A Medieval Scholasticus and Renaissance Choirmaster: A Portrait of John Hothby at Lucca

Rome - music manuscript, 15th c. - polyphonic music
Rome - music manuscript, 15th c. - polyphonic music
Rome – music manuscript, 15th c. – polyphonic music

A Medieval Scholasticus and Renaissance Choirmaster: A Portrait of John Hothby at Lucca

Benjamin Brand

Renaissance Quarterly: 63 (2010): 754–806


John Hothby’s career as cathedral choirmaster at Lucca is one of the longest, best documented, and most exceptional of any Northern musician active in fifteenth-century Italy. As director of the cathedral school and choir, this Englishman embodied two models of music master: a scholastic trained in the old Trivium and Quadrivium, and a professional maestro di cappella. Fulfilling this double role was but one way in which Hothby differed from his fellow oltremontani by ingratiating himself with his Lucchese patrons, colleagues, and citizens at large. Another was the integration into his curriculum of older pedagogies of local and regional origin, ones designed to appeal to his Italian students. The most important example of such appropriation were the laude that formed a basis for his students’ exercises in two-voice mensural counterpoint. The latter appear in I-Lc, Enti religiosi soppressi, 3086, one of only two examples of student work to survive from before 1500. These newly discovered exercises thus illuminate not only Hothby’s career, but also a hitherto obscure stage of learning by which aspiring singers progressed from strict, note- against-note discant to complex, florid polyphony.

In March of 1486, the Gonfaloniere and nine elders (Anziani) of Lucca wrote a letter of good service for the choirmaster of their cathedral of San Martino. None less than King Henry VII had called home John Hothby (ca. 1430–87), a Carmelite friar whose integrity, learning, and ‘‘good nature and liberality in teaching students’’ the Lucchese officials heartily praised. They added that during Hothby’s nearly twenty years of service, his virtues had earned him the gratitude of their populace and should in turn secure the hospitality of those whom he encountered on his travels home. Yet their magnanimity undoubtedly masked their hope that Hothby would return to Lucca: their General Council had encouraged this by granting him the option of reoccupying his post as late as October of 1487. This scenario went unrealized, for in that very month arrived news of his death in England.

Click here to read this article from Renaissance Quarterly

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