Dum Pater Familias (The Song of Compostela) (Anonymous)

Dum Pater Familias original music. Dum Pater Familias is a medieval liturgical chant found in the Codex Calixtinus, a 12th-century manuscript detailing all the information a pilgrim needed to know to complete El Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. The chant was first transcribed into modern notation in the late 19th century separately by José Flores Laguna and Guido Dreves. Since then, it has been retranscribed and arranged many times. Classical guitarists are most familiar with Kazuhito Yamashita's arrangement (unpublished, to my knowledge), which he recorded as The Song of Compostela. Also, it is sometimes referenced as El Canto de los Peregrinos (The Pilgrims' Canticle).

Like most medieval music, Dum Pater Familias is an untitled work. By convention, such untitled works are referred to by the first line of the first verse. In this case, the first verse of the chant is the following:

Dum pater familias
rex universorum
donaret provincias
jus apostolorum
Jacobus Yspanias
lux illustrat morum.

I have encountered many different English translations of the verse, the most accurate of which is, in my opinion, the following:

When God the Father,
King of the world,
apportioned his provinces
among the apostles,
He assigned James
to show the light to Spain.[1]

Much controversy surrounds how the music should be interpreted, given the ambiguities and inconsistencies of medieval neumatic notation. The excellent recording by Ensemble Organum was criticized for incorporating Eastern Church vocal interpretations. Authentic or not, the Ensemble Organum rendition is a masterwork of musicianship. I'm afraid the transcription I offer pales in comparison.

The song is deceptively simple. Its slow tempo makes it easy to play, but a challenge to interpret effectively. I have provided extensive left-hand fingering and positioning. I chose not to include right-hand fingering because it would clutter the page. Besides, you should find your right hand knows what to do naturally.

In measure 23, my intent is that instead of moving finger 2 from G on the second string to C on the first string, that you should bend the tip of the finger to stop the C on the first string. Unfortunately, there's no good way to notate that.

I have not included expressive or dynamic markings. The piece lends itself to a wealth of expressive and dynamic interpretive choices. One need not lock in a single interpretation when the piece is able to evoke many different emotions. Along the same lines, the tempo is merely a suggestion—the piece can be played faster or slower— and the ossias provide alternative ways of playing measures for variety. The principal challenge of playing the piece is maintaining rhythmic continuity to express the melody, which can get lost if you aren't careful.

Revision History

Added bracket to measure 23 to clarify intent to play the C by barring with the second finger instead of removing it from the preceding G.


Corrected note durations in arpeggios. Also corrected extent of arpeggio lines in ossias, which were not spanning highest note.


Changed fingering of A5 chord in measure 40 to use finger 3 instead of finger 2 to preposition fingers for measure 41.

[1] Liber Sancti Jacobi: Codex Calixtinus. Klaus Herbers and Manuel Santos Noia, ed., 1998.