Antoine Busnoys's Missa L'homme armé commits one notational error after another—at least according to Johannes Tinctoris. As several scathing passages in his Proportionale musices attest, Tinctoris abhors Busnoys's mensural innovations. And yet Busnoys's notational choices, while certainly idiosyncratic, are also arguably justifiable: the composer was merely finding ways of recording novel musical ideas that had no agreed-upon notational solutions. In this article I argue that Tinctoris's response to Busnoys is not limited to the criticisms in his theoretical treatises. Tinctoris the composer responds far more comprehensively, and at times with far greater sympathy for Busnoys's practice, in his own Missa L'homme armé. He echoes Busnoys's mass notationally, in that he treats it as an example of what not to do; his response is also deeply musical, in that he tackles similar technical problems as a means of achieving analogous contrapuntal effects. Tinctoris's and Busnoys's settings need to be understood in the context of fifteenth-century masses, one in which composers were not necessarily content to work within the system but invented new ways of writing in order to create new sounds. In doing so, mere “composers” could sometimes achieve significance as “theorists.” Taken together, the L'homme armé masses of Busnoys and Tinctoris raise a range of historiographical issues that invite us to reassess the figure of the “theorist-composer.” This article thus not only contributes to the discourse on musical borrowing but also opens out to a broader framework, asking what it means for a late medieval musician to theorize—in music as well as in prose.
Composing in Theory: Busnoys, Tinctoris, and the L'homme armé Tradition
EMILY ZAZULIA is Assistant Professor of Music at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work on fourteenth- and fifteenth-century music and the history of music theory has been supported by fellowships from the AMS, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Studies, and Harvard University's Villa I Tatti. She is currently writing a book on late medieval music notation and its intersections with musical style, theory, and intellectual history.
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Emily Zazulia; Composing in Theory: Busnoys, Tinctoris, and the L'homme armé Tradition. Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 April 2018; 71 (1): 1–73. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2018.71.1.1
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