Notes on the presentation of texts

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The sources

There are three principal manuscripts containing nearly all of Tinctoris’s treatises:

The first two were copied at different times by the same scribe, Venceslaus Crispus, and it is evident that all three are independent transcriptions of a common exemplar, which we believe to be Tinctoris’s own manuscript. This exemplar may have been amended by the author between transcriptions, although evidence for this is scanty (the few instances of apparent authorial revision are noted in the edition); the independence of the three copies is also not entirely certain. Their text is extremely consistent, with only trivial variation in the verbal text; music examples vary only in errors. The edition of the treatises they contain is based on the consensus of these three manuscripts, which is clearly evident (and indicated in the edition) in all cases except for the conventional wording introducing music examples, where we have used our judgement and indicated all the variants occuring in the sources.

The fourth source of many treatises, G = Ghent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, MS 70, seems to have been copied from exemplars that had been extensively reworded in ways that vary from treatise to treatise, often introducing errors and seldom improving clarity, much less changing the underlying thought; its distinctive readings are adopted only in the rare cases in which they correct an error that appears to have been in the exemplar of the principal sources. G also shows some deliberate variation, as well as copious errors, in the music examples.

Tinctoris’s last treatise, De inventione et usu musice, survives only in fragments (see Dean, ‘Tinctoris’s reading practice’). Tinctoris himself selected six chapters to be printed (the unique copy is R = Regensburg, Bischöfliche Zentralbibliothek, Proske-Musikbibliothek, Th 33), and five other chapters were excerpted in a manuscript miscellany, C = Cambrai, Médiathèque municipale, MS A 416. The Practica musice and Diffinitorium (neither yet edited here) have other sources, and some of Tinctoris’s music examples were drawn from other composers’ music; in Books II–III of De arte contrapuncti the practical sources of these pieces have been collated. These practical sources are identified (click on the Information icon in the top left corner of the edition pane) by their RISM sigla; in the near future we plan to make these expand as in the Essays and studies section, but for the time being one may have recourse to the Online Directory of RISM Library Sigla.

Source transcriptions

These are not intended to be diplomatic transcriptions. Users who require exact details should consult the facsimiles of the original sources. Wherever possible these are included on this web site; otherwise there are links to other host sites. We have attempted to transcribe all details contributing to an understanding of the text in its source, including the size and colour of decorative initials, the use of red ink, etc. [Note (16 December 2020): We have not yet incorporated the source transcriptions and facsimiles for Books II–III of De arte contrapuncti. We hope to add them in the course of 2021.]

All abbreviations in the sources are expanded in the transcriptions. There is only a single category for which there is any ambiguity: where the supraliteral bar or tittle (e.g. ā) indicates a single nasal consonant that the spelling conventions of the time allowed to be m or n equally, as for example in eamdem/eandem or namque/nanque. In such cases the tittle has been realized according to the alternative prevalent in the particular source for the particular word when spelt out in full. The ampersand & and its equivalent, the Tironian et sign (similar to the modern figure 7), are spelt out as ‘et’ except in the compendium &c., which represents a symbol used in musical quotations (see the facsimiles).

Capitalization and punctuation follow the source as closely as possible. In some cases this is not exact. For example, the vertical position of points is not always easily represented in type; one of the principal sources (Br1) often uses a majuscule I in cases where no intention of capitalization or emphasis is evident (this scribe normally indicated real capitals with a red highlight stroke, which has been transcribed). The manuscripts in cursive script (Br1 and G) use the virgula () as their chief punctuation mark (the corrector of the Crispus manuscripts V and BU also does so from time to time); the present-day solidus (/) being excessively large, the virgula is transcribed as a comma (,). Space fillers (occasionally found at the ends of manuscript lines) and decorative points are transcribed with a visual approximation.

Both the Valencia and Bologna copies (V and BU) of Tinctoris’s collected writings, written by Venceslaus Crispus, were corrected by someone concerned with the minutiae of his orthography, probably the notator of the music examples (but not Tinctoris himself). V is less heavily corrected in general than BU. The three principal categories of intervention are, first, a fine vertical hairline separating two words that had been written without a space between them; second, a horizontal extension of part of the letter before a space to join it to the following word; third, conversion of m to n by expunging (writing a little dot beneath) the last stroke of the letter. The corrector also seems to have added and deleted punctuation marks (though it is more difficult to be certain this was the same person). We have incorporated these corrections into the transcriptions of V and BU with the symbols |, _, mn, . and . respectively (and so for other punctuation marks). The corrector’s expunction of whole letters, words, or other portions of text are likewise shown in grey; other scribes’ cancellation by striking through letters or words will be self-evident.

All other corrections, alterations, and annotations – whether by a contemporary or by someone much later – are described in notes, indicated in the transcription by an asterisk (*), as are other details of substance or layout not easily transcribed (especially in music examples); the note will appear in a small pop-up window when the cursor hovers over an asterisk. Line breaks in the verbal text are not followed in the transcription (but they are noted when they give rise to errors); staff breaks in music examples are transcribed, as the number of staff lines or the position of a clef often changes from staff to staff and may help to account for a particular variant.


The usage of the sources has been followed with respect to the representation of the classical diphthong ae: this was adopted by the printer of Tinctoris’s Diffinitorium, but all other scribes and printers used the medieval e, which sometimes creates a grammatical ambiguity that we do not wish to disguise. We have attempted to discern the spelling of Tinctoris’ own manuscript and to reflect this in the edition, rather than to normalize to any standard other than the author’s; in some cases this results in the edition presenting a word with a spelling found in none of the sources. All variant spellings are recorded in the critical apparatus. On the other hand, we have not reported variants of word division; the sometimes capricious practice of scribes (and the corrector) can be seen in the source transcriptions and facsimiles.

Two alternative styles of punctuation and capitalization are available. The ‘Manuscript punctuation’ mode (which must be deliberately selected) is based on the usage of the sources (including printed ones when pertinent). The sources are distinctly in general agreement regarding capitalization, rather less so for punctuation; we have attempted to apply punctuation consistently in grammatically or rhetorically parallel passages. We have adopted the punctuation marks prevalent in the more formal manuscript sources and in the printed sources: point . , colon : , question mark ? , parentheses ( ) , and pilcrow ¶, omitting the decorative variants of the first two that can be seen in the source transcriptions and facsimiles. The point functions as the equivalent of the modern full stop or period, comma, and exclamation mark; the colon of the modern colon and semicolon (we have chosen to ignore the not infrequent manuscript use of the colon as an emphatic point, as this is unsystematic and tends to confuse more than it clarifies). The manuscripts in cursive script tend to use the virgula in the same ways as the point in the other sources; it is not clear when they do present a point that it is meant to signify anything else.

We believe that ‘Manuscript punctuation’ accurately represents Tinctoris’ intended capitalization and closely approximates his punctuation, but it does not make for easy reading of the Latin text. The ‘Modern punctuation’ mode (presented by default, or it may be returned to after ‘Manuscript punctuation’ has previously been selected) improves readability by punctuating according to modern principles of grammar and logic (rather than the more oratorical principles followed in the sources) and using all common present-day punctuation marks. In some cases modern punctuation alters sentence structures and consequent capitalization, and even introduces paragraph breaks. Because they are not the same in the two punctuation modes, variants of capitalization and punctuation are not recorded in the critical apparatus (which would also seem overburdened if they were); the usage of particular sources must be sought in the transcriptions and facsimiles.

The distinction between ‘modern’ and ‘manuscript’ punctuation also facilitates one peculiarity of Tinctoris’s orthography. He was evidently in the habit of writing the enclitic ‘‑que’ (meaning ‘and’) as a separate word rather than as a suffix attached to the preceding word as is normal Latin orthography now. As this has dangerous potential for confusing inexpert Latin readers, the ‘Modern punctuation’ mode displays ‘‑que’ close up to the preceding word as usual, whereas ‘Manuscript punctuation’ displays ‘que’ separately according to Tinctoris’s usage.

The default viewing mode is to ‘Hide variants’ in order to encourage continuous reading of the Latin text. When ‘Show variants’ is selected, loci of variation are indicated by green text or notational elements (note that two or more loci of variation may be immediately adjacent), variants of insertion by a caret (‸) below the line of verbal text or (inverted) above the staff of a music example; the apparatus will appear in a small pop-up window when the cursor hovers over a locus of variation.


The principal aim in the English translation has been accuracy. We have tried to make it readily intelligible, but we have also tried to resist the temptation to clarify what Tinctoris left less than clear in his Latin. This function – valuable in its own right – is separated into the interpretative materials that will eventually form part of this web site, while the translation, if it succeeds, will allow researchers who may not be able to read Latin to argue about his meaning as well as if they could.

The bulk of Tinctoris’s treatises consists of technical matter, expressed very plainly; for the most part, Tinctoris aimed for eloquence only in the Prologues and Conclusions to his writings. In these contexts we have tried to emulate his straightforward elegance without compromising precision of translation. In the technical portions of the writing, we have attempted consistently to render a particular Latin term by the same English equivalent; Tinctoris was frequently repetitive to the point of obsessiveness when saying things that vary only in detail. We have chosen to render Tinctoris’ technical terms on the whole by words that are as close to his own as possible: for instance, Tinctoris used ‘augmentation’ to mean the increase in the length of a note effected by a dot and ‘diminution’ to mean the elaboration of a simple melodic outline into a more complex one or of note-against-note into florid counterpoint, not in the more familiar sense to mean the substitution of notes of the next greater or smaller rhythmic value, and therefore we do not use these words in the latter sense either.

Image of Tinctoris
Johannes Tinctoris, depicted seated at his desk

Universitat de València, Biblioteca Històrica
MS 835, fol. 2 (detail)