Johannes Tinctoris: Biographical Outline

Note: This section provides a basic, broad conspectus of Tinctoris’s life, updated in some of its essentials (2013– ) to take account of relevant recent research. For a more detailed survey of most of the underpinning documentary evidence (though now quite dated and incomplete), with fuller references both to the primary sources and to the secondary literature, see Woodley 1981, amplified a little in Woodley 1982: i. 2–52, the latter now available online as scanned PDF from the Bodleian Library (Oxford Research Archive). Other articles embedded in the present, ongoing project website, as well as on the Stoa legacy site signalled on the project home page, investigate areas that impinge directly or indirectly on our perception of his life and writings. A condensed and earlier version of this biographical material appears in the article on Tinctoris in New Grove 2001, xxv. 497–501.

Born: Braine-l’Alleud, nr. Nivelles, Belgium, c. 1430–35 (vernacular name probably Jean (Jehan) le Taintenier; also Tinturier).

Died: probably Italy, 9 February 1511.

Brabantine musical theorist and pedagogical writer; regarded as one of the most significant writers of his day on music and notation, as well as a wide-ranging practitioner as composer, singer and apparently instrumentalist. He also trained in both canon and civil law, and practised as jurisconsult or official legal adviser.

  Early years and education
  Last years
Writings: an overview
Principal manuscript sources: a brief sketch
  V  Valencia, Universitat de València, Biblioteca Històrica, MS 835
  Bu  Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria, MS 2573
  Br1  Brussels, Bibliothèque royale, MS II 4147 Mus.


I. Life

Early years and education
Little can be pieced together at present of Tinctoris’s first twenty years or so. Recent research confirms that his family origins were in the small town of Braine-l’Alleud in Brabant, some twenty kilometres south of Brussels, in the diocese of Cambrai. Members of his immediate and more extended family had been involved at least since the early fifteenth century as échevins in the administration and juridical control of the town (the franchise) and its surrounding area (the foraineté). In this capacity his father Martin, among others, is named in the surviving records of the échevinage, from which we can also conclude that his mother’s name was Jehanne, and that he had at least two siblings, a sister also called Jehanne, and a brother Evrart (Woodley 2013a; previously Ridder-Symoens 1978, 69). His exact year of birth, however, remains elusive. Tinctoris’s initial musical education, presumably in the 1440s and early 1450s, is likely to have been at one of the maîtrises close to his home town, such as Cambrai, Soignies or Nivelles, though details are unknown. An important forthcoming article by Marlène Britta, which it would be inappropriate to pre-empt here, shows that by late 1458 Tinctoris was attached to the Cathedral of Sainte-Croix, Orléans, though there is still scope for interpretation of the archival documents as to his precise function there at this point (Britta forthcoming). In 1460 Tinctoris was paid for four months’ service ‘in habitu ecclesie’ at Cambrai Cathedral, the payment being approved for disbursement from the account of the petits vicaires. Although the exact nature of his service is not entirely clear (Tinctoris is not cited in other detailed lists as petit vicaire proper: Planchart 1993, 367–8), he would certainly have had personal contact with, and perhaps musical tuition from, Dufay while he was there; from this early period, then, we can date the deep-seated loyalty to Dufay and his music that we read later in his treatises. It is partly on the basis of this Cambrai reference in 1460, seen as corroborating a later reference by Trithemius in 1495 that Tinctoris was ‘about sixty’, that a birth-date of c. 1435 has been surmised. In view, however, both of the ambiguities surrounding these references, and other uncertainties relating to his subsequent period at Orléans, outlined below, we should probably allow a latitude of around five years on either side of this date.

By the very early 1460s he had gained the post of succentor at Orléans Cathedral, and by September 1462 he had matriculated as student in the German nation at the University of Orléans (Woodley 1981, 225–8). Here he is already given the title ‘venerabilis dominus magister’, which causes some difficulty of interpretation. Although nothing is definitely known of any previous university studies, he may conceivably have attended the University of Louvain in the late 1440s – two candidates of the correct name and diocesan origin can been identified (Woodley 1981, 219) – but this would require his birth-date, again, to be pushed back to something closer to 1430, and in any case the title ‘magister’ may equally have been given in recognition solely of his teaching position at Sainte-Croix. A third, intriguing possibility is that he had taken his bachelor’s and master’s degrees simultaneously at Orléans, after five years of study – an acknowledged, if not especially common, procedure at this university. Such a pathway, though, would imply that he first matriculated c. 1457, that his entry into the German nation in 1462 represents an internal transfer of some kind (very unlikely in view of his clear geographical origins), and perhaps that he had taken special leave in 1460 to make the short-term sojourn at Cambrai. It is clear that Tinctoris did indeed obtain a master’s qualification in both canon and civil law, as he consistently styles himself ‘in legibus licentiatus’ in his treatises; it seems most likely, therefore, that this was achieved during his time at Orléans. (Further discussion of the difficulties surrounding our interpretation of this rather intriguing period of Tinctoris’s life will become clear from Britta forthcoming; see also Palenik 2008.) Whatever our uncertainties concerning his early university studies, by 1463 (new style) Tinctoris had rapidly risen to the senior administrative position of procurator of the German nation at Orléans, with responsibility for its admissions procedure; his own entry in the matriculation book (Liber procuratorum) at this time (1 April 1463 new style) provides the earliest, and perhaps only, verifiable example of his handwriting (see Woodley 2011, 126). This document also reconfirms the identity of Tinctoris’s home town as Braine-l’Alleud. At some point, presumably in the later 1460s, Tinctoris was in charge of the choirboys at Chartres Cathedral, as he recounts himself later in his treatise De inventione et usu musice (II.xx.26–7 of the new edition within this project; also Woodley 1981, 229–30). Since, however, virtually all of the relevant records at Chartres were destroyed during World War II, it has proved frustratingly difficult to expand our knowledge of this important middle period of Tinctoris’s career, before he moved south to Italy.

In the early 1470s (perhaps 1472 or 1473) Tinctoris travelled to Naples – whether or not directly from Chartres we do not know – to enter the service of King Ferdinand I (Ferrante) as singer-chaplain, legal adviser and court tutor in both the theory and practice of music. (In addition to his singing abilities and theoretical expertise, he apparently played the bowed vihuela and rebec with great enthusiasm: ‘And so these two instruments are mine, mine I say’ (IV.v.70–71 of the new edition here). He was perhaps drawn to Naples partly by the reputation for law of the newly re-invigorated University (Studio) there (Grendler 2002, 41–5; Cannavale 1895), but all other details of the recruitment process or material enticements offered to Tinctoris by Ferrante have been lost. Almost all of his writings, at least in the state transmitted to us today, date from this time in Naples, which lasted for around twenty years. During this period, Tinctoris’s status at court was clearly high, and on at least one occasion, in October 1487, he was sent back to northern Europe to recruit new singers for the Neapolitan chapel, having been given letters of introduction from Ferrante, via his chancellor Giovanni Pontano, to Charles VIII of France and Maximilian, King of the Romans (Woodley 1981, 235 and 245). Tinctoris’s wider legal and linguistic expertise, too, had already been called upon by Ferrante in drawing up an Italian translation of the articles and ordinances of the Order of the Golden Fleece, to which Ferrante was elected knight in May 1473 (Woodley 1988). A brief trip to Ferrara in 1479 is also recorded, where he stayed for several nights (7–11 May) at the Angel Inn (‘hosto alanzello’), at the expense of the Este court, on business perhaps relating to the musical establishment of the new chapel of Santa Maria di Corte (Atlas 1985, 74; Woodley 1981, 234). Palenik has suggested that Tinctoris made an otherwise undocumented trip to northern Europe around 1478–9, encompassing this Ferrara stop-over on the way back, but also connected with the ‘reorganization of the Burgundian court following Charles’s death and Mary of Burgundy’s marriage’, as well as a meeting with Johannes Stokem in Liège, and hearing the viola cum arculo duo Carolus (Charles) and Johannes (Jean or Hennequin) Fernandes in Bruges, as recorded in De inventione et usu musice (Palenik 2008, 168–71). It is not certain whether Tinctoris ever became archicapellanus or first chaplain to Ferrante; the early biographical note (otherwise remarkably accurate) by Abbot Johannes Trithemius (Cathalogus illustrium virorum Germaniam ... exornantium [Mainz], c. 1495: see Woodley 1981, 247) states that he had risen to this rank, but there is no independent corroboration of this. In a supplication to Pope Innocent VIII, dated 24 October 1490, Tinctoris (still ‘cantor capellanus’) requests that he be accorded the title and privileges of doctor of canon and civil law, in recognition of his studies (Sherr 1994, 69–70). The supplication was apparently successful, as Trithemius uses this title in his biographical entry of 1495, but no writings from Tinctoris himself survive from this period which might confirm the acquisition of the doctorate. He is, however, entitled ‘legum doctoris atque musici’ by Johannes Burckard in the entry for 9 December 1492 in the latter’s Liber notarum (Woodley 1981, 238). During his time in Naples (on which see also D’Agostino 1999) Tinctoris was profoundly affected by his close contact with the highest intellectual levels of Italian humanism (see most recently MacCarthy 2013), though there is evidence of some disillusionment in his later years (Woodley 1988, 198–202).

Last years
Tinctoris probably quitted, or drifted away from, his formal position in Naples in the very early 1490s, for reasons that may be partly connected with the declining political fortunes of the Neapolitan Aragonese court and its frictions with other Italian and French ruling parties. He may have been in Rome in 1492 early in the papacy of Alexander VI, in celebration of which he later wrote both the words and music of a motet Gaude Roma vetus, whose text only has survived in Burckard’s Liber notarum (printed in Woodley 1981, 238). There is some very circumstantial evidence that he visited the court in Buda around 1493, where his erstwhile pupil Beatrice of Aragon, by then widowed Queen of Hungary, was still resident with her own chapel. This evidence, however, probably points more to a likely continuation of his life in Italy at this time (see Perkins & Garey 1979, i. 18–19). Very little else – perhaps curiously in view of his high reputation – is known of the last twenty years of Tinctoris’s life. He had enjoyed additional income as non-resident canon of St Gertrude’s, Nivelles (close to his home town), since around 1488–9 (Woodley 1981, 236 and 246; and more recently Woodley 2009), and he must have held another benefice, of a value not exceeding 100 ducats, at the parish church of St George at the Old Market (‘ad mercatum veterem’) in Naples, which he resigned ‘apud sedem’ (i.e. in person, at the Holy See) on 11 June 1502 (Sherr 1983, 9–10). There is indirect evidence from his letter to the royal court copyist Joanmarco Cinico (see II. Writings below) that Tinctoris revisited the Naples area, on a philosophically inspired sight-seeing trip, around 1495–96; the wider context of this visit, however, when he was probably already in his early sixties, is unknown. He may have returned to his homeland in his last years – though recent research renders this much less certain (see Woodley 2009) – and he died, in his seventies or early eighties, probably on 9 February 1511, in which year his Nivelles benefice passed to his successor Peter de Coninck (Woodley 1981, 240 and 247–8; Woodley 2009, 110–11). Tinctoris’s obit was commemorated on 9 February at St Gertrude’s, at least from 1515–16: see Woodley 2009 for further detail.

A patriotic and suitably romanticized statue to Tinctoris, sculpted by Louis Samain, was unveiled on the Place Bléval in Nivelles on 17 August 1875, and although this was destroyed during World War II a bust copy survives in the foyer of the Town Hall there. A cinema and café on the same town square were also named after Tinctoris, because of their proximity to the statue. (Photographs of some of these are given in Woodley 2007.) The closest depiction of the musician from life is that of the illuminated frontispiece to the Valencia 835 copy of his treatises (V): for facsimile images and further information on this source, see III. Principal manuscript sources: a brief sketch below.

II. Writings: an overview

Note: The following section uses our shortened versions of Tinctoris’s treatise titles; see ‘A note about treatise titles’, accessed from the Texts menu above.

Twelve Latin treatises by Tinctoris survive in whole or part, which demonstrate not only the writer’s command of notational and music-theoretical principles for teaching purposes, but also his close working knowledge of major contemporary composers such as Dufay, Okeghem and Busnoys, as well as other figures such as Regis, Caron, Faugues, Barbingant and De Domarto. Although he famously acknowledges in the Proportionale musices his and their compositional debt to English music, especially that of Dunstaple, a particularly zealous enthusiasm for the French and Netherlandish music of his own generation provides the main impetus to, and exemplary underpinning of, his writings. He is one of the first significant theorists to make technically detailed criticisms of his contemporaries’ music and of their notational and contrapuntal idiosyncrasies.

Tinctoris’s earliest treatise, perhaps compiled before his move to Naples, was a Speculum musices, which is now lost, though its contents may have been largely revised and redistributed throughout his surviving writings. Most of the known treatises are undated, but were written in the first few years of his employment at Ferrante’s court. Their order of completion does not follow expected pedagogical progression, but their disposition in the principal manuscripts seems designed to rectify this. The Expositio manus (c. 1472–73), dedicated to Johannes de Lotinis, explains the fundamentals of solmization, hexachords and mutation in relation to the Guidonian hand; it is particularly significant in the way that it exemplies positions and categories of mutation explicitly within musical lines on the staff. The work’s dedicatee is later cited in De inventione et usu musice (II.xx.21 of the new edition here) as one of the finest soprano singers known to Tinctoris, and from Dinant, close to the author’s home town. The Proportionale musices may have been the next to be completed; it is one of the most comprehensive treatments of mensuration and proportion from the period, showing a broad-based awareness of contemporary practices and malpractices. It must be admitted, though, that the text is also frustrating in its omission of some more basic guidance on, for instance, the author’s understanding of the meaning of certain mensuration signs and their actual relationship in practical sources. Many of its specially composed musical examples (other than those extracted from the work of other composers) seem to give some indication – albeit schematic – of how rhythmically elaborate extemporization (vocal as well as instrumental) may have been practised. The work’s dedicatory prologue to Ferrante is modelled partly on Cicero (Woodley 1987; Wegman 2003), and provides a good demonstration of Tinctoris’s newly acquired humanistic latinity. De imperfectione notarum (before 1475) gives clear guidance on the imperfection of note-values, taken to a remarkably sophisticated level of complexity (see Woodley 2006c, now superseded by Woodley 2013b), and is dedicated to a young, promising musician, Jacobus Frontin, who may be the ‘Jacotino Frontin cantore’ cited in a letter of 5 April 1516 from Enea Pio to Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este as having recently taken up the post of chapel-master to Francis I. Since the treatise was ostensibly the direct result of a request from Frontin, he may have been a young singer in the Neapolitan chapel at the time, though there is no corroborating evidence for this. De regulari valore notarum (before 1475) followed soon afterwards, dedicated to Princess Beatrice some time before her betrothal to Mathias Corvinus of Hungary. The work provides a basic treatment of note-values and the various mensural permutations of modus, tempus and prolatio, in the course of which Tinctoris affirms the invariability of the minim. De notis et pausis sets out more essential information on note-values, the interpretation of ligature configurations, and rests, including a brief chapter on notes of ‘unfixed value’ in plainsong. This treatise is dedicated to another singer, Martin Hanard, described as ‘canon of Cambrai’ and ‘apostolic singer’, i.e. member of the pope’s private chapel. Probably also dating from this same period are the brief De alteratione notarum and De punctis. The former, a series of general rules on the application of alteration to note-values (and, as with De imperfectione notarum, remarkably sophisticated in its technical detail: see Woodley 2013b), has a particularly perplexing dedication to ‘Guillelmus Guinandi’; from Tinctoris’s description, this seems to be an error for the abbot Antonio Guinati, first chaplain to the Duke of Milan, though the cause of the misattribution, recopied in the sources, is difficult to determine. De punctis, lacking any dedication, provides a valuable guide to the various types of dot, or point, used in mensural notation. The writer distinguishes the dots of division, augmentation, perfection, prolation, repetition, and, in an added chapter probably not by Tinctoris himself, the ‘punctus acceptionis’, the sign that we usually term, though with very little historical attestation, the signum congruentiae. In these guidelines a number of subtle distinctions of usage, positioning and interpretation are made which exceed the treatment of many more modern textbooks on notation, and to some extent exceed the normal usage and understanding of many of the author’s contemporaries.

Two substantial pedagogic treatises were written a little after the first, pre-1475 wave of writings. De natura et proprietate tonorum, whose completion date is given uniquely in the main Brussels manuscript (Br1) as 6 November 1476, is a thorough and clear exposition of the modal system, including treatment of mixture and commixture, the categories of perfect, imperfect and ‘pluperfect’ (‘plusquam perfectus’) mode, and irregular finals (see especially Dean 1996). A brief chapter acknowledges the problems of trying to apply the modal system to polyphony; although Tinctoris wrestles to provide some guidelines here, these are not wholly satisfactory. The dedication jointly to Okeghem and Busnoys ostensibly results from the disquiet caused to some musicians by Tinctoris’s attacks on these composers in the Proportionale musices; the author is careful, however, not to cede any intellectual ground over his criticisms. The most extensive of the surviving treatises is De arte contrapuncti, in three books, dated (again uniquely in Br1) 11 October 1477. This work provides Tinctoris’s main exposition of intervals, consonance and dissonance, and methods of handling these in both simple, note-against-note counterpoint and more elaborate figuration. Interesting (and still debated) distinctions are also made between what Tinctoris considers appropriate to fully worked-out, notated counterpoint and (quasi-)extemporized super librum performance, and towards the end of the treatise Tinctoris gives his views on the acceptable pacing of dissonance in mensural music, and on the different parameters of varietas involved in good composition (see Luko 2008; Dean 2013). Like the Proportionale musices, the work is dedicated to his employer, Ferrante, and as with the earlier treatise its prologue is self-consciously literary, though it also provides valuable comments on Tinctoris’s (characteristically empirical) disbelief in the harmony of the spheres, his absolute commitment to the music of his own time, and an acknowledgement that he uses the best work of his contemporaries as direct stylistic models for his own composition. Both De arte contrapuncti and the Proportionale musices have recently become available in new editions by Gianluca D’Agostino, with Italian translations, in Tinctoris 2008.

Only two treatises were printed during Tinctoris’s lifetime. The Diffinitorium, a glossary of musical terms, was originally compiled before 1475, and dedicated to Ferrante’s daughter Princess Beatrice, at the time seemingly under Tinctoris’s musical tutelage. (A new edition by Cecilia Panti, with Italian translation, is now available as Tinctoris 2004.) As an early example of the genre it holds some considerable interest, though many of its 300-odd entries are of rather limited usefulness today: by and large the work provides a synoptic handbook of material covered in more detail in the other writings, though there are certainly a few items whose wording suggests ways in which the author’s thought evolved and was modified during his professional life. The glossary was printed, with a small number of revisions, by Tinctoris’s compatriot and fellow musician Gerardus de Lisa, in Treviso around 1495. It is not known whether Tinctoris had any say in the publication at all (see also Woodley 2006b), though it is possible that contact had been made in the course of his travels before or after leaving Naples. The work’s original dedicatory letter to Beatrice seems to have remained unrevised since the 1470s, despite the changes to Beatrice’s position and status: similar cases of textual fidelity in the face of altered circumstance are observable in the manuscript sources of other treatises.

In the early 1480s Tinctoris embarked on his most ambitious piece of writing, De inventione et usu musice; this was a very large-scale treatment of (apparently) the origins and evolution of music, its theological and metaphysical roots and ramifications, and a broad survey of vocal and intrumental practice, as known to the author. Embedded in this work was a revision and enlargement of another early treatise, the Complexus effectuum musices, originally dedicated again to Beatrice and functioning as a courtly sourcebook of literary and historical quotations on the effects (or ‘meaning’) of music – physical, emotional and spiritual – on human beings and their relationship with God and the universe (Zanoncelli 1979; also Wegman 1995 and Page 1996). There is, however, some ongoing scholarly debate as to whether Tinctoris’s original accumulation of material for this treatise in fact predated his move to Naples, and what the temporal relationship is between this and the surviving (partial) sources of the Complexus effectuum musices (see in particular Wegman 2009). The complete version of De inventione et usu musice, in five books of perhaps some 100 chapters, has not survived, but calculations suggest that its size was roughly comparable with the rest of Tinctoris’s theoretical work put together, and there is some evidence that the Valencia 835 codex may have been one of a pair, the other (lost) volume containing this treatise intact (Woodley 1985). What has survived is a single copy of a print (Weinmann 1961), made probably by Mathias Moravus in Naples around 1481–83, containing extracts from the work, prefaced by a printed letter from Tinctoris to the singer and composer Johannes Stokem in Buda, in which he transmits his good wishes to Beatrice, by then Queen of Hungary. A brief passage after this letter, probably written by the printer himself or an informed editor, tells us that Tinctoris had dedicated the full treatise to his deceased father, Martin. Since the recently recovered documents relating to Tinctoris’s family background in Braine-l’Alleud indicate that Martin had died by early 1472 (Woodley 2013a), we should consider the alternative possibilities that the bulk of the material of De inventione et usu musice had indeed been compiled by this date, or else that the dedication of its complete version by the early 1480s represents a kind of anniversary remembrance of the author’s father. At any rate, it seems likely that the complete version of the treatise was circulating in northern Europe in the late fifteenth century as well as the printed extracts, since an epitomized selection of other, otherwise unknown chapters survives in Cambrai, Bibliothèque-Médiathèque Municipale, MS A16, fols. 8v–12v (Woodley 1985). This selection includes the enlarged Complexus effectuum musices in abridged form, and its accurate retention of book and chapter identification enables the scope of the original treatise to be roughly computed.

The printed extracts cover a range of material – more anecdotal than pedagogical or strictly theoretical – focusing principally on ancient and contemporary instrumental and vocal practice, but demonstrating a wide and impressive range of reading on the author’s part, as do the more philosophically and theologically orientated references in the Cambrai manuscript extracts. A number of renowned singers known to Tinctoris are named, with their voice functions: the Cypriot but Brabant-educated Philippus de Passagio (Philippe du Passaige), tenorista bassus; Wassettus of Cambrai (Guillaume Wasset), tenorista altus; Joannes Okeghem, contratenorista bassus; the Fleming Jacobus Teunis, contratenorista altus; and Joannes de Lotinis of Dinant, soprano (the dedicatee of the Expositio manus). Other discussion includes coverage of various wind instruments (with a number of sub-species such as the tibia, celimela, dulcina, bombarda and sackbut), and stringed instruments (lute, lyra, viola, rebec, ghiterra, cetula and tambura), in which details of stringing, tuning, bowing and finger/plectrum technique are analysed (Baines 1950). It is clear, however, that lost portions of the treatise also contained further coverage of some of these areas. Noted instrumentalists named are Godefridus Germanus, tibicen to the Emperor Frederick; Petrus Bonus (Pietrobono), lutenist to Ercole d’Este of Ferrara; Henricus, lutenist to Charles, Duke of Burgundy; and the blind Flemish brothers Charles and Jehan Fernandes, exponents of the bowed viola (vihuela). In an earlier passage, Tinctoris recounts with astonishment how he heard the musician Gerard of Brabant, aulicus to the Duke of Bourbon, performing simultaneously (probably singing and whistling) two parts of the song Tout a par moy outside Chartres Cathedral (II.xx.27 of the new edition here; Weinmann 1961, 34).


In addition to his musical writings, Tinctoris was commissioned by Ferrante to prepare a translation, from Burgundian French into Italian, of the articles of constitution for the Order of the Golden Fleece, on the occasion of Ferrante’s election to the Order in May 1473. Tinctoris’s translation (Woodley 1988), demonstrating a high degree of linguistic fluency (details refined in D’Agostino 1999), survives in a fine decorated manuscript, Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale, MS XIV.D.20, the execution of which can be attributed to the accomplished court scribe Joanmarco Cinico, and is datable to c. 1476–77. The personal connections involved here are further strengthened by the survival of a letter in Latin from Tinctoris to Cinico (Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale, MS XII.F.50, fols. 11–14), possibly though not incontestably an autograph fair copy; this is effectively a short humanistic tract on the follies of earthly riches, fame, honour, power and pleasure. The letter, perhaps dating from c. 1495 on a return to the area of Naples and Pozzuoli after the author’s departure from Ferrante’s court, expresses a disaffection with courtly life which was probably more than simply rhetorical (Woodley 1988, 198–202). According to Trithemius (who was himself writing at exactly this time), Tinctoris wrote a number of finely wrought letters (‘Epistolas ornatissimas complures dedit ad diversos.’: Woodley 1981, 247); but, apart from the brief salutation to Stokem which prefaces the printed De inventione et usu musice extracts, the Cinico letter is the only one from the author known to have survived.

Throughout his writings Tinctoris engages, explicitly or implicitly, with a wide range of practical, theoretical and intellectual issues in the music of his time, broaching questions of artistic creativity, the theology and ethics of art, aesthetics, and the changing conceptions of the individual that were emerging in what we term late medieval and early Renaissance European society. His contemporaries clearly respected him highly during his life as a musican and writer of considerable talent, and his reputation was geographically widespread, from northern Europe to the south of Italy, and from Spain to central and eastern Europe. He seems to have known personally, or at close second hand, many of the best composers and practising musicians of his day, acquaintances having been forged especially during his time in the Low Countries, northern France and the Loire Valley, as well as in the course of his travels within Italy. (On the wider classical resonances of such relationships, see also Holford-Strevens 1996.) He is not known to have worked directly at the Burgundian court – though close relationships are posited by Palenik 2008 – but he nevertheless seems to have had direct access to some of the best sources of, for example, the works of Busnoys and the Englishman Robert Morton, and may even have visited them in the mid-1470s. He was famously included in the list of musicians named in Compère’s motet Omnium bonorum plena (late 1460s or early 1470s), and he was deeply influential in the thinking and writings of Franchino Gafori, whom he knew personally from the latter’s stay in Naples around 1478–80 (see also D’Agostino 2005). Tinctoris’s wider influence in later years is, however, difficult to assess, and would undoubtedly have been greater if more of his writings had, like those of Gafori, been committed to print. Nevertheless, immediately after his death his work was still known and highly regarded, both in Italy and in pockets of northern Europe, as witnessed by the detailed points of discussion raised in the correspondence between Giovanni Spataro, Marc’Antonio Cavazzoni, Pietro Aaron and Giovanni del Lago (Blackburn 1991), and also by the references in, for example, the Micrologus of Ornithoparcus and Sebald Heyden’s De arte canendi, as well as a small constellation of sources centred on Glareanus. In old age, Tinctoris saw three of his compositions published by Petrucci (see IV. Music below). Antiquarian knowledge, and some full-scale copying, of his writings surfaces in the eighteenth century, most notably in the correspondence and other work of Padre Martini. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Tinctoris’s profile in France was gradually raised in the course of a proposal to publish and translate the contents of the main Brussels manuscript Br1; and a similar venture by Fétis later in the nineteenth century, in Belgium, eventually led indirectly to Coussemaker’s edition of 1875, incorporated the following year into his four-volume Scriptorum medii aevi nova series (discussed in Woodley 2007 and Woodley 2011).

III. Principal manuscript sources: a brief sketch

Although Tinctoris’s treatises survive in relatively few fifteenth-century manuscript sources, three of these should be regarded as of particular historical and textual value.

Links to full descriptions of all MS and primary printed sources will follow in due course.

V  Valencia, Universitat de València, Biblioteca Històrica, MS 835 is a sumptuously illuminated manuscript executed in Naples during Tinctoris’s time at court. According to Haffner 1997, 315–19 the manuscript was executed around 1483 for Giovanni d’Aragona, Cardinal of Naples and son of King Ferrante, a proposal based on the belief that the Aragonese arms painted on the frontispiece originally displayed a cardinal’s hat, matching other manuscripts belonging to Giovanni, but subsequently overpainted. It has more recently been proposed (Woodley 2013c) that the manuscript may be slightly earlier, dating to 1477–78, at a time when Giovanni was still prothonotary apostolic, with the overpainting of the frontispiece having been occasioned by Giovanni’s rise to the cardinalate in December 1477. The main text of the manuscript was copied by the Bohemian scribe Venceslaus Crispus, originating from present-day Ostrov (German: Schlackenwerth) in the Carlsbad region of the Czech Republic, and known from payment records to have been employed by the Neapolitan royal library (see especially De Marinis 1947–69). The frontispiece decoration, including a portrait of Tinctoris, was probably mainly the work of Nardo Rapicano (Toscano 1998, 608). The manuscript includes, at beginning and end, two Latin eulogies to Tinctoris, written by an Olivetan monk, Brother Fortunatus of Ferrara, who may have been attached to the White Benedictine church of Santa Maria di Monte Oliveto (now Sant’Anna dei Lombardi) in Naples, which was especially favoured by the royal court. The frontispiece (fol. 2: opening of the Expositio manus) contains a miniature portrait of Tinctoris, probably taken from life, showing the author seated at a desk reading, perhaps in the room known to have been set aside for music studies in the Castel Nuovo in Naples. The manuscript came to Valencia in the early sixteenth century via Ferrara, in the collection of Fernando de Aragón, Duke of Calabria, after the fall of the Kingdom of Naples; it was given to the monastery of San Miguel de los Reyes in 1550, and passed into the University Library upon the suppression of the monastery in 1825. (Full description to follow.)

Bu  Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria, MS 2573 is another luxuriously and very carefully executed manuscript, also of Neapolitan royal provenance; its dating is still a matter of ongoing research, though most probably from the early 1490s, roughly coinciding with, or shortly after, Tinctoris’s departure from his employment at Ferrante’s court. The scribe was almost certainly, again, Venceslaus Crispus, at a slightly more developed stage in his career, and some parts of the texts have been modified often for reasons of literary style rather than strictly musical or theoretical content, though it is not clear whether the author was responsible for these revisions. The function and destination of the manuscript is still problematical, but the presence of Tinctoris’s motet Virgo Dei throno digna at the head of the codex may suggest a connection with the author’s ex-student and dedicatee Beatrice, then Queen of Hungary. It may have been intended by the court either as a gift in support of the queen’s position at a time of serious political instability, following the death of King Matthias Corvinus in 1490, or else to celebrate or anticipate her eventual return to Naples from Hungary in 1500. The manuscript passed subsequently into the monastery of San Salvatore in Bologna, whence it was confiscated in 1796 by the French revolutionary armies in the course of their Italian campaign. This seizure resulted in the temporary deposit of the manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, until its return to Bologna on 28 October 1815, this time to the Biblioteca Universitaria, its present home. (Full description to follow.)

Br1  Brussels, Bibliothèque royale, MS II 4147 Mus., although in ostensible status the most lowly of the three central sources, nevertheless provides generally remarkably accurate and carefully copied texts; whilst it is not without error (especially in areas relating to chant theory), it seems to have originated in close proximity to the author, and was certainly copied by a musician with strong knowledge of advanced mensural notation. It was probably compiled in Naples in the 1480s (that is, as in the case of V, while Tinctoris was still in Ferrante’s employment there), and may be a fair copy made by an experienced chapel musician at the court, probably – in view of the handwriting – one of Tinctoris’s northern European colleagues. It seems to have remained in Italy until the eighteenth century, and was brought to Paris in 1794 by the musician and bibliophile Gaspare Selvaggi, passing subsequently into the collections of Fayolle, Perne and Fétis. A discussion of the manuscript’s history, especially in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is given in Woodley 2011, the Appendix of which presents a more detailed description of the manuscript.

IV. Music

Apart from his distinction as a theorist, Tinctoris shows himself to be an accomplished composer – not perhaps with the depth of inventiveness of Busnoys or Okeghem, but demonstrating a stylistic kinship with them that corroborates the rhetoric of his treatises (works edited by William Melin collected in Tinctoris 1976a). His surviving output is quite small; indeed the pattern of sources today suggests that he wrote nothing of consequence prior to his move to Naples, with the possible exception of his rondeau Vostre regart, though it is intrinsically highly likely that he had already been active as a composer during his time at Orléans and Chartres. The treatises themselves, aside from their very numerous, short technical illustrations of notational practice, contain a significant number of fully composed, albeit brief, polyphonic pieces that demonstrate the larger compositional context of the theoretical principles described.

Tinctoris’s most impressive, sustained work is the four-voiced L’Homme armé mass. Its use of the (specially composed?) prosulae ‘Cunctorum plasmator summus’ in the Kyrie, ‘Cherubim ac Seraphim ceterique spiritus angelici’ in the Sanctus, and a version of the Palm Sunday antiphon Pueri Hebreorum in the Osanna, suggests a possible influence from the six anonymous L’Homme armé masses in Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale, MS VI.E.40, dating from c. 1470; and since the unique source of the Tinctoris mass, Vatican Library, Cappella Sistina MS 35, according to the research of Jeffrey J. Dean, can be dated to 1489, the work’s composition can be tentatively placed around the early 1480s. The deficiencies of this source, and the wider compositional implications arising from a detailed notational analysis of these, have been recently explored in Dean 2013. Tinctoris’s other four-voiced mass (in the edition of Tinctoris 1976a: Missa sine nomine No. 3) lacks the Kyrie and Agnus, and has a foreshortened Credo text; the provenance of its only source, Milan Cathedral, Archivio della Cappella Musicale del Duomo, Librone 2 (olim 2268) may indicate that its composition relates in some way to Tinctoris’s acquaintance with Franchino Gafori in Naples during the late 1470s. The two three-voiced masses (Tinctoris 1976a: Missae sine nomine Nos. 1 and 2) seem in some ways to be conceived as a complementary pairing, the first in a very unusual configuration of low clefs, with the contratenor descending to B flat below gamma ut, and the second in high clefs, with the tenor ascending to F extra manum. No precomposed material has yet been traced in these two works, but the sole source of the first, Verona, Biblioteca Capitolare, MS 755, gives a Latin inscription to Ferrante, apparently composed by Tinctoris: ‘Ferdinande sacer inter divos referende | Cantica Tinctoris suscipe parva tui.’ At least this mass, therefore, presumably dates from the 1470s or 1480s. All four of these masses show a strong and confident compositional hand, with clearly articulated but nuanced motivic relationships at work, and often characterized by closely imitative head-motifs initiating movements and secondary head-motifs relating their subdivisions. Tinctoris’s melodic fluency and contrapuntal technique are, as one might expect, highly developed, and only slightly more clichéd than those of the composer’s most distinguished contemporaries.

Other surviving sacred or devotional works include a fine setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah (Lamentationes Jeremiae), and two short motets, O virgo miserere mei and Virgo Dei throno digna. The Lamentations, appearing uniquely in the 1506 printed collection of Petrucci, are probably quite late in date, as some details of dissonance treatment reveal contrapuntal criteria that extend those of De arte contrapuncti. The work may therefore date from the 1490s, or even after the turn of the century, and, in common with some other early polyphonic examples of the genre, its text is somewhat abbreviated, setting only Aleph, Beth and Ghimel. The two (ostensibly Marian) motets appear for the first time (O virgo miserere mei uniquely) in the Mellon Chansonnier (Perkins & Garey 1979), a collection mainly of songs that was almost certainly compiled in the mid-1470s by Tinctoris himself, eventually as a wedding gift to Princess Beatrice: Virgo Dei throno digna, which subsequently became quite widely disseminated in manuscript collections as well as printed in Petrucci’s Motetti A, alludes implicitly to Beatrice’s forthcoming role as Queen of Hungary. Both pieces have been interpreted as containing elaborate numerological and gematriacal references to Tinctoris’s and Beatrice’s names (Van Benthem 1982).

Tinctoris’s other extant works include a widely copied, though generally textless song Hélas (ascribed in one source to Compère; also printed in Petrucci’s Odhecaton A), a brief three-voiced setting of an Italian text, O invida fortuna, and a four-voiced setting of Le souvenir. There are also a number of short but mensurally and rhythmically interesting pieces (authorship of some uncertain), mainly in two voices, usually untexted and in some cases duplicating examples given in the treatises. These seem to function only partly as abstract contrapuntal exercises, and may more fruitfully be seen as notated approximations of extemporized vocal and instrumental practice, such as Tinctoris may himself have known as singer (for example super librum) or player of the rebec and bowed vihuela. Of more clearly pedagogical intent is the ‘motet’ Difficiles alios delectat pangere cantus, a work from the 1470s identified and analysed by Bonnie Blackburn (Blackburn 1981), which contains numerous complex mensural, proportional and other notational features that are commented upon at length by the marginal annotator of its source, Perugia, Biblioteca Comunale Augusta, MS 1013, and further discussed, albeit as the work of an already slightly antique figure, in the Spataro correspondence of some fifty years later (Blackburn 1991).

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