Exploring the Renaissance on Classical Guitar

Below is a performance of Luis de Milan’s Pavana No.1 by Dave Belcher. It comes from our brand new course on Exploring the Renaissance on classical guitar at CGC Academy. This new course is co-taught by Nicoletta Todesco and Dave Belcher. It features 30+ pieces of music from three different genres: dances, songs, and instrumentals. This is a comprehensive look at music for the lute and vihuela from the Renaissance period. The course will introduce you to a ton of new music as well as using F# tuning, ornamentation and divisions, using the capo, stylistic elements, tablature, modes and harmony, and more. Join CGC Academy today to get access to the first four lessons that are already released, including this Pavana by Milan.


Pavana No.1 by Luis de Milan

Vihuela Music of the Renaissance

Luis de Milan’s El Maestro was published in 1536 as an instruction book for the vihuela da mano. The vihuela was a Spanish instrument similar to the lute, but smaller. The book consists of more than 40 fantasias, tentos, romances, villancicos, and songs. In the middle of the fantasias are six pavanas, which Milan also calls fantasias. He says the pavanas are Italian dances of a quick character. As a book of instruction, all of the music is meant to be progressive, and so Pavana no. 1 is the easiest.

Dance form and modality

There are several features of this work that prove challenging. First, it is a pavana, and so it is important to capture the dance feel. A pavana was typically a slow processional dance from Padua in Italy. Milan indicates that the tempo should be “compás algo apresurado,” which means a somewhat hurried tempo. In modern terms we might think of this similar to Andante. In addition, for each of the six pavanas, Milan indicates what mode or “tonos” it is in. Pavana 1 mixes modes 1 and 2, Dorian and Hypodorian. To simplify matters, you can consider the piece to move around a key center of A minor, but with F#’s throughout. However, you will also encounter other accidentals in the piece, owing to something called “musica ficta” where composers and performers would add accidentals to alter the character of a note or notes, usually at cadences.

Performance considerations

Because Milan considers the pavanas to be “fantasias” the writing is very similar: it features several themes that are developed through intricate polyphonic textures. Once again, then, paying close attention to voicing and legato is very important for succeeding with this music. Milan tells us that his vihuela is tuned to “A,” which you can approximate by placing a capo on the 5th fret, but you may find that you get more resonance out of the instrument by using a capo at the 2nd fret. However, use of the capo is completely optional (though it does make some stretches considerably easier). Standard tuning works a bit better for this piece than Renaissance F# tuning.