Luis de Narváez

Luis de Narváez was a Spanish composer and vihuelist. Highly regarded during his lifetime, Narváez is known today for Los seys libros del delphín, a collection of polyphonic music for the vihuela which includes the earliest known variation sets. He is also notable for being the earliest composer for vihuela to adapt the contemporary Italian style of lute music.

The exact date or even year of Narváez's birth is unknown. He was born in Granada and the earliest surviving references to him indicate that as early as 1526 he was a member of the household of Francisco de los Cobos y Molina, a well-known and very successful patron of the arts who was the secretary of State and comendador for the kingdom of Castile under Charles V. Narváez lived in Valladolid with his patron until the latter's death in 1547. It was during this period that the composer published Los seys libros del delphín (Valladolid, 1538), a large collection of music.

By 1548 Narváez was employed as musician of the royal chapel, where he also taught music to choristers. His colleagues there included the famous keyboard composer Antonio de Cabezón. Narváez and Cabezón were both employed as musicians for Felipe, Regent of Spain (later Philip II of Spain), and accompanied him on his many journeys. The last reference to Narváez is from one such journey: during the winter of 1549 he resided in the Low Countries.

Narváez was very highly regarded during his lifetime, particularly for his vihuela playing; he was reported to be able to improvise four parts over another four at sight. His son Andrés also became an accomplished vihuelist.

Narváez's most important surviving music is contained in Los seys libros del delphín (Valladolid, 1538), a six-volume collection of music for vihuela. The collection begins with a preface, in which the composer dedicates the work to his patron Francisco de los Cobos. A short text on notation follows (Narváez uses a slightly modified version of Italian lute tablature), then the table of contents and an errata sheet.

The first two volumes contain fourteen polyphonic fantasias, modelled after Italian pieces of the same kind. They are characterized by smooth, competent imitative writing in two and three voices. Occasionally Narváez resorts to using short motifs with identical left hand fingerings, probably reflecting the techniques he used for improvisation. The music reflects the influence of Francesco da Milano, whose works Narváez collected. The third volume of the collection is dedicated exclusively to intabulations of works by other composers: selections from masses by Josquin des Prez, the famous song Mille Regretz by the same composer (subtitled "La canción del Emperador", probably suggesting that it was Charles V's favorite song), and two songs by Nicolas Gombert and one by Jean Richafort. The second of the two songs is wrongly attributed to Gombert, it is a work of Jean Courtois. The intabulations are of high quality, but without any particular distinguishing features.

Volumes four to six have mixed content. The most important pieces are Narváez's six diferencias, or variations, the earliest known examples of the form. Narváez's models include both sacred (volume 4 only) and secular melodies, and the music stands out by virtue of a very wide palette of techniques. Apart from melodic variations, there are also two sets on ostinato harmonies: Guardame las vacas and Conde claros, both in volume six. The remaining music comprises villancicos, romances, and a Baxa de contrapunto.

With the exception of two motets, no other music by Narváez survives, although he must have composed a substantial amount of vocal music.

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
? Dos Fantasias 4.00 stars LP
Leo Brouwer - Guitar