Alonso de Mudarra


Born: circa 1510 Died: April 1, 1580
Alonso de Mudarra was a sixteenth century Spanish composer and vihuelist known for his songs and his numerous innovations in the field of instrumental music. He lived in relative luxury throughout his life. His upbringing and education were in the ducal household in Guadalajara. Duke Iñigo López de Mendoza (1493-1566), a highly cultured man and fine lutenist, may have been a mentor to the young de Mudarra, influencing him toward study of the vihuela. de Mudarra was eventually considered one of the best vihuelaplayers in Seville. With de Mendoza, he's believed to have traveled to Italy in 1529 in the retinue of Charles V. Soon after his return, he was ordained a priest, and then took a canonry at the Seville Cathedral on the October 18, 1546. Aside from creating his considerable output of music, for the rest of his life de Mudarra played an important role in the affairs of the cathedral. He did such things as deal with the composers commissioned to produce music for feast-days, hired performers, and negotiated the purchase and installation of a new organ. Later he was in charge of all the cathedral's monetary disbursements. As a sign of the kind of man de Mudarra might have been, despite his social privilege his will stated that upon his death (which came in 1580) all of his possessions were to be sold and the money given to the poor. de Mudarra's major publication was Tres libros de musica en cifras para vihuela (Three Books of Music in Tablature for Vihuela, 1546). The range of genres and styles suggest that it's a comprehensive sample of what he'd composed up to that point in his life. It contains 77 works and introduces numerous innovations. There are intabulations of motets and mass sections by Flemish composers, the earliest known pieces for modern guitar, a piece for harp or organ notated in a 14-line tablature system of de Mudarra's invention, and suites of pieces grouped by mode. His preferred instrumental genre was the fantasia, of which Tres libros contains 27 true examples, while many of the other works draw on fantasia techniques. But above all it's for his exquisite songs for vihuela and voice that de Mudarra is remembered. Subtle and economical of means, they're rightly considered the finest Spanish songs of his century.

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