the fifteenth century, the Latin guitar, with four rows
of strings, played an important part in the development
of musical forms. As the vihuela spread among the rich
and noble, the Latin guitar remained in the hands of
the common people as an accompaniment instrument.
From Francisco Guerrero's Sacrae Cantiones, Courtesy
of The Hispanic Society of America.
Arcipreste de Hita tells us, in 1330, "how the clerics, laymen,
monks, owners and minstrels went out to receive don Amor,"
and lists the following catalog of musical instruments: Moorish
guitar, large lute, Latin guitar, rabe gritador, rota salterio,
viuela de penola, medio canon, harpa, rabe morisco, galipe
franciso, flute, tanborete, viuela de arco, canon entero,
panderete, albardana, dulcema, axabeba albogon, cinfonia baldosa,
odrecillo, and bandurria.
when we enter the fifteenth century, "all one school of Castilian
artists, minstrels of the guitar, spreading their taste and
their fashion, were received with great pleasure in the royal
courts," and in these courts, in order to demonstrate gratitude
for the minstrels' art, the royal listeners granted them the
title of don, and not only this honor, but also paid them
for their services with elegant generosity, even granting
them the benefit of public income and high positions in the
administration, or special rights.
example, Alfonso V de Argon y Sicilia installed Rodrigo de
la Guitarra, a Castilian instrumentalist, as counsel of the
Castilians in Palermo, 1421.
court of Alfonso el Magnanimo, where existed in 1432 a good
number of guitar minstrels, became famous throughout Europe,
not only because of its richness and splendor, but also because
of a homage Alfonso obtained for music, and the generosity
with which he paid his instrumentalists?a generosity which
the ordinary people themselves approved of since they "as
well as the noblemen, felt a passionate inclination toward
the song and music of the minstrels, and did not put limits
on their wages."
Angel playing the Lute. By Melozzo cia Forli Rome, Vatican
Museum While the popularity of the guitar in the hands
of the Castilian players increased, the lute generally
remained in the hands of the German and Franch minstrels.
court of Castilla did no less and Juan II (1406-1454), since
"he was a musician, played and sang quite well, and knew the
art of music," appears to have matched the competence of his
minstrels, among whom were found Martin de Bruna, "player
of the lute and guitar," and Juan de Palencia, guitar player.
It is exactly at this time when there arose "the first flourishing
of Spanish guitarists," since besides those found in the court
of Alfonso el Magnanimo, and Juan II, the teacher of Santiago
relied upon the guitar player, Alfonso de Penafiel; while
Alonso de Carrion, Alfonso de Toledo, and Martin de Toledo
-all guitarists- appeared in the court of the king of Navarra,
who certainly, granted them the favored title of Don. (In
the fifteenth century, Seville had a street called "de menestrales"
(of craftsmen). This name came, perhaps, from "menestril"
(musician) or because of some skilled builder of musical instruments.
"Seville was then the city in Europe which possessed the most
intense musical interest" (Angles) and "then played a very
important role in the evolution of Spanish musical art." (Sainz
de La Maza)
these musicians -all of the Castilian school- began the predominance
of instrumental music over vocal music, and with the guitar
was launched to then navigate within a national current. While
the popularity of the guitar in the hands of Castilian players
increased, the lute generally remained in the hands of the
German and French minstrels. (The Aragon Courts relied upon
numerous minstrels of the viola, lute, harp, citara, guitar,
and "other instruments of old and new fashion," which indicates
to us the evolution which was coming into operation in the
instruments and in Spanish instrumental music.)
the unlucky court of Enrique IV, son of Juan II, where courtesan
music shone dimly, the king was nevertheless, a great fan
of all music, and an excellent musician and singer. It is
true, however, that it was not characteristically a happy
court, and that for the king, music was a refuge to which
he frequently resorted when he wanted to mitigate his sorrows
the Catholic Kings was born the splendor of courtesan music,
and among the instruments preferred, the vihuela (not much
different from the guitar, and coming from the same origins)
ranked first, and became an instrument used by the common
people. The use of the vihuela spread rapidly among the nobility
and high-class bourgeoisie, and "became the fashionable instrument
at the court and in the homes of Spain's rich men and magnates."
vihuelas, "which were at this time well-built and richly decorated
in every way possible," I acquired an extraordinary musical
importance in the royal house of Isabel, the Catholic, and
so we see, in 1493, that among the officials of the queen's
house, there appear various bow-guitar players, including
Rodrigo Donayre, who was rewarded with an annual salary of
30,000 maravedis (lowest denomination of Spanish coins).
heir of the Catholic Kings, the wasteful prince Don Juan who
received a fine musical training from his parents was, it
appears, an excellent player of the vihuela and other string
1493 were found in Rome, "some Spanish musicians-specialists
with string instruments, which they played with much art and
The vihuela possessed a means of expression that yielded
no advantage to the Lute and even surpassed it.
Spanish vihuelista from Luis Milan's EL Maestro. Courtesy
of the Trustees of the British Museum.
conclude, we discover that in the fifteenth century, the vihuela,
with its level sounding box, incurved sides, six rows of two
strings each, and ten frets, came to dominate the musical
atmosphere, and soon attained such a position that it relegated
to a secondary rank - when they did not disappear from the
scene entirely - the instruments with which the Spanish people
had lived and played for so many centuries. This is what happened
with the lute and Moorish guitar, "both having a curved sound-box,
mounted with four and three rows of strings, respectively"
(the lute then was distributed throughout Europe, while in
Spain, the vihuela possessed a means of expression that yielded
no advantage to the lute and even surpassed it. The Latin
guitar, with four rows of strings, remained in the hands of
the common people.) Up to this time the Latin guitar had played
an important part in the development of musical forms.
reality, "the Latin guitar is simply a vihuela lacking the
sixth and first strings" - says Bermudo in his "Statement
Latin guitar was "treated in two ways: in rasgueado and plucked
fashion. The common people made use of it in the first manner
to accompany, with simple chords performed in easy positions,
'musica golpeada' (beat music), as Bermudo refers to it. And
then in the same manner in which the guitarrilla (small guitar
with~ four strings) was played so often in Spain and Italy,
the Latin guitar was plucked when the individual player's
ability and judgment deemed advisable." (E. Pujol)