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Philippe de Vitry
Philippe de Vitry (October 31, 1291 – June 9, 1361) was a French composer, music theorist and poet. He was the defining music theorist of the early ars nova, as well as an accomplished, innovative, and influential composer.
He was born in Paris. Biographical details of his life are sketchy, but he is known to have studied at the Sorbonne. Later he was prominent in the courts of Charles IV, Philippe VI and Jean II, serving as secretary and advisor. He was a diplomat as well as a soldier, and is known to have served at the siege of Aiguillon in 1346. In 1351 he became Bishop of Meaux, east of Paris. He died in Paris.
Vitry is most famous in music history for writing the Ars Nova (1322), a treatise on music, which gave its name to the music of the entire era. His contributions to notation, in particular notation of rhythm, were particularly important, and made possible the free and quite complex music of the next hundred years. In some ways the modern system of rhythmic notation began with Vitry, who broke free from the older idea of the rhythmic modes, patterns which were repeated without being individually notated. The notational predecessors of modern time meters also originate in the Ars Nova.
Vitry wrote chansons and motets, but only the motets have survived. Unlike the music of many of his contemporaries, each motet is strikingly individual, exploring a unique structural idea. Vitry is also often credited with developing the concept of isorhythm (an isorhythmic line is one which has repeating patterns of rhythms and pitches, but the patterns overlap rather than correspond—for example a line of thirty consecutive notes might contain five repetitions of a six-note melody, and six repetitions of a five-note rhythm).
He was widely acknowledged as the greatest musician of his day, and even Petrarch wrote a glowing tribute of him: "...he is the great philosopher and truth-seeker of our age."
References and further reading
- Ernest H. Sanders, "Philippe de Vitry", in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1561591742
- Richard H. Hoppin, Medieval Music. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1978. ISBN 0393090906
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