Edited by Christian Goursaud and Ronald Woodley

First published: 18 December 2020
Last revised: 18 December 2020


This online edited collection of essays and studies consists primarily of significantly expanded, revised and enriched versions of papers originally read at the conference ‘Johannes Tinctoris and Music Theory in the Late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance’, 9–10 October 2014, in the Chancellor’s Hall, Senate House, University of London. This conference was organized by the editors as part of the AHRC-funded research project ‘The Complete Theoretical Works of Johannes Tinctoris: A New Digital Edition’ (2011–14), and was supported by Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in collaboration with the Institute of Musical Research. The collection includes additional contributions that do not derive from papers read at the conference and which are provided to enhance coverage of Tinctoris’s biography and the history of the principal manuscript sources of his theoretical works.

Part One: Reading Tinctoris

1. Jeffrey J. Dean, ‘Tinctoris’s Reading Practice: De inventione et usu musice and his Greek Authorities

Johannes Tinctoris famously cited actual musical works in order to interrogate them as witnesses of compositional and notational practice. But his citations of literary works were less critical; he treated them as authorities, to be invoked, not questioned. There was a major qualitative change in the range of works he drew upon, which coincided with the final phase of his work on De arte contrapuncti (completed 11 October 1477). He began to cite many more ancient writings, especially Greek ones. He nearly always quoted exactly enough to identify precisely which printed Latin translations of Greek writings he used. His use of Eusebius’ Praeparatio evangelica (Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 1470) proves that the manuscript excerpts of his De inventione et usu musice cannot have been written earlier, and must be coeval with the printed excerpts of 1482×3. He did not employ the humanistic periodization of history into antiquity, the middle ages, and rebirth, but articulated history sociologically in a characteristically medieval fashion.

2. Stefano Mengozzi, ‘Dahlhaus’s Principles and Tinctoris’s Ears: Music Theory as Rhetoric

We may read the music theory of the past ontologically, i.e. as the factual articulation of the musical principles that actively inform a given musical culture, or rhetorically, i.e. as delivering forms of musical knowledge rooted in creative intuition, and subject to linguistic conventions and disciplinary interests shared by changing communities of readers. By the former method – arguably adopted in Carl Dahlhaus’s Studies on the Origins of Harmonic Tonality – the history of music theory is the history of musical ontologies that are ipso facto ushered into being by the emergence of new concepts and labels. By the latter, it is the history of culturally contingent and experience-based conceptualizations of musical patterns, objects, and choices understood as preter-linguistic and trans-historical. Such alternative approaches to language may be a function of authors as much as readers: Johannes Tinctoris at times appears to ascribe ontological weight to language; elsewhere, however, he wields it rhetorically, as a means of persuading his readers of the soundness of his musical judgments – offering new music-theoretical insights along the way.

3. Adam Whittaker, ‘Reading Tinctoris’s Readers: Hints at Musical Reading Practices in Johannes Tinctoris’s Notational Treatises’ (forthcoming)

Tinctoris’s theories and comments on fifteenth-century musical practice are well known to scholars of medieval and renaissance music theory. His characteristic zeal for theoretical precision in some respects and his exhaustive treatment of notational topics render him at once one of the most devoted admirers and most outspoken critics of fifteenth-century compositional practice. Despite the scholarly interest in Tinctoris’s theoretical works and some detailed study of the surviving manuscript sources, understanding the likely readerships for his treatises has proved more elusive. This chapter considers the extent to which clues left in Tinctoris’s texts and musical examples can help us to better understand the readerships for – and reading modalities associated with – such texts. It examines a range of different examples from Tinctoris’s texts, and considers these through the lens of the famous frontispiece to the Valencia codex depicting Tinctoris at work as a musical reader, raising key questions around the practices of musical reading in the late fifteenth century.

Part Two: Modal and Contrapuntal Theory

4. Alexander Morgan, ‘The Tacit Principles of Tinctoris’s Interval Successions’ (forthcoming)

Medieval and renaissance counterpoint treatises offer a practical guide to composing and improvising polyphony that respects stylistic norms. These counterpoint treatises are also replete with theoretical implications and can serve as a penetrating window into renaissance musical thought, training, and style. Sarah Fuller has described Tinctoris’s Liber de arte contrapuncti as a ‘culmination of contrapunctus theory from the preceding two centuries’, underlining its importance to our understanding of the period. In this chapter I re-examine De arte contrapuncti in order to rectify the common misconception that its interval-succession list is exhaustive, and to reveal nine tacit contrapuntal principles that Tinctoris systematically followed in the examples in the treatise. In addition to providing insight into Tinctoris’s intervallic thinking, my methodology also serves as a general model for taking a corpus-study approach in researching the examples in counterpoint treatises in order to enrich our understanding of them.

5. Ian Lorenz, ‘Johannes Tinctoris and the Shifting of the Phrygian Paradigm’ (forthcoming)

Part Three: Theory in Practice

6. Uri Smilansky, ‘Between Tinctoris and the Fernandez Brothers: Proportional Duos in Practice’ (forthcoming)

7. Sean Gallagher,‘Tinctoris’s Examples and the Sound of Cantare super librum’ (forthcoming)

Part Four: Source Studies and Biographical Context

8. Christian Goursaud,‘The Production and History of Valencia 835

The manuscript Universitat de València, Biblioteca Històrica, MS 835 has been known for some time as one of the principal sources of the music-theoretical works of Johannes Tinctoris (c.1435–1511). More recently, the codex has become the subject of serious study in terms not only of its value as a textual source, but also as a splendidly produced and decorated artwork that encodes information about the concerns and priorities of those who commissioned and produced it. The present study takes some of this recent research as the starting point for an in-depth investigation of the production and later history of the manuscript, also considering in detail how the planners, scribe, and artists who manufactured the codex used decoration as a means of demarcating the internal structure and organization of Tinctoris’s texts.

9. Ronald Woodley and Christian Goursaud,‘Bologna 2573 and the Naples–Hungary Axis’ (forthcoming)

10. Ronald Woodley,‘Notes Towards a New Biography’ (forthcoming)


Table of Manuscripts and Incunabula

This is a fully searchable and sortable table of the sigla used to refer to manscripts and incunabula in the collection. In addition to providing expanded versions of the RISM and RISM-style sigla, links are provide to online images where available.

Support for the project is gratefully acknowledged from:

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