Mudarra: Four fantasias

Mudarra: Four fantasias Alonso Mudarra (c. 1510 – April 1, 1580) was a priest and vihuela player, who became canon of Seville Cathedral and was in charge of the music there. As well as many pieces for the vihuela, he published six for four-course guitar in Tres libros de musica en cifras para vihuela, Seville, 1646. Four of them, all fantasias, are presented here.

The title page of Mudarra’s Tres libros…


Having transcribed these pieces from the Renaissance guitar facsimilies above, I was informed by the fine transcriptions for classical guitar by Keith Calmes in Guitar music of the 16th Century, 2008, Mel Bay Publications. I have not, however, followed his versions slavishly.

Another excellent (online) publication is Early Guitar Anthology, I, The Renaissance, c.1540-1580  by Charles Wolzien, music edited by Frank Bliven, available to download at:
They include the first and third of the Fantasias transcribed here, and I have quoted in full their learnèd comments on the modal structures, which I hope one day to get to grips with.


The musical style at this time was evolving from modal polyphony, which can make it seem rather alien to modern ears. The long horizontal lines of notes overlapped, and at any one time they formed what we hear as chords. The chords are not so obvious when the music is sung, or played on instruments with sustained sound such as flute or fiddle. (It’s interesting to change the instruments in the MIDI renderings to hear this.) On the ukulele or guitar, however, the chordal structure is much more obvious, with vertical stacks of notes being plucked into life.

I have only recently been aware of this music, and find that it needs a lot of thought to understand it, and even more practice to interpret it on an instrument. Most of the harmonies are familiar and can be given modern chord names, but that hasn’t really helped my appreciation, and is probably an anachronism too far. My recent postings of music by Le Roy and from the Osborn Commonplace Book often use grounds (chord sequences) that are more easily understood, and basically jolly good fun, but these by Mudarra are much more cerebral and elevated – good luck!

The various “tonos” refer to the modes of the time: 1st = Dorian, 4th = Hypophrygian, 5th = Lydian. You will see from my notes below that I am struggling to get to grips with this. Mudarra must have been a great musician to bend and weave in and out of the eponymous modes in such a cunning way.

I find that the scores fit comfortably on a tenor uke, can be a bit of a stretch on a Renaissance guitar (scale length 54 cm), and would need very long fingers on a full-sized guitar if you didn’t have a capo.

Below are some comments on the four Fantasias. Two have the same name, so I have appended the page numbers (f) from Mudarra’s tome.

By the way, well over two years ago I made a reduction of Mudarra’s vihuela piece Pavana de Alexandre, which you can see here. It’s rather easier to comprehend than the fantasias and has a distinct melody and counter melody, and a hint of a bass line as well.


In the original, the 4th string is tuned down to F to provide the root note of the home key. To avoid the inconvenience of re-tuning I have modified the piece slightly with, I hope, only slight detriment to the music.

The first two lines of the piece in facsimile. Note the corrected misprint in the heading. Temple nuevo meant that the strings were tuned in the intervals we use on the ukulele, temple viejo that the bass string (strictly “course”) was tuned a whole tone lower.  The fret positions are shown by numbers, but the bass is shown on top as that is where it is when the instrument is held: difficult to get one’s head round when playing.

The primer tono is the Dorian mode, but this piece uses every note in the chromatic scale except F# and A.

Wolzein & Bliven write (referring to the guitar notation which is a fourth lower than the ukulele, so for B read E, for G read C, for D read G):

“Mudarra’s Fantasia … is labeled as del primer tono, so one expects to find a piece
written in the dorian mode (or first mode); but the dorian mode is obscured right from the
beginning by the use of the flatted sixth degree in the opening phrase. The flatting of the
B-natural in this case follows the convention of solmizing a single note above la with fa
and flatting the fa: thus the first two measures of the soprano line are solmized la-fa-la-sol-fa-mi-fa.
This exchange between the B-natural/B-flat that emphasizes the characteristic
sixth degree of the dorian mode occurs throughout the entire piece, right up to the final
plagal cadence that moves from a G minor chord (with a B-flat) to a D major chord (with
the raised picardy third).”


* Note moved to adjacent string for ease of performance

† Note on 1st string is 8 in the original, which I read as 6 and seems OK, while Calmes uses 2. The choice is yours.

§ Note on 1st string is 9 in the original.

I must confess to finding the chord changes in bars 42 – 44 difficult to play cleanly, but much easier if I omit the 3rd string, which doesn’t affect the music much (or is that sacrilege?).

I can’t relate this piece to the 4th mode, Hypophrigian (quarto tono): it includes all notes on the chromatic scale except C# and F.


* In bar 13 Calmes suggests replacing the F# (fret 2) with G (fret 3). I must admit that I quite like the dissonance. It’s up to you.

The title specifies 5th Mode (Lydian), but the piece seems to be mostly in G major (Ionian mode), with occasional side-stepping into D major (where you see note C#) and D minor (F natural). That’s the way I look at it, anyway.

Wolzein & Bliven write more learnedly (referring to the guitar notation which is a fourth lower than the ukulele, so for D read G and for G read C):

“In Mudarra’s … fantasia …, the designation del quinto tono
indicates the lydian mode (on D in this transcription), but the diagnostic fourth step,
or G-sharp, is usually lowered to a G-natural, thus producing passages in the ionian mode
as well as the lydian (the ionian mode was formed by combining the mixolydian fifth and
lydian fourth …). The opening scale with its g-natural and then g’-sharp
underscores this mixing of modes. When the g’-sharp appears again in measure twelve it
is featured in the supple two voice imitation that leads up to the cadence on the dominant
in measure nineteen, beat one. On beat four of this same measure the g’-sharp is again
positioned prominently in the scale that begins the last section of the piece, but it is
quickly replaced with the G-naturals that remain constant through the descending scale
that concludes the composition.”


* Note moved to an adjacent string for ease of playing

† The final chord is given in the original as a G7 chord (i.e. with an F on the 2nd string). Following Calmes, I have raised the F to G to give a G major chord.

Again Mudarra plays with his treatment of “tonos”. This piece looks, to my inexpert eyes, more like Hypodorian than Dorian.


Having reached this far in the post, you deserve the downloads, available free in the following formats:

  • pdf
  • TablEdit
  • MIDI
Have fun!

Tags: #fantasias #mudarra

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