and drinks. They all performed very pleasant dances in the Morisco style."

The festive dances (or zambras, as they were called in the Southern regions), were to become one of the basic icons of identity for the Morisco people and a true expression of Mudejarism. Not in vain, this "dança morisca ... accompanied by dulçaynas and flutes" (S. de Covarrubias) was to become the "best kind of dance that we know" (F. Gómez de Gómara). Apparently, the term zambra, in use in Castile since the Low Middle Ages, has always had some additional generic meanings other than the one mentioned above. J. Corominas justly identifies three further meanings: a "Morisco orchestra", a "Moor dance" and a "Morisco festivity adorned with music and clamour" and we might add as well: "the noisy plucking that accompanied the performance of a zambra dance" (Diccionario de Autoridades) and also, as R. de Zayas as noted, the place where these joyful activities took place ("Have you been at the taverns or the zambras on Sundays or holidays?"- P. de Alcalá). During this powerful process of culture blending whose magnitude would increase irreversibly after the Fall of Granada, these zambras would end up accompanying the processions in the festivities of Corpus Christi (and even being carried further inside the churches if no organ was available). An old Morisco from Granada relates that no less than the Archbishop "when he turned to the congregation during the celebration of the Mass, instead of reciting the usual Dominus vobiscum, he said in Arabic: y barasicún and then came the zambra."

This general background (especially the reference to the common dance Calvi vi calvi/Rey don Alonso noted by Salinas) may help answer an intriguing question that has occupied many musicologists in the past: how was it possible that musicians at the Court of Alfonso X could work as a team when almost half of them (13 out of 27, as it was the case in the Chapel of his son Sancho) were Arabs? It would be futile to try to obtain a rigourous scientific explanation. Even if it were possible, it would be well beyond our capabilities, and we have simply decided not to make the attempt. The instrumental reconstruction of the piece under consideration and those for the rest of our programme are basically the product of a documented recreation. Every musical performance is by nature a recreation, but the older the piece is, the more recreation is required. The main initial questions that we have tried to address are as follows: What characteristics can we attribute to the instrumental music that, together with the vocal music, shaped the musical scenary of the Middle Ages in the Iberian Peninsula? Is it possible to link in some way the structure of the melodies that have been preserved with a style that is congruent with the extremely eloquent documentation available to us? As lovers of things that we have never seen, we have decided to try to develop an instrumental style for the music of Mudejar Spain. Since no written instrumental music has been preserved from the Spanish Middle Ages, we were forced to derive our music from melodic material from vocal compositions. It is generally accepted that, in the Middle Ages, it was common practice to interchange material between vocal and instrumental music, a fact that can also been observed in some modern cultures that produce monophonic music. Troubadour works such as the famous Kalenda Maya or Souvent Soupir could well have been originated in some now lost instrumental pieces. By the same token, the tenor melodies Chose Tassin and Chose Loyset seem to have been the melodic material for some estampies. Furthermore, as it appears, there was a very important core of melodies that used to circulate in the memories of skillful troubadours and that were constantly applied to different texts of poetry (the well-known contrafacta), and thus it is very likely that such melodies were also a prime source for composers of instrumental music. Specialist R. Álvarez has written: "It would be worthwhile to notice the essential role that improvisation played in the instrumental music of the Middle Ages: it is very likely that jugglers and minstrels alike recreated the very same well-known repertoire at every performance." If we concentrate ourselves on the repertoire of the Cantigas by Alfonso X, there are several examples of these contrafacta. J. Sage gives a list, although some items are debatable. For example, Cantiga No. 216 uses a melody by troubadour Gautier de Dargies, Cantigas No. 380 and No. 340 make use of melodies by Cadenet, Cantiga No. 202 uses material by an anonymous author, Cantiga No. 29 contains a melody that resembles one by J. de Garlandia, Cantiga No. 100 recalls (!) the anonymous melody of the Lamento di Tristano; other Cantigas (v.gr. Nos. 49, 97, 152, 244, 290 and 316) could be related to works from the School of Notre-Dame. I. Fernández de la Cuesta, despite the fact that he constantly defends the originality of the melodies of the Cantigas, cites some additional examples: the fourth melodical phrase of the Prologue Cantiga coincides with a melody by Berenguer de Palau, and Cantiga No. 73 is undoubtedly related to the first Cantiga de Amigo by Martín Códax. Cantiga No. 347 (certainly not the last example) reads: "de que fiz cantiga nova con son meu, ca non alleo". In other words, the king or the troubadour wishes to establish that in this piece both the text and the music are by himself.

Research and experimentation. The raw material that is the source of our work comes from just a handful of Christian codices that transmit some beautiful, though barely outlined, melodies by Alfonso X, Teobaldo de Navarra, Guiraut d' Espanha, and others. Moreover, we have worked on the legacy that the andalusíes have preserved so devotedly. It is our desire to join both musics once again so that their beauties are blended. May the Christian pieces regain some of the colour and warmth of a living art... may they shed the dullness of the manuscript. And only then will they be able to share their noble old patina with those traditional songs with which perhaps they were born together.


The Morisco lute

"How beautiful the lute is, how lovely its shape!/ I am moved when I listen to a prelude,/ I hould abandon everything else/ (...)./ Listen to one who tells only the truth/ (...);/ it invites to love, although it never loves,/ it remembers nostalgia without having loved./(...)/ fine is its neck, full is its belly,/ and its voice is not that of an adult:/ it is a child, and whatever it does is pleasant". These verses by Ibn Quzman represent some of the most beautiful lines devoted to the lute. Using more common terms, we could define the lute as a plucked string instrument that has a resonating vaulted box with an oval shape and a neck. The word laúd originated from the Arabic 'ud ('wood') preceded by the agglutinated article al (as in Al-ud). This form was adopted in Castilian as alaút and as such it is usually found in the medieval literature.

The Arabic lute, an instrument whose origins are indeed remote, is known to have been in the Iberian Peninsula since the first days of the Arab invasion. Its oldest portrayal on Andalusian soil, dating back to 968 A.D., is carved on a ivory bottle from Córdoba. Although their morphology casts some doubts, the Hispano-Arabic lutes of the Beato which Master Magio illuminated for the Monastery of San Miguel de la Escalada may be slightly older (ca. 962 A.D.). Master Magio was the first artist to represent the Elders in the Apocalypse as Islamic musicians plucking the 'ud and seated in typical Arab fashion. From the 11th century, we have a carved representation preserved in Jativa. In al-Andalus we are able to observe how the instrument experienced some very important transformations. For instance, the soundboard openings are replaced by elaborate rosettes, an idea perhaps borrowed from Gothic architecture. Another example is the addition of a fifth course of strings (i.e., a fifth double string played as one), generally attributed to Ziryab (11th c.). It is very likely that five- and four-course instruments coexisted: however, al-Tifasi only seems to have known the latter group. There are other modifications attributed to Ziryab: lighter instruments, better quality strings, and the replacement of wooden plectra by more flexible ones.

The incorporation of the lute into the Christian instrumentarium was very likely a byproduct of the cultural environment associated with the courts of Alfonso X, whose own codices usually portray beautiful specimens. Our first Castilian literary reference can be found in La doncella Teodor (c.1250): "Aprendí tañer laúd y cannon y las treinta y tres trovas" ('I learned to pluck the lute and canon and the thirty three songs'). In the Poema de Alfonso XI (1328), the adjective pleasing ("estrumento falaguero") is applied to the lute. A citation by the Arcipreste de Hita (1330) mentions that it may be used to play the trisca: "el corpudo alaud que tien punto a la trisca". Corominas has indicated that the word trisca may have the meaning of 'dance' (tresche in French, tresca in Occitan) in these verses quoted from the Libro de Alexandre: "tiempo dolce e sabroso.../ entran en flor las miesses ca son ya espigadas,/ fazen las dueñas triscas en camisas delgadas".

It is amazing how a rigid tradition contributed to the faithful continuation of the organological characteristics of the lute, truly a symbol of Arab music. A Persian manuscript from the 14th century (Treasure of Rarities) includes an entire chapter devoted to explaining the design and construction of several musical instruments. It has some detailed descriptions of their expected proportions and measurements, the materials to be used, the different procedures to be followed for processing the wood and fabricating the strings. In the case of the lute, a wood of average consistency is recommended, with some bias in favour of fir or pine. The proposed measurements for the instrument, almost literally copied from the al-Kindi (11th c.), are very similar to those of modern Arab lutes.

Isma'il ibn Bard (10th c.) wrote these verses after he was presented with an old lute: "You were very kind to send me a lute/ that belonged to the al-Wald family./ It has been restored generation after generation./ To me it is like a lute of mosaics./ The spiders wove their web on it as if it were the vestige/ of a building in ruin." And he adds this extremely beautiful phrase that even today, at the turn of the 20th century, is capable of producing thrilling resonances: "This lute is like faded lines,/ like the remnants of ink in a precious manuscript".

The Morisco guitar

According to Corominas, the word guitar comes from the Arabic kitara, and this from the Greek cithara. In Arabic kaitara can be found in some Hispanic sources from the 11th and 13th centuries. One of the first references to this instrument to be found in the Castilian literature might well be the one in the Libro de Alexandre, especially if we accept the current dating of the work that places it in the 12th century: "guitarra e viola que las coytas enbota". In the Poema de Alfonso XI (1328) we read: "la guitarra serranista/ estromento con razón". Then we find the charming but complex references by the Arcipreste de Hita (1330): "allí sale gritando la guitarra morisca/ de las vozes aguda e de los puntos arisca/(...)/ la guitarra latina con estos se aprisca". Referring to instruments that are by nature incapable of accompanying Arab chants, he further writes: "sinfonía, guitarra non son de aqueste marco". The claim that the guitar is not suitable for the Arabic style would be surprising since there is a type of guitar called Morisca (or serranista). And not only is this fact observed in the literature, but also it appears in many other sources, even outside the Iberian Peninsula. All this would lead us to believe that the term guitar as used in that verse by the Arcipreste is none other than the Latin guitar, whose basic characteristics (tuning?, plucking technique?, the use of frets?...) would make it far from suitable for playing in the Arabic style. Unfortunately, it is not possible to determine the exact nature of such distinctive properties: as is often the case, we can count only a few names, some scarce images, and many false leads that only add to the confusion. We also lack clear clues to distinguish this early guitar from the viuela de péñola also cited by the Arcipreste. J. Ballester applied the term Morisco guitar to a prototype frequently (31.2 %) represented in Catalonian-Aragonese retables or altarpieces. This is a kind of lute of a very small size. Judging from the proportions of the human figures that play the instrument, we are able to determine that the body was some 20 centimetres (7.8 inches) wide by at most 50 centimetres (19.5 inches) long. As J. J. Rey has pointed out, it is quite plausible that this is the instrument described by Tinctoris (1476), who uses the name ghiterra or ghiterna and attributes its invention (although we should infer use rather than creation) to the Catalonians. This prototype has its antecedents in some of the oldest iconographical sources: for instance, the two instruments depicted in the miniature of Cantiga No. 90 (Codex b I 2). Rey seems to imply that these instruments were bandurrias, that perhaps were known as guitars in other regions. R. Álvarez agrees with this idea, when considering that this short lute was usually named guitar, mandurria or vandurria in the 14th century. Fernández Manzano refers to the birth of the Morisco guitar as a classic example of "organological Mudejarism," one of many observed in the Iberian Peninsula. With regards to the plucked instruments with a characteristic 8-shaped box, Rey states that all evidence seems to indicate that, in the Middle Ages, these instruments were not named guitars, but vihuelas de péñola ('plectrum', 'quill') instead. Thus, we might be forced to accept that the term guitar in fact refers to several subfamilies of instruments with oval-shaped boxes and vaulted bodies, whereas the term vihuela usually designated instruments with an 8-shaped box and a flat back. Quoting again the text by the Arcipreste, "De las voces agudas" seems to imply a small instrument. The fact that the guitar is considered somehow "not helpful for (playing) the notes" could also refer to the lack of frets, certainly one of the distinctive elements previously mentioned. We may add a hypothesis of our own, one that is related to the sonority of the instrument. We have built an experimental hybrid, a cross between what is shown in the usual illustrations and an instrument originating in Saudi Arabia, the old qanbus, perhaps related to some of the string instruments in the miniatures of the Cantigas.

The rebec

With some certainty we may assert that two different types of rebecs were played during the Middle Ages. Following the standard terminology of the period, we will speak of a Morisco rebec and a (European) rebec. The first is the Arab rebab, still in use (sadly a dying tradition) in today's Hispano-Arabic music. It is a relatively simple string instrument built upon a single hollowed wooden block that tapers near the pegbox. In the slightly inclined pegbox, we find tuning pegs only for the instrument's two thick strings. This (at least in recent times) solid design would produce a pallid sound were it not for a soundboard, extending the full length of the instrument, having hide instead of wood at the end nearest the bridge. Moreover, as is the case for the lute, there is an amazing similarity between today's instruments and those depicted in the Medieval iconography. In some miniatures of the Cantigas, for instance, we find three of them: two in Cantiga No. 110 (Codex b I 2) and another (a group consisting of a lute, a canon, and a percussion instrument) in Cantiga No. 100 (Codex T I 1). There are also some very attractive examples in some Catalonian-Aragonese and French paintings, amongst others. In some of them, we see carved rosettes located in very high positions near the pegbox. This might imply that the instrument was played as it is today, with the strings high above the neck and not touching it when pressed. This, combined with the use of heavy, short bows and very thick strings (in relation to their length), imposes a particular style of playing that, in traditional Andalusi orchestral ensembles, gives the instrument both melodic and rhythmic functions. Arabs knew the instrument well before the beginning of Islam, although there is no general consensus as to whether the instrument was bowed or plucked. The first undeniable evidence of a bowed rebab can be traced to al-Farabi (10th c.), precisely in the era in which, as P. Bec has indicated, bowed instruments were introduced into Europe. This is, in all probability, the instrument that is described by the Arcipreste in the verse "medio caño e harpa conel rrabé morisco", and very different, both in shape and sound, from the other "rabé gritador" that sounds "su alta nota" several verses later. It is fascinating that the European rebec always presents a constant high pitch. Covarrubias says that this is "a 3-string instrument, with very high pitch". Despite the differences, it seems that the European rebec is a true descendent of the Arab rebab, not only by name but also because they share some organological characteristics. The rebec was played either in the Oriental style (on the lap) or in the Occidental manner (on the shoulder). The latter position can be observed in the following example from Santiago de Compostela.

The canon (psaltery)

The terms canon (cf. the Poema de Alfonso XI), cannon (cf. La doncella Teodor), caño, canno (cf. Libro de Buen Amor) are the Castilian medieval versions of the Arab qanum, from the Greek kanón (Latin canon). They all refer to a string instrument of Egyptian origin (plucked by two plectra mounted on rings worn on the index fingers), of assymmetric trapezoidal form and played on the lap. It usually has several courses of triple strings (no less than 25). According to Ibn Khallikan (13th c.) it was invented by al-Farabi (10th c.), although the latter does not even mention it, at least not under thisname. In al-Andalus, Ibn Hazm considers it to be the king of instruments and al-Saqundi (13th c.) mentions it amongst the instruments exported by Sevilla.

Gil de Zamora (1230) alludes to it as introduced recently into our land, a surprising statement, given that a sculpted specimen has existed in the main door of Santo Domingo de Soria since the middle of the 12th century. R. Álvarez provides a long list of iconographic testimonials of the instrument dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries. This author and others claim that there were both an Oriental and an Occidental posture for plucking the canon. The former, horizontally on the lap, and the latter, held vertically against the chest, as can be seen, for example, in the miniatures of the Cantigas. Without claiming that there is no way of playing the instrument vertically, we believe that, as often happens, this is simply a misinterpretation of the iconographic evidence. In the case of the miniatures associated with Alfonso X our hypothesis seems to be confirmed: all objects shaped similarly to the one that we are describing and that should normally appear horizontal (such as the sheets on which a child sleeps or a chess board, etc.) are shown vertical. We think that this is a simple problem of perspective representation that may have become a typical iconographic paradigm. There might be other reasons as well. In a 14th century Egyptian manuscript (The Unveiling of Afflictions), we observe a miniature of a seated qanum player holding the instrument vertically against his chest. His right hand is over the strings, while his left hand is resting on the pegs. G. D. Sawa has shown that, although some authors might use this depiction as a proof of a vertical playing position, the text of the manuscript seems to contradict that, since it describes the great agility of both hands essential for plucking the instrument.The text also indicates -and this is rather important, since this also applies to modern players of the instrument- that the musician should never stop playing, not even when the instrument has gone out of tune: in that case, the player should continue plucking with the right hand while adjusting the tuning with the left hand, an action that seems to be impossible if the instrument is held vertically. Sawa insists that any instrument can be shown in at least four positions: being played, ready to be played but not being played, being tuned, and being shown to others. Using common sense, the expert indicates that the most convenient way to show the instrument is to hold it vertically, grasping it obliquely by the pegs and plucking a few strings with the right hand. This is how to demonstrate the instrument so that it can be seen. To Sawa's arguments we might add an additional fact that would suffice by itself: the carpet on which the musician is seated is also shown in an impossible vertical position. This also applies to all the instruments shown in the miniatures associated with Alfonso X.

The fiddle

The fiddle (viola in Spanish) was probably the most prestigious of all Medieval instruments. In fact, a word was even created to describe the act of playing it: violar, analogous to the Old Provençal viular. Corominas thinks that the origin of the Spanish terms vihuela and viola is unknown, perhaps of onomatopoeic nature. He ventures that it is likely that, in any case, it was taken from the Old Occitan viula (sometimes viola) derived from viular ('to play the vihuela and wind instruments'), whose imitative value is clear. P. Bec, in a very interesting and extensive work, has attacked this hypothesis because it does not take into account the fact that, originally, all Romance terms refer to both bowed and plucked instruments. Bec claims that all European terms to denote the instrument are derived from two basic roots: one is Germanic, *FIDULA (of Latin origin), and other Romance, *VIOLA. The Germanic base (*FIDULA) is explained as derived from fides ('string') whose formation could be related to an analogy to fistula. The Romance base *VIOLA still remains obscure.

The oldest references in Castilian literature are found in the Libro de Apolonio: "Tenpró bien la vihuela en hun son natural,/ (...)/ començo una laude, omne non vio atal,/ Fazia fermosos sones e fermosas debayladas;/ Quedaua a sabiendas la boz a las vegadas,/ Fazia a la viuela dezir puntos ortados;/ semeiavan que eran palabras afirmadas./ Los altos e los baxos todos dellas dizian/(...),/ fazia otros depuertos que mucho mas valien". ('She tuned the fiddle in a natural tone and then started playing a Laude such as nobody had seen before. She produced beautiful melodies and cadences. Sometimes, she deliberately paused, silencing his voice and letting the fiddle sing very refined notes that were almost real words. The high and low notes truly were speaking. She produced other depuertos that everybody liked even more') This is a wonderful text because it implies the existence of a refined instrumental technique, full of nuances whose expressive ideal is precisely the human voice. No less interesting is the following fragment: "fue trayendo el arco egual e muy parejo;/ fue levantando unos tan dulçes sones,/ doblas e debailadas, temblantes semitones...". The complete sense of some terms is beyond our comprehension: debayladas (Menéndez Pidal interprets this as "cadential codas"), depuertos, doblas, ... but the idea of a complex, subtle style still persists. There is also a constant preoccupation with the quality of the instrument ("priso huna viola buena e bien tenprada"). In the Libro de Buen Amor there are some verses that were apparently copied from the ones mentioned above: "La vihuela de arco faze dulces devayladas,/ Adormiendo a las vezes, muy alta a las vegadas,/ vozes dulces, sabrosas, claras e bien puntadas,/ a las gentes alegra, todas tiene pagadas". This potential of the fiddle for animating the listeners is quite common all over Europe. There is also a commonplace reference to its sweet sound. Bec says that there is a dialectic fiddle/rebec contrast in the texts, attributing to the former qualities such as nobility, sweetness and being hard to play, and opposite qualities to the latter: vulgarity, hardness, and ease of playing.
The surviving iconography in both Spain and the rest of Europe usually shows two different types: one with an oval-shaped box (cf. all those represented in the miniatures attributed to Alfonso X) and other with an 8-shaped box, such as the ones that can be seen in Galician porticos.
Several images show a lateral string, extending from the neck, whose pitch, according to P. Bec, could be changed by using the left hand thumb. It is also plausible, as R. Álvarez has commented, that such a string was plucked by the thumb or the other fingers. In one of the pieces, the fiddle player in our ensemble has experimented with a sort of self-accompaniment of this kind -plucking the strings with his left hand while bowing the melody with his right hand- that could serve to remind us of the common origin of all string instruments (plucked and bowed).

The flute

"The flutes (...) seem to have been invented in the countryside, from where they came to the towns, where on various occasions gentlemen played them." This beautiful passage by Covarrubias summarizes in a simple way what we know about this group of instruments whose antiquity can be measured in the thousands of years. The number of medieval flutes that has been preserved is very high: F. Crane gives a list of almost 150 whistle-type instruments, which undoubtedly represent the great majority. This first group can be subdivided into two if we follow the convention of reserving the name recorder exclusively for those specimens having seven holes on the front (or eight, if the bottom hole is double) and a thumb hole on the back. Instruments with fewer holes are certainly more abundant. Those carved with a knife from suitable animal bones are predominant. Although less numerous, some wooden instruments have been preserved. For instance, a two-holed instrument found in Poland dates back to the 11th century, and there are some 14th-century specimens, such as the 2+1 (two holes on the front, plus a thumb hole) from Serris and Sharlaken, amongst others. These are very likely the ones alluded to in the famous verses by the Arcipreste "la flauta diz con ellos mas alta que un risco/ con ella el tanborete, sin el non vale un prisco". We also have some instruments with more holes, such as, for example, the 6+1 specimen from Charavines (Isère), considered as belonging to the 11th century. We also find some instruments carved in horn and others made of ceramic. The latter are related to instruments for imitating songbirds and nightingales, several variants of which have been found in the geographical region of al-Andalus.

Three recorders have been preserved: two of them, found in Holland (13th or 14th c.) and Germany (14th c.) are very similar. They have been studied by R. Weber. Morphologically speaking, the most curious aspect is the (total or partial) closure of the instrument's bell, resembling that observed in several North-African little flutes, where reed joints are used for that purpose. Weber writes: "It should not be forgotten that the Dordrecht (Holland) instrument, with the shape of its lip and with its narrow bore, is strongly reminiscent of Oriental models. It nearly looks like a copy of a reed-flute made in wood since in these latitudes reed does not occur". A third specimen (14th c.) was found in Göttingen. H. Reiner has produced a reconstruction whose sound is characterized as potent and noisy. If it is difficult to identify wind instruments in the iconography, it is even more difficult to ascertain their respective numbers of holes. In any case (and this is the thesis recently formulated by A. Rowland-Jones), it appears that, as many sources suggest, the birthplace of the recorder might be Spain.

Regarding to other types of flutes we can mention that, as pointed out by Homo-Lechner, three pan-pipes have been preserved (10th, 11th and 13th centuries, respectively). There is no evidence of any preserved transverse medieval flutes, a very strange situation if we take into account how regularly this instrument appears in the iconography since the most remote times. It seems that this instrument was introduced to Europe from Byzantium in the 12th century. In the 13th century, it is already found in Castile, as shown in a beautiful miniature in the Cantigas.

Finally, there are some tubular instruments with finger holes but no mouthpiece that are difficult to classify. It would not be out of the question to think of them as instruments resembling the Arabic nay. In fact, contrary to common opinion, it is very likely that, during the Middle Ages, Spain may have heard many kinds of flutes in addition to those described here. These might be the ones referred to in the literature and other sources by the term ajabeba (or ajabera, ayabeba, caxabeba, exababa, exabeba, etc). This instrument has often been considered a transverse flute, an error which perhaps arose in the works of J. M. Lamaña together with the undoubted convenience of identifying the two main well-known instruments (the recorder and the transverse flute) with the Spanish terms flauta and ajabeba, respectively. However, some evidence seems to suggest that the ajabeba was actually a flute from the family of the (Arabic, Persian and Turkish) nay, the qasba from the Maghreb... and, logically, from the family of the sabbaba used in music of the Druses and the Kurds, for example. In other words, it was an instrument made of reed (and not a manufactured tube as proposed by Álvarez) with a certain number of finger holes and opened on both ends, one of which, slightly flattened, was used as a mouthpiece blown obliquely.

The citole

The citole is one of the medieval instruments whose essential morphology is perfectly clear. At least this is the point of view of J. J. Rey, who has written some interesting pages on this topic. His main argument is supported by a happy coincidence that permits the correlation of an iconographic document and a literary one. The latter comes from the Vida de San Millan de la Cogolla (c.1234) by Berceo: "Auia otra costumbre el pastor que uos digo:/ por uso una çítola traya siempre consigo". Not many years later, an anonymous painter wanted to depict the life of Saint Millan in a retable, faithfully following the narration by Berceo, so that we are able to see (in the Museum of Fine Arts in Logroño) a citole through the eyes of a contemporary artist. We have reproduced the schematic drawing provided in the work by J. J. Rey.
A citole preserved in England and built around 1340 is an exquisite specimen to which a viol top was added in the 16th century. Luthier C. González, analyzing its decorative elements and material richness, deduces that this was a courtly instrument. Some wearing and several marks show that it was intensively played, and some construction details (lightness, spare decoration in some areas...) seem to indicate an attempt to search for good sound qualities.

The pandereta (tambourine)

The word pandereta is more recent than panderete and become only in general use after the second half of the 18th century. The suffix -ete implies a Mozarab procedence. In the Libro de Buen Amor we read: "Dulce caño entero sal con el panderete/ con sonajas de açofar façen dulçe sonete". J. Blades has written that the most commonly used instruments during the Middle Ages (based upon iconographic evidence) were remarkably similar to those in use in today's folkloric music, but, above all, they share several characteristics with those of 19th-century Turkey. The timbric versatility derived from the two basic elementary constituents of the instrument, the skin and the jingles, have been exploited in the Arab world since time immemorial: tar, riq, etc. The word tarr appears in the Vocabulista arábigo en letra castellana (1505) by P. de Alcalá with the meaning of 'timbrel'.

The darabuka

The darabuka is a kind of goblet drum (typically ceramic or metal) very characteristic in the Islamic world. Its form varies between that of an hourglass and that of a cup or chalice and it has many sizes. Its origin goes back to the Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations (1110 B.C.). We only have very limited medieval iconographic representations. Those from the Christian iconography are found in: Beatos de Valladolid and Seo de Urgel (10th c.), Beatode Fernando I (11th c.) and Cantigas de Santa María (13th c.). It is uncertain what name was given to the darabuka in Spanish literature. We believe that this kind of drum would be designated by any of these medieval words: atamor, atambor, atabal, tamboret, tamborino or tamborete (Menéndez Pidal claims that this latter term is the correct one). However, its use in Spain can be established without any doubt, since they have been found at three (maybe four) archeological sites. All the specimens share a common small size. Our first example, probably from the 10th c., was found in 1973 amongst the remains of a sunken Islamic ship in the waters of Southern France, near Cannes (Batéguier). The ship, perhaps sailing from Almería, was transporting a load of ceramics for some Muslim enclaves in the area. Another specimen was found in 1982 in the bottom of a well in Benetússer (Valencia). Along with this specimen, two additional fragmentary instruments were found. They might be dated back to the Caliphate era (960-1030) or slightly later. In 1985, a third specimen was found in a site in Granada known as El Castillejo de los Guajares. This drum, perhaps from the 14th c. or perhaps earlier, is quite interesting since its dimensions and shape resemble those in a miniature of Cantiga No. 300 (Codex b I 2). Both instruments, as indicated by M. Cortés, are quite similar to drums from modern Iraq. The dubious fourth specimen, found in Málaga, has not been dated yet. It is a fragment of a drum similar to that from El Castillejo.


It is commonly accepted that, in the Middle Ages, instrumental music was more dependent upon the art of musical interpretation than on the art of composition. The melodies found in the manuscripts are only a pre-text, a mere starting point. Reading the musical text (a process that in music of later ages normally accounts for a fair proportion of the total process of music-making) is only the beginning of a long exercise in experimentation and practical research. Music, for better or for worse, cannot be archaeology. Whereas in disciplines such as architecture and sculpture, the irreversibility of any restoration process has forced us to become acquainted and even content with mutilated sculptures, faded porticos that were polychrome long time ago, buildings falling into ruin. Because our modern culture places History before Art, few supporters could be found for the idea of repainting the sculptures that Master Mateo produced for the Pórtico de la Gloria using the original vivid colours. But Music is made of a different material. Either it is heard, or it simply does not exist. And for it to be heard, it must be totally restored in its entirety. Any interpretation must be complete in every detail, timbric, rhythmic, textural... The vestiges of medieval music are found in codices containing musical notation, in the remains of instruments, and in other sources (treatises, texts and iconography). Fortunately, no realization (in a recording or a concert) can destroy them... They remain intact, ready for further attempts. But self-censorship, in the sense of self-limitation, is pernicious since Music cannot be regarded as an archaeological object. We are immediately aware when a sculpture has a missing arm, but when a piece of music is played, nothing is missing: those elements which are absent will generate a sense of poverty, rather than incompleteness. Not forgetting that we are playing medieval music, we must always remember that we are playing music.

Leaving aside the organological elements previously discussed, we list here some of the key aspects of our work:


Since we are dealing with monophonic compositions, the pitch and duration of the notes have to be considered. Pitch considerations are normally easily solved. On the other hand, metre is an open-ended question. We try to use, whenever possible, facsimile reproductions as well as the most reputable transcriptions available for each repertory. For the present recording, we have relied on the work of H. Anglés for the most part. In the case of the dance based upon the Prologue Cantiga by Alfonso X, we have also based our performance on the transcription (in a rhythm of five beats) by musicologist J. J. Rey some ten years ago. For the rest of the pieces, the degree of the modifications has been variable. Just a handful of them were introduced before the process of interpretative research. The majority of them surfaced during -and as a result of- such a process. Almost all of them are the product of adapting the melody to what we could call the "logic of the instrument," as well as interacting with other interpretative elements (the percussion instruments, for instance). We had to elaborate the melody for the instrumental dance on Calvi arabi: we based our work on the ten notes found in Salinas' book, and have added nineteen additional notes, inspired by some dances in the Hispano-Arabic tradition and the Caldibi Castigliano by J. A. Dalza previously cited. Incidentally, it is interesting to notice that Dalza based his work on those initial ten notes, and this makes us believe that they were the most characteristic element in the entire piece.


Rhythm, not to be confused with metre (i.e. the duration of the notes), is a fundamental aspect of the performance of monophonic music. This is not only evident in the live tradition of performances of monophony, but also in the abundance and variety of percussion instruments that have been transmitted in documents and iconography. We have to be aware, however, that rhythm is not limited to percussive instruments. Other instruments, such as the 'ud and the rebab, very probably also were used for rhythmic support. Hispano-Arabic learning of music is (and was) taught with an emphasis on assimilating basic rhythmic structures and linking them with the metre of the accompanying texts. The pupil learns to mark with the hand the basic schemes of the different rhythmic formulas while reciting or intoning the texts. The existence (documented in the texts) of percussion instrument specialists since antiquity, the abundance of high-pitch percussion instruments (not very suitable in principle to play a supporting role), and the wide use of the tambourin (or tar) -an instrument that has always been characterized by great versatility since antiquity-, make it less credible that the role of percussion instruments consisted solely of mechanically emphasizing the basic accents already implied by the melody. Rhythm in monophony may become (as is the case with chords in music with harmonic texture) a support capable of changing the fundamental character of a melody. Rhythm, understood as "harmony of monophony" (cf. F. Salvador-Daniel), becomes a fertile tool for the medievalist musician as a true musical accompaniment (and not just a gesture). Except for free preludes, rhythm should always provide the proper environment where the melody can show its own character. Consequently, rhythm is the fundamental element on which our interpretations are based.

Besides its function of harmonic support in any given piece, rhythm can play an important role in variations, as a highly desirable ingredient for providing soul, variety and length to melodies which are otherwise short, and also for being a basis for improvisation in postludes. Rhythmic variation, a very well documented element in traditional monophonic music and in some medieval dances, has been the focus of experimentation in several pieces in this recording.


Heterophony is the union of the various individual views of a given melody. The melodic scheme shapes an idea common to all performers, but its practical realizations will follow different paths since the very first note, this being greatly influenced by the specific technical possibilities of each instrument. Each instrument becomes a leading character whose technique interacts with the style of other active participants. Plucked string instruments, for instance, understand and interpret a melody from a different point of view than bowed or wind instruments. But there are also imitative effects amongst the instruments during a heterophonic performance: a fiddle that phrases the notes in imitation of a lute, etc. B. Mazzouzi has written that, in Andalusi music, the style of certain musicians follows a technique occasionally built upon the imitation of a totally different instrument.
In music transmitted by oral tradition, as was the case with most instrumental monophony in the Middle Ages, there is often a very curious phenomenon. Certain ornaments are passed from teachers to pupils, and, at some point, a previously accidental ornament becomes an integral part of the plan, which itself becomes more and more obscure. Such transformations give the repertoire a living character.

Preludes, interludes and postludes

A prelude serves as a presentation of the particular mode of the piece that will follow. There seem to be no further rules. It may be measured or without rhythm, complex or simple, long or short, it may borrow motives from the piece that follows, or (a more desirable and usual alternative in modern cultivated monophony) follow different ideas involving the characteristic notes of the particular mode and their usual associations.

The existence of postludes in both vocal and instrumental music is mentioned by Grocheo. Built similarly to a prelude, a postlude should emphasize the final note of the mode in a logical manner and serve as an intensifier of the piece's affect, and thus will usually be rhythmic.

An interlude provides a structural amplification of the piece. Similarly to the two other forms, the interlude is related to the idea of a more or less prepared improvisation and, by extension, to the genesis of instrumental music in the Middle Ages. E. Jammers, K. Zuckerman, and others have studied the way in which some Italian istampitte were formed by a succession of ornaments over a basic, relatively simple melody. Such variations could have had their origin in semi-improvised interludes. On the other hand, a similar phenomenon can be observed in the accumulation of strophes (or puncta) that are characteristic of all the instrumental dances that have been preserved from that era (istampitte, trotti, saltarelli, ductiae, etc). We find an interesting attribute common to all of these pieces. The first punctum presents a greater degree of cohesion between the beginning (head) and the conclusions -ending with open (non-conclusive) and closed (conclusive) phrases- when compared to successive puncta. This seems to imply that the first punctum was an original composition, while the rest were new and varied creations (developments, in rare cases) in which the use of those endings was mandatory. Once again, we encounter an instance that seems to support the hypothesis of a genesis linked to an interpretive practice. We have attempted to base our recording on this desirable union between composition and performance.

Grupo Cinco Siglos,
liner notes from Músicas de la España Mudéjar
with special thanks to
Dr. Carlos Escalante Osuna and Dr. James Dukarm
for their assistance with the English translation.