Luis Milán

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Luis Milán

Luis Milán (ca. 1500-c. 1561) was the earliest Spanish composer to publish a collection of secular music.

Luis Milán was born of noble parents at Valencia and presumably died there. His Libro de música de vihuela de mano; Intitulado El Maestro (1535/1536) was the first of the seven vihuela tablature books published in 16th-century Spain. He also published two other books: a book on parlor games for gallants and their ladies to play, Libro de motes de damas y caualleros; Intitulado el juego de mandar (1535), and El Cortesano (1561; The Courtier), an imitation of Baldassare Castiglione's popular etiquette book, Il Cortegiano (1528).

Like the other Spanish vihuela tablatures, El Maestro purports to be a self-instructing manual, easy pieces filling book I, hard ones book II. But unlike the others, it contains no transcriptions of other masters' works, and the top line of the six horizontal lines in the tablature refers to the highest-pitched course rather than the lowest. Dedicated to the Portuguese king João III, El Maestro is the only Spanish tablature that contains any Portuguese songs. In addition it includes six villancicos (polyphonic songs) and four romances in Spanish and six Italian sonetos. Although free of religious pieces, El Maestro does end with an elaborate explanation of the church modes in polyphonic music.

Forty fantasias, four tentos (alternately called fantasias, a word which for Milán means simply "product of the imagination"), and six pavanes interlard the vocal music in El Maestro. Alternate settings of ten of the vocal pieces allow the singer to improvise long virtuoso runs between lines of the text. Milán's pavanes, especially those on Italian lines, are the most transcribed and performed Spanish vihuela music of the Golden Age.

Milán's El Cortesano (dedicated to Philip II) pictures life a generation earlier at the Valencian court of Germaine de Foix and her third husband, Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria. In retrospect, Milán sees himself as arbiter elegantiarum at their polyglot court, where nearly everyone was a poetaster idling his time in hunts, biting repartee, jests, masquerades, and amorous escapades. Juan Fernández de Heredia, his defeated rival in one such escapade (described in El Cortesano, 1874 ed.), was the most famous Valencian poet of the time. In return for the snipings scattered through every day of the six into which El Cortesanois divided, Fernández de Heredia advised Milán to stick with the only art of which he was a master, vihuela playing (Obras, 1955 ed.). Dance pieces were his forte, not singing, and as a teacher Milán was guilty of neglect or even cruelty, claimed Fernández de Heredia.

Further Reading

Milán's El Maestro has been edited and translated by Charles Jacobs (1971) and has also been published in modern notation in an Italian edition (1965). Milán is discussed in John M. Ward, The Vihuela de Mano and Its Music, 1536-1576, New York University Ph.D. dissertation (1953). □