Luis de Narváez


Born: circa 1500 Died: by 1560
Period: Renaissance
Luys de Narváez was an important Renaissance-era Spanish composer who was a talented, perhaps virtuosic performer on the vihuela, a guitar-like instrument commonly played in sixteenth century Spain. His surviving output was small and almost all of it was written for the vihuela. Today his works are generally performed on the guitar or lute.

Luys de Narváez was born in Granada, probably in the early-1500s. Virtually nothing is known of his early years, though it is likely he was raised in affluent circumstances and received a good education. His musical talents attracted the attention of Don Francisco de los Cobos, secretary to King Charles V of Spain. Narváez served in the role of a Court musician -- and perhaps offered musical instruction, as well -- beginning around 1526. From around that time he lived in the northwestern Spanish city of Vallodolid until 1548, the year of Cobos' death.

In 1538 Narváez published a collection of his works entitled Los seys libros del delphín, which, it would turn out, contained his entire output, except for a pair of motets. All the works in the book were scored for solo vihuela and feature variation sets, fantasy pieces, and arrangements of works by other composers (Josquin, Richafort, and Gombert). While Narváez did not invent the idea of variations, he was the first to identify a number of his pieces as such in this remarkable volume. Moreover, his was the first musical publication containing tempo indications.

With the death of Cobos in 1547, Narváez seems to have been immediately taken into the service of Prince Philip, the future King of Spain. In 1548 royal documents divulge Narváez's service in the Royal Chapel, which included musical instruction to the boy choristers. It is likely, too, that he gave regular vihuela concerts at Court for the Prince -- concerts in which he may have been joined by his son Andrés, who was by now also a talented vihuelist.

Narváez was apparently well-liked by the Prince: the composer accompanied him on an extensive tour to Flanders, Italy, and Germany, beginning in 1749. There is no reference to Narváez in any Court or other historical record after this excursion. It seems likely that he died sometime in the early 1750s.

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