Guitarra MagazineGuitarra Magazine HomeGuitars of SpainGuitar HistoryGuitar CatalogGuitar MuseumGuitar Photo Gallery
Up until 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.
The 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.

And 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.

For example, Alfonso V de Argon y Sicilia installed Rodrigo de la Guitarra, a Castilian instrumentalist, as counsel of the Castilians in Palermo, 1421.

The 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.
The 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)

With 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.)

In 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 and concerns.

With 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."

The 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).

The 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 instruments.

Around 1493 were found in Rome, "some Spanish musicians-specialists with string instruments, which they played with much art and sweetness."

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.
To 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.

In reality, "the Latin guitar is simply a vihuela lacking the sixth and first strings" - says Bermudo in his "Statement of Instruments."

The 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)