Drawing Threads 2020

In response to the UK’s imminent exit from the EU violinist and nyckelharpa player Griselda Sanderson has devised a year-long project – Drawing Threads 2020.

Throughout the year she will be following filaments of European music that cross her path. Cultures, traditions and languages cross borders. These in turn are perpetually drawn and re-drawn, and her musical explorations will reflect that.

The journey has already begun with a piece from renaissance Seville – formerly the capital of a Moorish Taifa – written for the vihuela (a precursor of the guitar) imitating a harp and arranged for nyckelharpa. Month by month she will add to her discoveries, recording and posting each piece as the year progresses while she explores the highways and byways of Europe.


‘Fantasia, Which Imitates the Harp of Ludovico’ ( Fantasia X ) by Alonso de Mudarra publ. 1546 

Alonso de Mudarra (1510-1580) was born in Guadalajara, Spain. He spent the latter part of his musical life directing music at the cathedral in Seville after spending some time in Italy. This piece is in his book Tres libros de musica en sifra para vihuela, published in 1546. Mudarra played the Vihuela, (the precursor to the Spanish guitar). It had six double courses of strings, each pair tuned in unison. Unusually, this piece imitates the style of a famous contemporary harpist of the time named Ludovico. Griselda’s interpretation, therefore, is the nyckelharpa imitating the vihuela imitating a harp.

Video of ‘Fantasia X’ by Alonso de Mudarra of Seville arranged for nyckelharpa & recorded in January 2020 by Griselda Sanderson in Berry Pomeroy Church, UK
The Guadalupe vihuela: one of the few surviving instruments from the C15th
Orpheus playing a 6-course vihuela, from Luis Milan’s El Maestro (1536)

This era was the golden age for merchants in Seville as the Americas had recently been ‘discovered’. By the time of Mudarra’s death he was a wealthy man, and his fortune is said to have been distributed amongst the poor of the city

‘Musical Group’ by Mudarra’s contemporary Callisto Piazzada-Lodi (Italy, 1524)

“To arrange this fantasia for nyckelharpa (37 keys in 3 rows, tuned from bottom to top DGDA) I changed the key from the source notation (in The Renaissance Guitar transcribed by Frederick Noad, 1974) to get as many open strings as possible, ensuring the sympathetic strings would resonate in their best ‘alla-harpa’ style. I wanted each arpeggio in the first section to begin loud, but fade even as each note was added. The dynamics in this section are therefore quite unlike contemporary Spanish guitar versions.

An example of Mudarra’s notation from Tres libros

“The opening arpeggiated passages and string-crossing section later on suit the nyckelharpa, but other parts presented some difficulties. At one point in the manuscript Mudarra’s notes state “from here to near the end there are some discords, if played well they do not sound bad”. In this section some notes had to be missed out. This was because the tuning and arrangement of keys on the nyckelharpa meant certain passages couldn’t be played on adjacent strings as required, e.g. the section with the rising bass line. I did my best to maintain the essence of the music.

Workings for the nyckelharpa arrangement of ‘Fantasia X’ by Mudarra

“The recording technician for this piece was Louis Bingham and the recording location was St Mary’s Church, Berry Pomeroy. The church was built in the 1490’s by Sir Richard de Pomeroy. Its foundation stone would have been laid at about the same time that Columbus made his first journey to America and just fifty years before this piece by Mudarra was published, so it seemed like an appropriate location for the recording. 

“The panels of the mediaeval rood screen depict ‘apostles, saints and doctors of the church’.

The images are believed to have been defaced during the English Civil War, around 1640 by Oliver Cromwell’s Roundhead Troops.

Rood screen images from the church in Berry Pomeroy

” By chance I chose Mudarra’s piece for January, and there is an important connection between the UK and Seville during this month – marmalade. Bitter oranges were originally native to southeastern Asia and had been growing wild for centuries. They were introduced to Spain by the Moors in the C10th when the Taifa of Seville was an Arabic kingdom. In the C12th a cross between a pomelo and mandarin began to be cultivated in Seville. These fruits became known as Seville oranges and were imported to England and Scotland from the late C15th onwards. In England sweets made of orange peel and sugar brought from Britain’s colonies in the C17th developed into the manufacture of marmalade. In December and January the fruits appear, and almost all those from Seville’s 31,000 trees are now exported to the UK for marmalade making. Interestingly, in Iberia the conserve is made from quinces (marmelos), not oranges, and the name marmalade derives from that fruit, not oranges. “

Seville orange marmalade made in January 2020

The orange grove that provided the fruits for the marmalade pictured above