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Seminar in Medieval and Renaissance Music: Models of exemplarity: towards an understanding of Tinctoris’s musical examples

Adam Whittaker, Birmingham City University


Thursday, 2 November - 5:00pm to 7:00pm



Abstract: The notational treatises of Johannes Tinctoris (c. 1435–1511) are among the most studied music theory texts of their age. The level of meticulous detail and apparent rigour, twinned with a fairly comprehensive survey of most aspects of practical music that the fifteenth-century musician would need to know, make his treatises invaluable to understanding musical practices and pedagogy of the later part of the Middle Ages. Despite much scholarly attention being directed towards his texts, particularly his De arte contrapuncti and Proportionale musices, his use of musical examples has remained largely underexplored. Indeed, the broader field of musical examples in medieval and Renaissance music theory treatises has been somewhat neglected, both in modern scholarship and in critical editions.

This paper examines some key musical examples from across Tinctoris’s notational treatises, considering the ways in which such material supports and articulates his theoretical argument. It also considers what exemplary content might reveal about the probable readerships for music theory treatises, and the reading practices associated with late fifteenth-century mensural notation. The breadth of Tinctoris’s subject coverage makes his texts an ideal case study for an investigation of this type, exploring the function and composition of musical examples for a range of theoretical purposes. Such an examination reveals Tinctoris to be a skilled composer of pedagogical miniatures of all shapes, sizes, and functions, offering a valuable insight into the pedagogical logics that underpin the construction of Tinctoris’s theoretical texts, and the factors that may have influenced the composition of the texts themselves.