General Introduction

The Latin musical treatises of the fifteenth-century theorist, composer and lawyer Johannes Tinctoris (c. 1435–1511) are widely acknowledged to be among the principal sources of information regarding notation and compositional practice – especially contrapuntal, modal and mensural theory – surviving from the late medieval and early Renaissance period, as well as a central focus for important recent research on musical aesthetics, reception and education at this crucial point in western European culture. The twelve treatises that make up Tinctoris's surviving theoretical output were compiled during the 1470s and 1480s, while the author was employed as chaplain, singer and legal adviser at the Aragonese court of Ferdinand I (Ferrante) in Naples; their content demonstrates not only an exceptional technical command of musical notation and theory, but also an intimate acquaintance with contemporary polyphonic practice, derived from a wide knowledge of the composers of his day and their music, both in northern Europe, where he began his career, and in Italy. Whilst many of his writings are directed toward practical, instructional ends, Tinctoris's work also reveals in a fascinating way the impact of Italian humanist thought on a musician brought up within the cultural and institutional framework of the Low Countries and France in the mid-fifteenth century.

The standard edition of Tinctoris's treatises currently in use by musicologists (except De inventione et usu musice (Weinmann 1961), the Diffinitorium (Parrish 1963; now largely supplanted by Panti 2004), and a new edition of the Complexus effectuum musices (Strohm & Cullington 1996)) is that published some 25 years ago by Albert Seay for the American Institute of Musicology (Seay 1975). Although in some ways Seay's work improves on the previously available edition, that of the 19th-century scholar Coussemaker, it has nevertheless proved far from satisfactory for all but the most basic of needs, and its inaccuracies and confusions for others working in the field were further compounded in a series of unfortunate translations published by Seay through his own Colorado College Music Press. It is hoped that this new web-based edition, with its inherently open-ended architecture and potential for genuine intellectual and informational evolution, will help remedy this situation, and that the production of such a multimedia resource will be directed in such a way as to bring together historical and musicological research at the highest level for the benefit of a wide range of users – scholars, performers, teachers and students alike. Through its goal as a freely accessible primary source for information in late medieval notation and theory, the project can thus be seen as, in a sense, returning Tinctoris's work, within a 21st-century context, to its original pedagogical function.

The development of this edition has been supported by financial assistance generously provided by a Research Fellowship awarded by The Leverhulme Trust, UK (2000–2001), the Research Leave Scheme of the Arts and Humanities Research Board (now Council), UK (2002–3), and by the John Clementi Collard Fellowship 2000–01 awarded by the Worshipful Company of Musicians, London. The research continues to be funded by Birmingham Conservatoire, part of Birmingham City University, UK.








'In ancient music there were conflicting methods of notation, so that
everything was in great confusion. They signified time by whole
circles and half circles which were sometimes cut through,
sometimes turned round, and sometimes distinguished
by a dot inside or outside. As, however, it no longer
serves any purpose to scribble down their poor,
obsolete stuff, amateurs are referred to the
ancient writings themselves.'

(Leopold Mozart (1756), trans. Knocker)

Guidelines for viewing these pages

This edition has been designed above all for ease of use, with minimum disruption caused to the viewer by lengthy downloads of unnecessary images and files. Although you require no additional software, beyond a reasonably recent, frame-compatible, version of a web browser to view the main texts, there are nevertheless a few points which you need to be aware of, in order to optimize your viewing of the pages, as outlined below. Some material on the site is in PDF format, for which you will need Adobe Reader and/or a suitable PDF browser plug-in installed on your computer. On the display of certain special images using Zoomify™ software, see below.

These pages use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) within XHTML to control most aspects of the way the material is displayed on screen. You should ensure that your browser is compatible with CSS, and that your own Preference settings do not override the display characteristics generated by them. Your browser should also be JavaScript-enabled, without which certain window actions will not take place properly. The recommended minimum screen resolution is 1024 × 768 pixels, and you should view the framesets at full screen size to prevent problems with the line-numbering of the texts.

Screen layout and navigation
For most of the time, the screen is divided into three or four frames: the column on the left is reserved either for indexes of contents, to aid navigation, or notes relating to the textual apparatus; the main texts open into the larger frame in the top right of your screen (i.e. the frame you are reading now); and the bottom right frame is generally used for translations, footnotes, and other bibliographical reference or secondary material. Sometimes the left frame is further split at the bottom, to allow easy return either to earlier layers of the edition or back to the home page. All frames, however, are resizable by the user according to need, and you may especially wish to reposition the horizontal separator between the text and translation frames, when reading the treatises themselves, according to the particular focus of your attention. In this respect, the behaviour of certain browsers seems preferable to others: some versions of Internet Explorer, for instance, seem spontaneously to undo such resizings when a new link is clicked, which is rather annoying. As tested, however, recent versions of e.g. Mozilla Firefox, Netscape, Opera and Safari seem to operate correctly in this respect. On the other hand, some versions of Safari seem to have trouble with repositioning the vertical separator between frames, whilst Opera is less satisfactory than some others in its vertical spacing of superscripted characters within the texts. By and large, Firefox seems a good choice of browser for most of the display features employed in these pages.

Live links within most texts display in red, with underlining only on mouse rollover. These links are usually set to remain in red when visited, to avoid visual clutter especially where bi-directional links to/from footnotes are implemented. (It is helpful, for this reason, to ensure that your browser is set not to override these link colours.) Live links within some specific pages whose text consists almost entirely of linked material (such the main Contents listing in the left frame of the Home Page, and the Index frames of the treatises themselves), are set to display as red only on mouse rollover, again to avoid visual clutter.

Main treatise texts & translations
When viewing the treatise texts, the red line numberings down the left margin of the Latin texts (5, 10, 15, etc.) link bi-directionally to basic textual apparatus information (where available), which opens into the left frame of the screen. The red paraph marks or pilcrows () appearing at the beginnings of chapters and elsewhere are not merely decorative flourishes: they link to the equivalent passage in translation, which opens into the bottom right frame. These translation links are also bi-directional: in other words, if you click on a in the translation, the main upper right frame will return you to that point in the Latin text. With the various permutations of link available, you should be able to navigate easily between texts, translations, and apparatus material. You will also usually have a clear Home Page link available in the bottom left frame, to provide an easy re-orientation if you get lost!

If you find that the numbered lines in the treatise texts and translations spill over incorrectly to a following (short) line, thus upsetting the line-numbering, you may need to adjust one or more frame sizes (or your screen resolution) in order to restore the correct lineation. In most cases any such problems will be overcome by ensuring that you are viewing the framesets at full screen size, at a resolution of 1024 × 768 pixels. You are strongly advised not to alter the relative type size of the windows in your browser, unless this is absolutely necessary for reasons of impaired vision, as this may also create unpredictable and unsatisfactory screen layout.

Some special images on this site, particularly reproductions from manuscripts, use Zoomify™ technology to enable the viewer to zoom in and out of, and navigate around, the images. The Zoomify viewer opens automatically when you link to one of these images, but you need to have the free downloadable Flash Player v. 6 or higher installed on your computer in order to use this viewer. The security features embedded in the Zoomify technology prevent copyrighted images from being downloaded or printed in the normal manner.

In-line images
As with the behaviour of certain fonts in webpages, another slightly unpredictable factor is the way some browsers display in-line GIF images, especially those embedded within a line of text. In this edition, you will often come across a notational symbol such as a mensuration sign (e.g. ostroke), which ought to display correctly as sitting more or less on the baseline of the surrounding text, but which may appear curiously sunk below the line or alternatively raised into a kind of superscript position. If you find this occurring, it may mean that you are using an older version of your browser, which does not recognize some of the image alignment attributes employed in the XHTML code. The easiest solution is to update or vary your browser. Some of the larger GIF images (for instance, figures involving curved lines within treatise texts) seem to display more smoothly in, for instance, Mozilla Firefox, Opera or Safari, than in Internet Explorer or Netscape.

Music Examples
The musical examples and other images in 15th-century mensural and chant notation throughout this edition have been constructed using specially developed font packages, which it is hoped will soon become available for wider use among scholars, editors and performers of late medieval and Renaissance music. If you are interested in learning more about these, you can contact the editor, Professor Ronald Woodley, directly here.

Sound files
As this project continues, sound files of music examples will be added, which it is intended will also explore issues such as late medieval and Renaissance tuning systems. One aspect of this, relating to the chromatic semitone, is discussed in the editor's article 'Sharp Practice in the Later Middle Ages: Exploring the Chromatic Semitone and its Implications', embedded in this edition here. These sound files are provided in MP3 format, QuickTime by default; you will therefore need to have a suitable application for playing these files installed on your computer, preferably connected to reasonably high-quality speakers or headphones.

Facsimiles of the main manuscript sources, and word/character-string search facilities will also become available in due course.


Professor Ronald Woodley
Research Department
Birmingham Conservatoire
Birmingham City University
Paradise Place
Birmingham B3 3HG