Fantasía by Alonso Mudarra

Que contrahace la harpa en la manera de Luduvico.

I have converted all Castilian to use modern orthography.

Classical guitar Fantasía que contrahace la harpa en la manera de Luduvico is a work composed by Alonso Mudarra for the vihuela and published in 1546. It is often referred to as Fantasía X or Fantasía 10 because it is the tenth fantasy in the table of contents of Tres libros de música en cifras para vihuela.[1] As is the case with much older music, the piece doesn't have a proper title. Instead, the title describes the type of piece—a fantasy—along with a description that may set it apart from other works of the same type. I say may because multiple works may use the same descriptive text. For example, in the table of contents of Tres libros de música en cifras para vihuela there are two works listed as Otra fantasía (Another fantasy) and two more listed as Otra fantasía fácil (Another easy fantasy). Such works can be distinguished from each other by their folio number or by assigning a number based on the order of appearance compared to other works of the same type.

In the case of Tres libros de música en cifras para vihuela, the descriptive text que contrahace la harpa en la manera de Luduvico (that imitates the harp in the style of Luduvico) explains the artistic intent of the fantasy—to imitate the harp-playing of Luduvico. The Luduvico in question is most likely Luduvico el del Arpe who served Ferdinand II of Aragon.[2] His name is more commonly spelled Ludovico or Lodovico, but Mudarra spelled it with two u's. Luduvico was a celebrated harpist who used chromatic dissonances in his playing. Mudarra's Fantasía replicates this style and even includes the following cautionary note toward the end of the piece:

Desde aquí hasta cerca del final hay unas falsas; tañéndose bien no parecen mal.

In English:

From here to near the end there are some dissonant notes; played well they are not displeasing.

In addition to the above caution, the piece itself is preceded by the following guidance: Es difícil hasta ser entendida (It's difficult until fully understood). The same can probably be said of any piece of unfamiliar music, but in this case it is particularly informative about the era of the work. The music was likely quite different from anything yet composed for the vihuela. It sounds quite modern to 20th and 21st-century ears and may have sounded strange to the 16th-century musician and audience. If you find the style unfamiliar, you have the benefit of being able to listen to recorded performances. I recommend listening to Julian Bream's performance on the lute (I think it's better than his later vihuela recording), even though it gets one measure of music wrong (more on that later).

Figure 1. Original Tablature
Measures 41–44 in original tablature.

The original tablature calls for E and A be played together (in measure 42 of my transcription) instead of in sequence.

I transcribed this piece from the original vihuela tablature, using a copy of Tres libros de música en cifras para vihuela (1546) from the Biblioteca Nacional de España. My transcription is for the guitar and does not require you to retune the third string to F♯. I have arranged the piece to be played using arpeggios as much as possible instead of the non-overlapping notes specified in parts of the original tablature. Although sometimes more difficult to play, this approach produces better results on the guitar. The vihuela used two strings per course and could probably produce sufficient resonance when played one note at a time. But even Julian Bream's lute peformance—the lute also using two strings per course—relied heavily on reverb (natural or otherwise) and the instrument's resonance to create a rich sound. In order to evoke the harp-playing the piece imitates, arpeggios suit the guitar well, allowing notes to ring one on top of another.

Of special note are measures 41–42, which you will almost always hear played incorrectly as a result of the plagiarizing of transcription errors or editorializations common in the music publishing industry. If you look at the actual tablature in Figure 1, measure 42 of my transcription is correct, where the E (2nd fret fourth string) and A (open fifth string) are played together instead of in sequence, as commonly played.

When playing this piece—at least with the fingerings in this edition—it is especially important to place your fingers in position as you are playing. In many instances, you will want to leave a finger in place as long as possible before moving it, ensuring a note sounds to maximum duration. At various points you will have to make use of hinge barres. Although what to do should be readily apparent, I will counsel that when playing the open D in measures 65 and 67 you should keep your first finger in a second position barre and angle the finger off the strings, keeping the base of the finger down on the F♯. That allows you to bring the barre back down onto the strings to play the subsequent E. Also, in measure 73, play the third-string A by using a hinge barre, keeping the first finger on the fourth-string E. It is possible to play that sequence without a barre, using the third finger for the C, the first finger for the E, and the second finger for the A, but that makes it less comfortable to move into position for the first chord of the next measure. Play it whichever way works best for you.

Revision History

Regenerated output after fixing LilyPond 2.19.x rendering of vertical stroke through half-barre symbol. The parameters used for LilyPond 2.18.x produced a stroke that extended too far below the C in LilyPond 2.19.x.


Explicitly notated hinge barre in measure 73.


Changed left-hand fingering in measure 41.


Changed left-hand fingering in measures 71 and 73.


First draft. Contains notes and initial fingering. Later revisions may correct discovered errors, change fingering, improve legibility of the engraving, and make other editorial changes.

[1] In English: Three books of music in tablature for the vihuela.

[2] See Instrumentalists and Renaissance Culture, 1420-1600: Players of Function and Fantasy, Victor Coelho and Keith Polk, Cambridge University Press, 2016, p. 99.