Theorist and Composer
Johannes Tinctoris has been typecast in music history as a 15th century theorist. And rightly so. His treatises on music, including his famous dictionary of musical terms, and influential writings on composition, notation, and counterpoint were groundbreaking then, and are still valuable sources now. But Tinctoris not only wrote about music. He wrote a great deal of fine vocal and instrumental works that included mass movements and songs. A 2017 Ricercar release called Secret Consolations from the Basel-based ensemble Le Miroir de Musique re-introduces listeners to Tinctoris by way of his musical compositions.
Born in 1435, Tinctoris began his music education in Orléans, after which he held positions in Cambrai and Liège before settling in Naples in the 1470s. In Naples, Tinctoris worked as the court composer for King Ferrante of Aragon and also tutored Ferrante’s daughter Beatrice in music. It was during Tinctoris’s time in Naples that scholars have dated most of his musical output.
Missa L’Homme armé
Perhaps Tinctoris’s most familiar work is his Missa L’Homme armé. L’Homme armé mass cycles were all the rage during this period, with some 40 surviving examples from composers such as Dufay, Ockeghem and Busnoys. Specific to the Neapolitan court are at least six anonymous L’Homme armé mass cycles with troped texts–that is added musical or textual content–and Tinctoris’s own example follows suit. The Kyrie of his Mass appears with the trope, ‘Cunctorum plasmator summus.’
There are two more mass cycles by Tinctoris, portions of which Le Miroir de Musique presents on their recording. But the rest of the CD is devoted to motets, canzona, verse, and rondeau. Also included are a few works by related composers including three instrumental versions of Ockeghem’s D’ung autramer arranged by three different composers: Tinctoris, Francesco Spinacino and Alexander Agricola. One other pair is Robert Morton’s sung Rondeau Le souvenir de vous me tue, and Tinctoris’s two separate arrangement of the same for 4 and 2 voices. As Tinctoris was allegedly a keen rebec and bowed vihuela player, Le Miroir de Musique performs his arrangement with harp and a late medieval bowed string instrument.