Asymmetric Thought: Italian Music for Guitar and Electronics (2 CDs + 1 DVD)

20.90 17.90

  • Artist(s): Davide Ficco
  • Composer: Alessandro Sciaraffa, Angelo “Motor” Comino, Angelo Benedetti, Azio Corghi, Davide Ficco, Gianluca Verlingieri, Giorgio Li Calzi, Giorgio Sollazzi, Giorgio Zucco, Giuseppe Gavazza, Luigi Giachino, Luis Milán, Marco Trivellato, Mirko Andreoli, Patrizio Barontini, Sergio Bertani, Simone Conforti, Stefano Giorgi, Valerio Sannicandro
  • EAN Code: 7.46160911489
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 DVD, 2 Cds
  • Genre: Chamber
  • Instrumentation: Electronics, Guitar
  • Period: Contemporary
  • Publication year: 2020
SKU: C00318 Category:

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Milán: Fantasia XVI nel V e VI tono
Corghi: Consonancias y redobles
Composed in 1973, Consonancias y Redobles, for one or more guitars with ad libitum magnetic tape, represents two of the principal aspects of the poetics of Azio Corghi (1937-) at their best. On the one hand he makes full use of the avant-garde language, and experimentally explores the possibilities of the “relationship sign/sound”, in Corghi’s own words; on the other, there are strong connections with the history of music of the past, through the continuing dissemination within the score of cultural archetypes shared with the audience. In the case of Consonancias y Redobles, the avowed reference is to the Spanish Renaissance music for vihuela de mano by Luis de Milán (b.1500-1561?), and in particular to his Fantasia XVI, part of a book by the title of El Maestro (1535-6). In the preface to this volume, Milán is one of the first authors in the history of music to give specific indications on performance tempi: the consonancias (i.e. chordal sections) will have to be played slowly, while the redobles (ornamented parts) should be performed quickly; this de facto introduces the concept of rubato. Corghi takes up the idea and expands it, translating it from the realm of musical tempo to those of space, of the thickness and static or mobile nature of sound events. These – as explained by the composer in the introductory notes – are determined, analogously to the performer’s behaviour, precisely by the kind of fragments excerpted from Milán. The consonancias generate “fixed elements like blocks of sound energy being dispersed” and the redobles are “mobile zones formed by sounding points articulated in space”. To this, the magnetic tape is added: for Corghi, it works as the “provoker” of sound events for the listener. This recording is the first in history to employ the original analogic audio materials for the electronic part; they were found by Corghi in 2017 and later digitized at the CSC of the University of Padua, and restored by myself. Entrusted by the composer, I freely employed the same materials for (re)composing a new version of the original tape, integrating it with elaborations of guitar samples recorded by Davide Ficco (2018). [G. V.]

Verlingieri: Resonancias y redobles
Starting from its very title, my composition reveals its connection with Consonancias y Redobles (1973-4) by Azio Corghi (1937-). My work shares with the earlier composition also its inspiration, coming from the Renaissance piece Fantasia XVI by Luis de Milán. I applied to the pieces by both Corghi and Milan some processes which are customary for my music and which I define as “analysis and re-synthesis”. I agree with Luciano Berio’s idea that the best way to analyze a piece is to write another. My piece therefore excerpts gestures and figures from Milán’s Fantasia, and develops them using harmonic fields derived from Corghi. Electronics tends to “enlarge” the guitar, empowering it from the technical and expressive viewpoint. It is like a virtual resonance pedal, similar to that of the piano, which not only prolongs the duration of guitar notes and chords (whose sounds normally decay quickly) but also transfigures its intonation, timbre and sound quality, as well as dramaturgically changing its spatialization. Resonancias y Redobles is a homage conceived for the eightieth birthday of Azio Corghi, one of my greatest mentors in the field of composition. [G. V.]

Gavazza: Dodici corde e mezzo
The “twelve and a half strings” (“dodici corde e mezzo”) are the guitar’s six strings, plus six virtual strings modelled with the software of synthesis for physical models GENESIS of the ACROE in Grenoble. With it, I also modelled a gigantic half-string, tuned 12 octaves lower than the acoustic guitar. Its harmonic movement is repeated every 48 seconds and it becomes audible because, plucking the six virtual strings, it generates the piece’s rhythm and form. The instrumental part is a Chaconne which resumes an essential compositional style inspired by Baroque music. The performer is allotted an extremely wide space for freedom and will play starting from the listening of the electronic component, played by a low-power system positioned in the same place where the unamplified guitar is played. This choice is not a new one, but an important one for me. Instead of raising the acoustic instruments to the level of the electronic sounds through amplification, I prefer to lower the electronic sounds to a chamber-music and acoustic level. In my writing, I resumed rhetoric formulae of instrumental embellishments, along with very scanty indications of time, modes of attack and dynamics. [G. G.]

Sannicandro: Illumina faciem
In Japanese culture, the concept of MA (間) represents a space-temporal gap; here it is thematized and realized according to a series of temporal intervals diving the (recorded) vocal sounds, which are short and percussive. A sixteenth-century composition is fragmented, atomized and corroded to the point that just some cells – the frictional moments of the consonants – are made audible in the part of the electronic sounds. This net of very short impulses is the skeleton of the parts of the two guitars, completing and sometimes mirroring the four channels of the electronic sounds, realizing an extremely abstract and expressively piercing mosaic. Just as the image of a face may be transformed from an intelligible being to a discontinuous and irreal figure, this short composition transforms the original musical aesthetics into a non-song, revealing an uncomfortable aspect of it and underpinning its disquieting and destabilizing feature. [V. S.]

Conforti: Nailar
It is a personal exploration around some acoustic phenomena typical for the guitar, and the attempt to counteract them with mechanisms of stimulation of the instrument, trying and overcoming its intrinsic limitations. It is also a way of thinking and creating music with an electronic rather than acoustic approach, through a gestural interface whose peculiarity is revealed. The instrument becomes the generator of sounds and structures which can be reorganized thanks to their sonic properties, rather than being referred to an instrumental tradition. The exploration takes form starting by rhythmic elements, emerging from the beats produced by the specifically adopted tuning, dividing the guitar strings in a kind of symmetry/asymmetry. By giving resonance to the instruments, I tried to invert the paradigm regarding its decaying, through particular techniques creating new forms of envelope, enlarged and extended through electronic elaboration. [S. C.]

Giorgi: Asymmetric thought
The world of new possibilities is asymmetric. It does not follow the logics of usual schemes. Thinking of new possibilities is asymmetric in turn. Creativity itself is an activity for creating something, but asymmetric thought is not creativity. Its goal is to create the possibility for new actions. Asymmetric thinking regards more closely the attitude, state of mind and modes of “being” than action. The right thing to do is frequently hidden because we do not analyse the hypotheses existing outside our normal thinking ways. Among the sounds of yaybahar, a submerged guitar emerges and sinks once more, cyclically but without repeating itself. The composition exploits the specific feature of Yaybahar in the version with three springs I realized: i.e., the capability of generating harmonic frequencies which are not entirely foreseeable and controllable. One begins with sounds created by rubbing the drum, which pass through the feedback triggered by the springs, stimulated by a contact transducer and a piezoelectric microphone. It continues by superimposing the notes of the harmonics of the free strings stroked by a bow, and concludes by getting back to the initial chaos.

Ficco: Aavaaye darun
The composition’s title is in the Farsi language, and it means “interior sound”, “sound coming from the inside”. The piece employs material derived from Persian holy tests (Avesta, Avadhuta Gita, gāthā XXVIII, The Lord’s Song) and from the Bible (Book of Job, First Speech by the Lord, 38.2-40.5). They are proclaimed by two female voices, with synthetic sounds and instrumental parts, all derived from a specific scale. They are played on a modified guitar which puts two long springs into vibration; they are connected to two dafs, the large and flat drums of the Persian tradition. The electronic elaborations are mainly excerpted from the speaking voices, solo or choral. Structured into two sections, plus a concluding one, Aavaaye Darun is based upon cycles of accumulation and release of dynamic tension, in an intertwining in which the guitar at first expresses itself in lonely solo episodes, and later enters into dialogue with the voice; alone once more, it will close the piece. My intention is to pay homage to the Zoroastrian cultural tradition of ancient Persia, and, more generally, to the holy tradition of Wisdom. [D. F.]

Sciaraffa: Fiorecalla
A world voraciously consumed by an unrespectful humankind. The remaining resources are polluted by a dissolute living. Note and timbres slowly decay in hints of melancholic melodies; cultivated and magmatic metallic vibrations sustain an unforeseen destiny. The piece was created out of an improvised interpretation without prewritten notes, and develops as a single act without any possibility of repeating it. It takes life from the Totem, which plays along with the classical guitar, the crotales and the ravens which awaited that day in the sky. This instrument has been conceived and built by me and is an interactive installation with artificial intelligence. It is made of a gong (whose diameter is one meter), mounted on a metallic structure incorporating a subwoofer coordinated by a sophisticated circuit with a digitally controlled capacitive system. The “Totem” is one of a series of resonance instruments realized since 2018. It takes life thanks to the interaction between my body and the bronze of the gong, following a principle of resonance going beyond us and representing life itself. [A. S.]

Andreoli: EA
The piece was born from an originating nucleus dating from 2010, built over a bass riff made of just three notes, with a repetitive and obsessive, though continuously evolving, nature. The general mood alludes to braindance and the electronic continuum is divided into three sections which approximate the golden section. The guitar opens the piece with a capricious beginning, then vanishes and re-emerges, in relief or hidden and ghostly, but always rhythmically tense. It is also given the task of closing the composition, evoking the touching principal harmonies while it disappears; by its entry, it delimits the extinguishment of the intertwined pattern of synthetic sounds, among which an estranged human voice also appears. The title EA refers to the eponymous Sumerian god, also known as Enki, son of Anu (An) and Namma (the Sumerian goddess of creation), belonging to the First Cosmic Triad, i.e. AN and his sons Enlil and Enki. Being segregated from the Upper Waters (Cosmos), EA inhabits the Lower Waters (the interior of the Earth); both are dwellings of the gods, whose exchanges of energy and contaminations I like to see represented in my composition. [M. A.]

Bertani: Brown
Brown is the meeting of two diametrically opposed ways of making music: Davide’s thoughtful, academic (no negative meaning intended), reflective one, and Sergio’s more sanguine and instinctive (no negative meaning intended) one. The piece was created in an improvisation session, in the dialogue between a baritone guitar, an electric bass guitar, a Theremin and numerous pedals and effects. The piece’s concreteness is realized afterwards, with a selection and later organization of the recorded material. The result is a bipartite structure made of two sections with an almost equal length, neatly separated by a commentary by Maestro Ficco. The title and the aesthetic concept are inspired by an episode of Fur TV, by the title of The Brown Note, whose protagonists discover by chance the legendary “brown note”, a sound capable of instantaneously producing laxative movements in the listener. The sounds refer to drone music, to noise and in general to Sergio’s musical background, connected to rock, metal and extreme music. [S. B.]

Li Calzi: L’equilibrista precario
The digital world created within a few decades a rapid revolution in the discographic market; however, new musical contingencies also generated changes outside and inside the recording studios. In general, therefore, ensembles nowadays record in studios, in live mode, the music which the ensemble will later perform live. Contrariwise, music purposefully produced in a studio is today at risk of becoming a surpassed practice. This does not apply, however, to Davide Ficco and to myself.
For example, I grew up listening to disks produced and mixed over months, chiseled mixing session after mixing session. For nearly twenty years I worked in a Salgari-like fashion, travelling with fantasy (or with what remains of it) and distance-working with musicians, i.e. exchanging (without too many direct contacts) the fundamental elements needed for assembling the music. Therefore, receiving this nice invitation from David, i.e. to work at distance in a moment when distances were particularly important, in a world which had been stopped by a virus, became not just an artistic occasion, but also a need, a salvation for us Salgarians. [G. L.]

Comino: Pressure
The end is a luxury car, smoothly and ghostly running through an empty parking of a mall. Crumpled advertisement leaflets, moved by the wind along the white lines of paths marked on the tarmac – Hamlet is the passenger – The car stops – And Hamlet cannot manage to quit thinking, due to the background noise assailing him from everywhere – tröpfchenweise – thoughts like bubbles of gas gurgling emerge from the bottom of a well – the clickety-clack of metal sheets under the sun – And the Death Dwarves appeared, jumping over the hood and making obscene gestures toward the passengers, showing their asses and dirtying the hood’s black polish – But Hamlet cannot quit thinking – and the rest counts no more – Drop over drop – And the Death Dwarves now are red-ass baboons – and Hamlet would like to cry, but perhaps not, it is too late, and there is nobody besides the Dwarves, not even somebody spying behind the parking’s architectural structures – Crumpled advertisement leaflets moved by the wind – Wait – Stars and stripes forever resounds under the concrete vaults. [A. C.]

Trivellato: Notturno
Elusive, vague, in the triple meaning of ineffable, erratic and wishful, this piece abandons itself to unexpected – and at the same time familiar – short epiphanies, and it does not wave aside in front of the snares of an incipient Romanticism. Its wandering and horizontal character is declared in its continuous flow; it ripples, it punctiliously shucks every chordal cluster it bumps into, so as to dilute all static aspects. In the same fashion, this Nocturne reveals its current attitude by surrendering (to cite but one instance) to the harmonic fascination of the fourths, which, as happens in the beginning, demonstrate a kind of pentatonic flavour for the guitar. It is a frugal compendium (an allusive rather than citational intertextuality) expressing itself in the naïve language of intuition, entirely comprehended within the attempt to represent, with a childish wonder, an uninterrupted becoming, where small luminous discoveries alternate with introspective episodes, peaks of excitement with moments of unconditional surrender. [M.T.]

Sollazzi: La Parete inquieta
Walls divide, but also reassure. One has only to think of the wall of the Warsaw Ghetto, of the Great Wall of China… Walls however are trespassed by sound, turning them into wall-strings of the universe or of our soul (see the theory by Gabriele Veneziano). Therefore, there is the metaphor of the relationship internal/external, we/the other. The writing for the guitar is solo, solo and orchestra, orchestra in itself; finally, almost all of the heard sounds derive from the performer, including breaths and sighs. The piece begins with a gigantic polyphonic summary of everything which will be developed. The culminating point, the Parete inquieta, is found in the position of the golden section. There is some shouting, a spoken/sung chorus as a metaphor of all walls. From now on, the piece undergoes heterogeneous forces, and in Ficco’s words, “inexpressible” ones. After a polyphonic stasis, the music tends to infinity, stretching its various sources apart: it accelerates toward the high pitches and diminuendo, and slows down toward the lower ones and crescendo. The means I employed for the elaboration are CSound, Adobe Audition, granular synthesis and trade secrets. [G. S.]

Giachino: Morire per imparare
In the second half of the Sixties, Roger Moog and Wendy Carlos, with their instruments, made the approach to electronics possible in every musical sector, though with diverse intentions and results. In the Eighties, the quest in the “cultivated” field was permanently flanked by that in the commercial field. In that particular historical moment, Davide Ficco asked me to write for a relatively new instrument, the Guitar Synth Roland 700™, created in 1984, which was the first commercial synthesizer built upon a dedicated guitar. In that same period I used to see Oberto Airaudi (1950-2013), a great and debated esotericist from Turin, who had recently issued Morire per imparare, a book about metempsychosis. My own Morire per imparare is grounded on a technique of musical transliteration – expanded through micro-canons – and aiming at involving the spectator within an aural plankton, suggestive and vaguely hypnotic. The 2018 reworking of the earlier material calls for the use of a classical guitar and of VST plug-ins. With respect to the first version the principal source is much more powerful and expressive, and the spatialization is richer and more efficacious. [L. G.]

Barontini: Preludio
Preludio for guitar and electronics explores the forms of resonance. A melodic line with fringed and unstable contours displays itself throughout the entire duration of the piece. Its bare simplicity leads the listeners to turn their attention toward the acoustic space surrounding them, and within which it lives. A mono-tonous harmonic field is therefore revealed, whose colour is only seemingly homogeneous. The environmental resonances, almost natural, reveal themselves at first in a discreet, imperceptible fashion, as if hiding themselves inside the guitar sounds. Later, in a more marked and evident fashion, they show a tendency to aggregate in autonomous forms, outlining a dialogue with the instrument, recalling, anticipating and responding to it. The real acoustic space, which is conveyed here by a multichannel system, reveals itself as having almost immobile contours, purposefully meagre and bare. The sounds populating it are constrained into a fixed position, a single perspective of action. It will be the listener’s task to find relationships and connections, i.e. what permeates with meaning the entire composition.

Zucco: In un’ombra apposita
This piece was generated from a guitar score divided into six sections, which we may consider as sheets of notes, sketches. Every sheet, lasting approximately 50/60 seconds, corresponds to an electronic texture; the performer can choose the material to play, in full or partially, and connect it freely. The fragments contained in each of the six sections alternate a traditional rhythmic writing with freer drawings, sometimes resembling improvisation. The encounter between the guitar and electronics aims therefore at creating a kind of a “fantastic resonance”, whereby the interpreter’s choices draw and give shape to the piece’s individual sections. The electronic part is realized starting from the elaboration of pre-recorded material performed on the guitar, together with synthetic sounds imitating the timbre of a guitar with nylon strings. These processes are entirely realized with SuperCollider™ controlled by Open Music™, an environment for computer-assisted composition. [G. Z.]

Benedetti: Promenades
Promenades originated in 2011, although in a form articulated differently from the present one, on the occasion of an exposition of paintings by artist Mauro Manini, with declamations by poetess Barbara Pinchi. The composition presents itself as a promenade, in fact, through the suggestions created by the guitar’s interventions. It relates itself with a pre-existing sound universe, organized in five distinct – yet enchained – tableaux. Different from the famous pages by Modest Petrović Musorgskij which inspired the title, here it is the use of the solo guitar which works as a connecting element among the various sections, and each intervention of the instrument differs from the others both in writing and in the choice of sound processing and electronics. Dialectical clash and fusion in an iridescent and heterogeneous unicum, which echoes the primeval visual suggestions and gives life to a sound body in continuous movement. [A. B.]

I wish to heartily thank all Composers who greatly honoured me by accepting my proposal to write a new composition for guitar and electronics, and I desire to equally thank those who offered me their previously composed pieces. Their dedications of several pieces to me are undeserved and flattering, but I accept them with humility and gratitude. I would like, however, to thank Maestro Azio Corghi particularly, for having presented us with the opportunity of working on his original electronics. Thanks to the Director of the Conservatory of Cuneo, M° Alberto Borello, who always supported the initiatives of METS and EASTN-DC with conviction. A particular thanks to Marco Barberis for his fundamental contribution towards the realization of my piece. Thanks to Marco and Simone Giordano for their work on the assigned material. Thanks to Marco Trivellato for his valuable and knowledgeable work on the multichannel and for authoring the DVD. Thanks to Sergio Bertani for the passion and creativity he lavished in his work on the images. Thanks to Pier Giuseppe Imberti for lending us his works and his atelier. Thanks to don Renzo Rivoiro for conceding us the Church of Colletto at Roletto (Turin, Italy). Thanks to Frédéric Zigante and Diego Milanese for their valuable advice and to Fabio Zontini, Vito Camastra, and Elena Bonaudo for their guitars. Thanks to Zaleh and Mehrnoosh for their voices. A very special thanks to Giuseppe Gavazza for having supported my (our) project from the outset, constantly helping me in the management of the work and in all kinds of choices. I must thank Gianluca Verlingieri in the same fashion for the same valuable and friendly support. Without their help, their advice and their words at the right moment, I doubt that this production could have reached its completion.

This album was recorded at the METS department of the Conservatory of Cuneo (Italia), with the exception of Asymmetric thought by Stefano Giorgi (Santuario della Beata Vergine del Colletto di Roletto, Turin, Italy, 1493) and Fiorecalla (atelier of Alessandro Sciaraffa, Turin, Italy); both were recorded with surround technics at five or six channels. We employed the following devices: Millenia Sound™, RME™, Schoeps™ and Sound Devices™. Monitoring were made on Meyer Sound™, Adam™ and Magneplanar™.


Davide Ficco was born in Turin in 1962. He received a diploma with honors in 1982 at the Conservatory of Alessandria with Guido Margaria, and pursued advanced studies with John Williams, José Tomàs, Betho Davezac, Jakob Lindberg, Oscar Ghiglia and Alain Meunier, obtaining, thanks to the latter, a grant from the CEE and two merit diplomas from the Chigiana Accademia of Siena, where he studied between 1982 and 1985. Later he studied electronic music and music pedagogy at the Conservatory of Turin. In 1989 he was awarded the title of Guitar Performer by the Royal College of Music in London. He won several prizes at national and international competitions both as soloist and in chamber groups (1978-83). Davide Ficco has collaborated with the Contemporary Music Group and the Symphonic Orchestras of the R.A.I. of Turin (1982-2011) and Milan (1990-1993), with the Teatro Regio of Turin, the Laboratorio Lirico of Alessandria, the Orchestra Sinfonica Italiana and the Filarmonica ‘900. He performs primarily modern and contemporary music and has made radio and television recordings for the R.A.I. including many world premiere performances. He has recorded for the labels Naxos, Tactus, Amadeus, Stradivarius, GuitArt and Oliphant mainly with music of the twentieth century. As a composer he has written music primarily for guitar, in part published by Gendai Guitar in Tokyo and Carisch (Milan).


Azio Corghi (b Ciriè, nr Turin, 9 March 1937). Italian composer. After starting out as a painter, he took diplomas at the Turin Conservatory in the piano (1961), composition (1965, studying with Bettinelli), choral music (1966) and conducting (1967), as well as polyphonic vocal composition (1969) at the Milan Conservatory. He came to prominence by winning the RAI-Ricordi competition (1967), the Gaudeamus prize (1969) and the Jeunesses Musicales prize (1972). Among his commissions are works for IRCAM (1982) and La Scala (1990). He taught composition at the conservatories in Turin (1967–71), Milan (1971–6) and Parma (1976–8), returning to a permanent appointment in Milan in 1978; in 1995 he began to teach at the Accademia di S Cecilia in Rome.

Corghi’s music retains two fundamental elements from an early interest in Berg and Debussy: contrapuntal textures and the manipulation of timbre. Rigorously organized, his pieces have experimented with avant-garde methods, including extended instrumental techniques and electro-acoustic elements, for example in Intavolature, ‘… in fieri’, Jocs floreal and Actus I. The voice took on greater importance in the 1970s (e.g. Symbola) as did folk music and poetry (e.g. Ninnios, Viòire). After Symbola (which involves a mime artist), the music-theatre piece Tactus and the ballet Actus III, he moved on to larger-scale compositions for the theatre, with Gargantua, Blimunda and Divara. Of great dramatic complexity, these works re-examine historical forms and styles through a modern perspective and with a keen critical sensibility.

Luis Milán (b c1500; d after 1560). Spanish musician and writer. He is best known as the author of the first printed vihuela music, the Libro de musica de vihuela de mano intitulado El maestro (Valencia, 1536/R1975; ed. R. Chiesa, Milan, 1965, and C. Jacobs, University Park, PA, 1971). Along with his earlier booklet, Libro de motes de damas y cavalleros, intitulado El juego de mandar (Valencia, 1535), it was composed during his residence at the Valencian court of Germaine de Foix, where he remained until at least 1538. Nothing of Milán's earlier life is known, although it is possible that he was the nobleman of the same name mentioned in Valencian documents in 1516. His last book, El cortesano (Valencia, 1561), clearly inspired by Castiglione, offers valuable insight into life at the Valencian court and Milán's own musical practice. With an air of self-assurance and conceit, Milán refers to himself in El maestro as a second Orpheus. Testimony to his musical ability is found in poems published in the 1560s by Juan Fernández and Gil Polo.

El maestro is the earliest Spanish collection of independent solo instrumental music and accompanied songs, and is the first printed Spanish tablature. It is also the earliest known music to provide verbal tempo indications. In most cases, a single tempo prevails throughout each piece, expressed in terms such as ‘algo apriessa’ (somewhat fast), ‘compás a espacio’ (a slow measure) or ‘con el compás batido’ (with an agitated beat). For works in the ‘gallant style’ (de tañer de gala), which alternate passages of chords and diminutions, he advocated a more flexible tempo in which ‘all that is chordal is to be played slowly and the diminutions fast, pausing briefly at each fermata’. El maestro is unique among Spanish tablatures in being notated in a similar way to Neapolitan tablatures with the highest line of the staff indicating the highest-pitched course.

The prefatory texts of El maestro, as well as its title ‘the teacher’, advertise that it was designed with a didactic purpose, with the pieces arranged in increasing difficulty following ‘the same manner that a teacher would do with a student who had never played’. Even the easiest pieces, however, call for considerable instrumental dexterity. The book instructs in the reading of tablature, selection of strings and the tuning of the vihuela. It also includes an explanation of the modes that specifies the superius rather than the tenor as the voice by which mode is determined. The book is further arranged symmetrically in two parallel libros, each of which is formed by a combined cycle of genres, modes, and styles: fantasias (modes 1–4), idiomatic works (modes 1–8), fantasias (modes 5–8), pavans (modes 1–8; only in bk 1), Spanish and Portuguese villancicos, romances, Italian sonnets. Despite its novelties, El maestro is also a unique link with past generations of instrumental improvisors. The style of Milán's music sets itself apart form the work of all later Spanish instrumental music and, according to the author's own testimony, it is the work of a self-taught musician, an improviser who composed directly on the vihuela, later committing his works to notation.

The largest group of pieces in El maestro is the 40 fantasias, designated as such by Milán because they ‘proceed from the imagination and industry of their author’. As the first known examples of their genre in Spain they display a high level of sophistication and stylistic maturity. They are composed of multiple independent episodes that achieve coherence through their narrative continuity. They are based on a simple rhetorical model and unified by strong adherence to the modes. Thematic material is derived from the composer's reservoir of improvisatory formulae, many of which recur almost identically in different works. These range from occasional passages of strict imitation to others based on idiomatic devices, chiefly passage work or occasionally arpeggios. Milán's textures usually evoke an imitative style, but they are most frequently crafted as pseudo-imitation, built from short, accompanied melodic units that are reiterated at different pitches or in sequences to create the illusion of an imitative texture. The fantasias follow a characteristic tripartite scheme, beginning with an extended episode based on imitation or a combination of polyphonic and idiomatic devices, and continuing with a series of shorter episodes. The final episode is nearly always repeated as a signal of approaching conclusion, and a brief coda is frequently added. This style and structure also applies to the tentos in the gallant style. Also designated as fantasias, because they are original works, the six pavanas are similarly composed, within the confines of the dance rhythm. Two of these are based on Italian melodies, and the final one, in triple metre, is given as a galliard in at least one other contemporary source.

Milán's songs are notated with the sung melody shown in the tablature in red. This is a clear indication that the vihuelist would normally also have been the singer; the pitch register of the sung part is often quite high. Milán described himself as singing to his own accompaniment on a number of occasions in El cortesano. The Spanish and Portuguese villancicos are settings of popular love poetry and follow the formal pattern ABBA. Two versions are provided for 10 of the 12 of them, simple homophonic settings in which the singer embellishes with ‘quiebros’ (trills) and ‘glosas’ (diminutions), and alternative versions where the vocal part is to be sung unadorned while the vihuela part is written with added rapid dimiutions. The romances also have embellished accompaniments. Three of them deal with frontier themes of the reconquest, while one is based on the siege of Troy. All the Italian sonnets are through-composed settings. In one of them, Madonna per voi ardo, Milán suggests that the diminutions may be omitted from the accompaniment. The only sonnet by a known poet, O gelosi d'amanti by Sannazaro, was also set as a vihuela song by Mudarra.

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