Contratenor (Lat.: ‘against the tenor’)
- Owen Jander
(Lat.: ‘against the tenor’)
The name given in the 14th and early 15th centuries to a polyphonic line composed in the same range as the Tenor. The practice of writing a part ‘against the tenor’ superseded the typical 13th-century process of adding parts above a tenor line. The first theoretical mention of the word ‘contratenor’ occurs in the treatise In arte motetorum (CS, iii, 88; 14th–15th century), and its earliest known appearance in a musical source is in a fragmentary motet manuscript of between 1315 and 1319 from the cloister of S Giorgio Maggiore, Venice (facs. in Quadrivium, ix (1968), table 1). The innovatory practice of adding a contratenor to a tenor is interestingly revealed in two motets (Vos quid admiramini/Gratissima/Gaude gloriosa and Impudenter circuivi/Virtutibus laudabilis) by Philippe de Vitry (1291–1361), which may be performed either with a conventional single-line tenor (‘tenor solus’) or with the same part ingeniously rewritten in the new manner as two lines, ‘tenor’ and ‘contratenor’....