Philippe de Vitry

French Born 31 Oct 1291 Died 09 Jun 1361

Philippe de Vitry was one of the most prominent figures in medieval music.

Not only do we know of his existence, but the dates of his birth and death are relatively certain.

Vitry was the author of an important music theory text, Ars Nova, which has been taken up as the name of that entire period of music history.

In the Ars Nova, Vitry is primarily concerned with expanding the rhythmic resources offered to composers.

He introduces new rhythmic schemes, along with a new mensural notation which was to play an important role for more than a hundred years after his death.

The main result of his innovations is that the different lines of polyphony are given much greater independence than had been done previously, during the so-called Ars Antiqua.

These new rhythms included, quite significantly, the emancipation of binary rhythm which was considered not only "imperfect" but musically impossible until this time; for us, such a situation is certainly hard to believe.

At any rate, Vitry was known as one of the greatest intellectuals of his time and is credited with profound knowledge in mathematics, philosophy, and rhetoric.

Vitry is credited with a large role in the development of the motet.

Vitry's use of rhythm occupies an intermediate place between the older style exemplified by Perotin in which voices show little rhythmic independence (instead operating as a kind of decorated monody in which chordal progression give a kaleidoscopic effect), and the more modern style of Guillaume de Machaut in which rhythmic devices are integral to a composition.

Vitry's music provides much of the new technical means which would lead to the increased melodic invention and cosmopolitan subtlety of the following generations of composers, from Machaut to Guillaume Dufay.

Though we do know something about Philippe de Vitry's life and his positions at the French court, less is known about his actual compositions.

The only surviving works (some with greater evidence of authenticity than others) are motets.

Show more