Music Of Diego Ortiz: Transcribed For Cello

Diego Ortiz (approx. 1510–1576) was a Spanish composer and music theorist who worked in Naples. Ortiz published the very first manual on ornamentation for bowed string instruments, but the following transcriptions for cello come from his Trattado de Glossas (modern Spanish spelling Tratado de Glosas) published in Rome in 1553. The word “glosas” certainly shares the same root as our english word “glossary” and this “Tratado” can be looked at perhaps as a scientific treatise/compendium. While the first part of the publication is dedicated to compositional techniques, the second part is made up principally of short compositions (that he calls “Recercadas”) for viola da gamba. His use of the word “Recercadas” could be interpreted/translated as “Improvisations”, “Fantasias” or “Variations”.” Ricercare” in italian means “to look for (again)” and we can be sure that the english word “research” shares the same latin root.

The first group of four Recercadas are unaccompanied. Then comes a second group of six over a long (37 notes) simple bass line in constant whole-notes (Canto Lano = Plainsong) known apparently as “La Spagna”. Ortiz then offers some Recercadas over two famous madrigals of his time, “Doulce Memoire” (Sweet Memory) and “O Felici Occhi Miei” (Oh My Happy Eyes). Closing the collection is a series of eight Recercadas composed over relatively simple shorter four-part harmonic progressions (“Tenores”), some of which were sufficiently well-known to have names.

Ortiz’s use of barlines was occasional and irregular but in the “Performance Version” transcriptions, barlines have been systematically added in order to make the reading easier. The barlines that have been added in these cellofun editions give the music a rhythmical definition that is not present in most of the original notation. The placement of the new barlines and the choices of bar lengths have been made with the intention of helping the player, but when we play this music it is probably a good idea to imagine it without any barlines.

The system of major and minor keys to which we are so accustomed was only really established in the Baroque period, from around 1600. In the period in which Ortiz wrote these works (1553) the scale systems were modal, which gives rise to many curious situations in which our “modern” ear would like to change many of Ortiz’s notes to make them fit into our concepts of harmony and major/minor scales. Did Ortiz make notation mistakes (who doesn’t?), occasionally forgetting to write in sharps, flats and naturals, or did he really want every one of these “strange” dissonances? This is a very typical “Urtext” problem: do we do exactly as the original manuscript says, or do we trust our intuition and (limited) intelligence?

Be aware also that Ortiz uses no slurs or doublestops/chords in the gamba part. We have added some short slurs occasionally in order to give a little more variety to the articulations.

All of the accompaniments (and the four-part madrigals) can be played on a keyboard (preferably harpsichord), plucked string instrument (guitar, harp, lute etc) or by a string quartet.

These works are considered one of the first-ever masterpieces of literature for the viola da gamba and many of them, when played on the cello, are not only delightful for their rhythmic and melodic invention but are also appropriate for players of almost any level of cellistic accomplishment. What’s more many of them can be played equally successfully at just about any speed (as fast pieces or as slow pieces).

It may seem surprising that in this publication (Trattado de Glossas), the “Madrigal Recercadas”, which are composed over much longer (and more complex) harmonic/contrapuntal structures (the madrigals), come before those written over the more simple “tenores” (harmonic accompaniments). But when we play these final “Recercadas sobre Tenores” we quickly realise why they are placed at the end: these are astonishing masterpieces of invention and expressivity, and a fitting close for a monumental musical treatise. We have chosen to present them here at the beginning of our collection, because in that way we start with the best, most attractive works.


The chord progressions (Tenores) over which these Recercadas are written are of different lengths and, in each piece, tend to repeat several times. This characteristic could make them sound somewhat like Chaconnes or a Passacaglias were it not for the fact that these structural moments are often not very noticeable, the melodies flying right over the harmonic structure (which is one of the elements that make this music so attractive and captivating). Double bars have been used to indicate the ends and beginnings of these harmonic repetitions.

These delightful pieces are offered also in an “Equal Duo” version in which the harpsichord and cello share the “melody” line. This not only makes them more interesting for the harpsichord player but also perhaps for the listener. In some of these “Equal Duo” arrangements, we have allowed ourselves the freedom to add some additional improvisations (both for the cello and for the keyboard) on top of the existing music. These are always indicated as being of “cellofun” origin.

If it wasn’t for the ultra-simple harmonies, this music often looks, sounds – and swings – like jazz or the most inventive pop music. With its abundance of syncopations, perhaps the best stylistic definition of these Recercadas would be “Renaissance Rhythm-and-Blues”!


This seems to be a slow, gentle, melancholy piece, all in a minor key, which is why in the Edited Version we never go onto the A-string, preferring instead to stay on the gentler D-string.

The repeating harmonic structure in this Recercada is eight bars long and repeats itself seven times.

Even though we are at least 50 years before the standardisation of the use of minor and major scales, this Recercada sounds very much in the key of G minor but is notated with only one flat. This seems strange but was apparently standard practice. Even Bach, 70 years later, wrote the G minor unaccompanied violin sonata with a D minor key signature (thus always having to notate the Eb).  He did exactly the same in Minuet II of the First Cello Suite (the key signature is D minor but the real key is G minor). This practice doesn’t cause any problems with the E’s in this Recercada because there are only five of them and they are all naturals.

Edited Version    Clean Version      Keyboard Score

A play-along audio of the accompaniment, “played” on the harp,  can be found here below. If we actually download it then we can play it at different tempi with the wonderfully useful and simple Amazing Slowdowner program. This possibility is especially useful in Renaissance music because so much of the music of this period can be played at very different speeds:


Recercada Nº 1 as Equal Duo: Cello Part     Recercada Nº 1 as Equal Duo: Keyboard Score


What a contrast with the preceding Recercada! Now we are in a major key and this piece is VERY lively. Listen to this brilliant recording, played by recorder and lute, to get an idea of just how lively this piece can be! This is a piece to dance to and is in such a “folk/popular/festive” spirit that we can easily imagine it played by a country/irish fiddler. This piece is so delightful, and so fast, that we have chosen to repeat it.

For such a scholarly character Ortiz must have had a very good sense of humour. One can easily imagine the smile on his face as he gleefully mixed up the F sharps and naturals in this sparkling Recercada. He may have had a twinkle in his eye as he was composing it but we players have a perplexed look on our faces as we study it because many of his F naturals sound to our ears very much as though they would rather be F#’s. He notated it without any sharps in the “key signature”, indicating every F# with an accidental. whereas we notate it here in G major, indicating the F naturals with an accidental. In the Performance Versions offered below we follow our instincts, converting many of Ortiz’s F naturals into F sharps, thus making the piece sound very much in G major (rather than in some strange mode alternating with G major). We also, therefore, offer the Literal Transcription with all the F’s exactly as Ortiz notated them so that you can decide for yourself which of his F naturals to sharpen. This Literal Version copies also his non-existent barlines, lack of a key signature, and his notation with all note lengths doubled. It doesn’t however copy his use of clefs.

In this Recercada the repeating harmonic accompaniment is eight (cellofun) bars long and is repeated six times. Apparently, this is a well-known harmonic progression/foundation with the name “Passamezzo Moderno”.

    Edited Version      Clean Version     Literal Transcription     Keyboard Score

Here below are two play-along audio of the accompaniment, “played” on the guitar. The first is fast, while the second is at a moderate speed. If we actually download them then we can play them at any speed with the wonderfully useful and simple Amazing Slowdowner program:



      Recercada Nº 2 as Equal Duo: Cello Part      Recercada Nº 2 as Equal Duo: Keyboard Score


In this Recercada the music is so rhythmically inventive (with varying phrase lengths and unexpected agogic accents) that there are frequent moments in which the time signature (bar lengths) needs to change between binary and ternary, and then back again. The repeating harmonic accompaniment here is nine (cellofun) bars long and is repeated seven times.

    Edited Version   Clean Version     Keyboard Score

Here below is a play-along audio of the accompaniment, “played” on the harp.


          Recercada Nº 3 as Equal Duo: Cello Part        Recercada Nº 3 as Equal Duo: Keyboard Score


In this Recercada the repeating harmonic accompaniment is sixteen (cellofun) bars long and is repeated three times.

 Edited Version       Clean Version        Keyboard Score

Here below is a play-along audio of the accompaniment, “played” on the harp.


           Recercada Nº 4 as Equal Duo: Cello Part    Recercada Nº 4 as Equal Duo: Keyboard Score

 Recercada Nº 4 as Equal Duo With A Cellofun Improvisation: Cello Part

Recercada Nº 4 as Equal Duo With A Cellofun Improvisation: Keyboard Score


This Recercada has a very similar melody to Recercada Nº 2 but is in the minor key. With its many 16th notes in the second half, it needs to go much slower because if we start off at a lively speed we will not be able to keep up later. In fact, in our recorded accompaniments, this Recercada goes at less than half the speed of its major-key sibling (BPM 110 versus 250). The repeating harmonic accompaniment here is eight (cellofun) bars long and is repeated nine times, which makes this Recercada somewhat like a Chaconne or a Passacaglia.

   Edited Version    Clean Version      Keyboard Score

Here below are two play-along audio accompaniments, “played” on the harp. The second accompaniment file plays Ortiz’s original rhythmic notation, but playing this version, with a tie over every second barline, can be very dangerous because there are not enough rhythmic references and we can easily get lost with all our semiquavers, syncopations and cross-rhythms. For this reason, we offer our first audio accompaniment in a version with no ties. This means that we hear the first beat of every bar, which makes it easier to know where we are at all times. Once we are used to playing with this first accompaniment, we can “graduate” to the second, original version.



  Recercada Nº 5 as Equal Duo, With Cellofun Improvisations: Cello Part

Recercada Nº 5 as Equal Duo, With Cellofun Improvisations: Keyboard Score


Ortiz notated this with only one flat but the music seems to want to be played (heard) with Eb as well. If we play it according to the original notation we will have to play always E naturals in the melodic lines, which sound very strange everywhere except for in bar 30. Quite possibly this is a deliberate modal effect, but we have preferred to notate the entire Recerada in Bb major, with all melodic E’s played as Eb’s (except for bar 30). In this Recercada the repeating harmonic accompaniment is 16 (cellofun) bars long and is repeated three times.

Edited Version   Clean Version   Keyboard Score

Recercada 6 as Equal Duo: Cello Part     Recercada Nº 6 as Equal Duo: Keyboard Score


This Recercada is also notated with a key signature of only one flat (Bb) with some suspicious-sounding E naturals at the beginning (in bars 2 and 9). But afterwards it is clear that the E’s must be naturals so there is no need (or even temptation) to change the key signature to Bb major as we did in the previous Recercada. In this Recercada, the repeating harmonic accompaniment is 24 (cellofun) bars long and is repeated three times.

Edited Version    Clean Version      Keyboard Score

Recercada 7 as Equal Duo: Cello Part        Recercada Nº 7 as Equal Duo: Keyboard Score


Once again, we have doubts about whether many of the F’s and E’s should be sharps, flats or naturals. Ortiz plays with these changes a lot but often we feel that he could have added more alterations. Bars 4, 25, 28, 35.37 and 57-58 are the principal areas of doubt. In this Recercada, the repeating harmonic accompaniment is 32 (cellofun) bars long and is repeated twice.

Edited Version      Clean Version   Keyboard Score

Recercada Nº 8 as Equal Duo: Cello Part      Recercada Nº 8 as Equal Duo: Keyboard Score



Here, the Recercadas are on top of a simple skeletal bass line, which we have harmonised in the most simple way(s) possible. This bass line is the same for all six Recercadas but the actual chord we put on top of each bass note can vary in the different Recercadas according to their differing  melodies, for example:

  1. in bar 28, on top of the bass note “D”, we use a 2nd inversion G minor chord for the first Recercada, but in all the other Recercadas we use a root-position D minor chord
  2. in bar 29, on top of the bass note “F”, we use F major for Recercadas II, IV, V and VI but D minor (first inversion) for Recercada I and, in Recercada III the harmony over the bass note actually changes halfway through the bar (Bb 2º inversion followed by F)
  3. in bar 30, over the bass note “E “, we use A major in Recercada I, E minor in Recercadas II and V, and C major (first inversion) in Recercadas III, IV and VI.

The diagonal slash after some of the chord symbols indicates that the chord is in an inversion. The letter after the slash indicates the bottom note of the chord, while the letter before the slash indicates the tonality of the chord. So “C/E” means a C major chord with an E on the bottom (= a first inversion) etc. The accompaniments can be played on any chordal instrument, and, in a way similar to a jazz chart, other melodic instruments can add their improvisations.

Six Recerdadas on the Canto Llano “La Spagna”: Cello Part

Six Recerdadas on the Canto Llano “La Spagna”: Chordal Accompaniment Score


Here the repeating harmonic accompaniment (the entire madrigal) is 58 (cellofun) bars long and Ortiz offers four different Recercadas to be played on top of it. This is somewhat similar to Gounod’s superimposition of his “Ave Maria” melody onto Bach’s First Keyboard Prelude.

Improvisations Over The Madrigal “Doulce Memoire”: Cello Part

Improvisations Over The Madrigal “Doulce Memoire”: Keyboard Score


Quinta Pars: Cello Part      Quinta Pars: Keyboard Score



Wind and brass instruments (and the voice) are truly monophonic and therefore unable to make use of doublestops and/or chords to sound the harmonic structure underlying an unaccompanied melody. String instruments however, with their multiple strings can, and usually do, make use of these strings to play chords and double-stops in order to show the implied harmonies under their unaccompanied “melodies”. This is why the total lack of doublestops and chords in these unaccompanied recercadas is quite surprising. This absence of implied harmonies, combined with the lack of barlines and clear rhythmical structure may make us feel a little lost: as though we were in a world of free, declamatory improvisation that we tend to associate more with avant-garde experimental music or exotic non-european music. This “strangeness” is the reason why only one of these unaccompanied Recercadas has been transcribed here. The sheet music for the others is available on


In Ortiz’s notation of this piece (see the Literal Transcription), the bar lines are extremely irregular. While he starts and finishes with bars of four quarter-note beats, in the middle section we have bars of 8, 12, 16 and even 20 beats. At least these bars are all multiples of 4, but there is also one bar of 3 beats, right next to a bar with 5 beats. So we have many questions: why did he not combine those two measures into one of 8 beats ??? are his prolonged sections without barlines his way to indicate a longer phrase ?? why does he never write a syncopation over a barline, preferring instead to eliminate the barline (or move it by one beat to before or after the syncopation) ??

As usual for his Recercadas in a minor key, we might have many doubts about a lot of the sixths of the scale (in this case, the “E’s”). While the piece starts and finishes in a definite G minor tonality, it is notated with only one flat and the Eb is only used rarely.

Edited Performance Version         Clean Performance Version        Literal Transcription