Philippe de Vitry

Philippe de Vitry (31 October 1291 – 9 June 1361) was a French composer, music theorist and poet. He was an accomplished, innovative, and influential composer, and may also have been the author of the Ars Nova treatise. He was widely acknowledged as the greatest musician of his day, with Petrarch writing a glowing tribute, calling him: "... the keenest and most ardent seeker of truth, so great a philosopher of our age."


Details of his early life are vague. While some medieval sources claim that he was born in the Champagne region, more recent research indicates that he may have originated in Vitry-en-Artois near Arras. Given that he is often referred to in documents as "Magister," he is thought likely to have studied at the University of Paris. Later he was prominent in the courts of Charles IV, Philippe VI and Jean II, serving as a secretary and advisor; perhaps aided by these Bourbon connections, he also held several HI, including Clermont, Beauvais and Paris, also serving for a time in the papal retinue at Avignon starting with Clement VI. In addition to all this, he was a diplomat and a soldier, known to have served at the siege of Aiguillon in 1346. In 1351 he became Bishop of Meaux, east of Paris. Moving in all the most important political, artistic and ecclesiastical circles, he was acquainted with many lights of the age, including Petrarch and the famous mathematician, philosopher and music theorist Nicole Oresme. He died in Paris on 9 June 1361.


Philippe de Vitry is most famous in music history for the Ars nova notandi (1322), a treatise on music attributed to him which lent its name to the music of the entire era. While his authorship and the very existence of this treatise have recently come into question, a handful of his musical works do survive and show the innovations in musical notation, particularly mensural and rhythmic, with which he was credited within a century of their inception. Such innovations as are exemplified in his stylistically-attributed motets for the Roman de Fauvel were particularly important, and made possible the free and quite complex music of the next hundred years, culminating in the Ars subtilior. In some ways the "modern" system of rhythmic notation began with the Ars Nova, during which music might be said to have "broken 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.

He is reputed to have written chansons and motets, but only some of the motets have survived. Each is strikingly individual, exploiting a unique structural idea. He is also often credited with developing the concept of isorhythm (an isorhythmic line consists of repeating patterns of rhythms and pitches, but the patterns overlap rather than correspond; e.g., a line of thirty consecutive notes might contain five repetitions of a six-note melody or six repetitions of a five-note rhythm).

Five of his three-part motets have survived in the Roman de Fauvel; an additional nine can be found in the Ivrea Codex.


While there is still debate about what Vitry did and did not compose, the first sixteen works here, all motets, are widely considered to be his.

Works attributed to Vitry on strong historical evidence

# Aman novi / Heu Fortuna / Heu me, tristis est anima mea # Cum statua / Hugo / Magister invidie # Douce playsence / Garison / Neuma quinti toni # Floret / Florens / Neuma # Garrit gallus / In nova fert / Neuma # Impudenter circuivi / Virtutibus / Contratenor / Tenor # O canenda / Rex quem / Contratenor / Rex regum # Petre clemens / Lugentium / Tenor # Tribum / Quoniam secta / Merito hec patimur # Tuba sacre fidei / In arboris / Virgo sum # Vos quid admiramini / Gratissima / Contratenor / Gaude gloriosa

Note: The motet Phi millies / O creator / Iacet granum / Quam sufflabit and the ballade De terre en grec Gaulle appellee are securely attributed to Vitry, but no music for the latter survives, whilst the former survives only fragmentarily (see Zayaruznaya, 2018).

Works attributed to Vitry on a combination of weaker historical evidence and stylistic grounds

# Colla iugo / Bona condit / Libera me Domine # Firmissime / Adesto / Alleluya, Benedictus # Flos ortus / Celsa cedrus / Tenor # Orbis orbatus / Vos pastores / Fur non venit (less widely accepted) # Quid scire proderit / Dantur officia (less widely accepted)

Works attributed to Vitry on stylistic grounds alone (not widely accepted)

# Almifonis / Rosa / Tenor # Amer / Durement / Dolor meus # Apta caro / Flos / Alma redemptorisa mater # In virtute / Decens carmen / Clamor meus / Contratenor # O Philippe / O bone # Per grama protho paret # Scariotis / Jure # Se cuers / Rex # Se paour / Diex / Concupisco # Servant regem / O Philippe / Rex regum