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date: 11 December 2019

Hothby [Hocby, Octobi, Ottobi, Otteby], John [Johannes]free

  • Bonnie J. Blackburn

(b c1430; d Oct or Nov 1487). English theorist and composer. His father’s name was William. Nothing is known of his early life, nor where and when he became a Carmelite friar and obtained the master’s degree in sacred theology (in 1467 he is called ‘magister’). He may be identical with the John Otteby, Carmelite friar of the Oxford convent, who was ordained subdeacon on 18 December 1451 in Northampton (Emden, p.1409; the belief that Hothby studied at Oxford in 1435 rests on a mistaken identification, p.969). Before settling in Lucca, where he was installed as chaplain of the altar of S Regolo at the Cathedral of S Martino in February 1467 with the obligation to teach plainchant and polyphony, he had, by his own account (Epistola), travelled in Italy, Germany, France, Great Britain (‘Britania magiore’), and Spain. In the Excitatio quaedam musice artis he refers to his fellow student at the University of Pavia, Johannes Gallicus (here called ‘Johannes Legiensis’); this may have been before Gallicus completed his treatise Ritus canendi, by 1464. A connection with Florence and acquaintance with Lorenzo de’ Medici seems to be indicated by the letter Hothby wrote to him on 17 November 1469 on behalf of a friend (ed. Seay, 1956); in addition, Hothby set to music a ballata by Lorenzo.

Hothby was much appreciated in Lucca, both at the church and by the city fathers, who augmented his salary beginning in 1469, lest he accept another offer and leave Lucca. In 1469 he was called a lector in sacred theology. In addition to music, he taught grammar and mathematics. His fame as a teacher may be the reason for his journey to England in March 1486, at the request of Henry VII. He died ‘in Brittania’ (if Brittany, then on the return trip to Lucca, where his post was held open for him for two years) in October or November 1487.

None of Hothby’s treatises exist in definitive form; they survive in multiple versions, with different titles, in both Latin and Italian and sometimes a mixture of the two. Reacting to Bartolomé Ramos’s criticisms in his Musica practica (1482), Hothby says that he had kept his works back 20 years, and Ramos can only have seen faulty versions made by his students (the often incomprehensible surviving copies and excerpts support this statement). F-Pn lat.7369, copied by Frater Matheus de Testadraconibus in 1471 while studying with Hothby, may indicate his curriculum: it contains treatises by Johannes de Muris and Anonymous V, Hothby’s treatise on proportions, the Dialogus ascribed to Odo, and Guido’s Micrologus; several of these works are also found in other manuscripts containing Hothby’s writings.

Five different versions of his teachings on notation are extant. These are concerned mainly with note shapes, ligatures, and mensuration, with particular emphasis on proportions, the latter also treated in two other works. Hothby was a proponent of the system of notating proportions with a combination of signs and figures (modus cum tempore signs), demonstrated in his pedagogical motet Ora pro nobis. The brief counterpoint treatises, after explaining consonances, demonstrate a form of improvised counterpoint related to the English practice of sights. The Tractatus de arte contrapuncti secundum venerabilem Priorem Johannem de Anglia, published by Reaney in two versions (CSM, xxvi, 1977, pp.25–42, 43–9), is probably not by Hothby, who was not a prior (if it is authentic it would have to pre-date his time in Lucca); it is related to the early 15th-century Ad avere alcuna notitia del contrapunto (I-Fl Redi 71, ff.24v–28v; ed. A. Seay, Quatuor tractatuli italici de contrapuncto, Colorado Springs, CO, 1977, pp.17–24). These rather sketchy treatises probably supplement lectures based primarily on Guido and Johannes de Muris.

Two treatises of a more speculative cast are the Italian Calliopea legale, all versions of which are ‘abbreviated’, and the related Latin Tractatus quarundam regularum artis musice, the most definitive of Hothby’s works, which exists in several versions with different titles and a different ordering of material; the section on the division of the monochord is also found separately. The Calliopea is divided into four sections: hexachords and mutation, melodic movement (developed from Guido’s Micrologus), rhythmic movement (including notation), and intervals. Idiosyncratic terminology (‘voce’ is not a hexachord syllable but letter; B♭ is called ‘A del secondo ordine’; notes of the hexachord are divided into principe, comite, and demostratore according to their function) masks the novelty of Hothby’s views. Dividing the gamut into three orders (naturals, flats, and sharps), he demonstrated hexachords embracing five sharps and five flats, making it possible to sing all six syllables on each degree of the gamut, using schiere promiscue (mixed hexachords). The Tractatus goes further in adding three more orders, the fourth ranged on the division between G and A♭, the fifth on the division between G♯ and A (producing quarter-tones with the first three orders), and the sixth splitting the comma into two schismata. Although he states that the last three orders have not been used in practice, in a letter to an unnamed cleric (Epistola) he describes his own keyboard instrument as having red keys for quarter-tones. The Tractatus also includes an extended discussion of intervals and modes, based on Guido, Johannes Afflighemensis (identified with Pope John XXII, a common error), and Marchetto of Padua. Though Hothby’s treatises were never printed, they were known to contemporary theorists (SpataroC).

Three treatises were occasioned by Hothby’s dispute with Ramos. In the Excitatio he takes issue with 14 passages in Ramos’s Musica practica, especially his new division of the monochord and his rejection of Guidonian solmization. The Epistola, written in Italian to an acquaintance of Ramos’s, defends his position on semitones and properties. The Dialogus of about 1473, addressing an unnamed discipulus (an amateur, not Bonadies, as Seay suggests (in his edition of Tres tractatuli, p.13), followed by Haar and Nádas, 2007), takes up more points of disagreement (here Ramos is not named); it also has interesting sidelights on contemporary practice, naming a number of English musicians and a mass found in the Lucca choirbook (I-La 238), which was copied in Bruges and given to Lucca Cathedral by Giovanni Arnolfini before 1472.

Hothby is commonly considered a conservative, since his teachings are based firmly on Boethius, Guido, and Johannes de Muris and he rejected the innovations of Ramos. But the Calliopea and its Latin analogues show that he tackled issues that were to have far-reaching consequences. His six orders anticipate Nicola Vicentino’s L’antica musica ridotta alla moderna prattica (1555), both in theory and in practical application on the keyboard, though Hothby retains Pythagorean intonation. His proposal to resolve the octave species with the diapente and diatessaron reversed (resolutiones), suggesting hypothetical modes 9–12, anticipates Glareanus’s Dodecachordon. If his idiosyncratic terminology was meant to mask his avant-garde notions, he largely succeeded.

Like many theorists, Hothby also composed. He is surely the author of the office for St Regulus, patron of the altar at which he held a chaplaincy (ed. Brand; see also Brand, 2008). Only nine polyphonic works survive, a Kyrie, two Magnificat settings, two motets, and four Italian songs. All for three voices, they were copied into the Faenza codex (I-FZc 117) in the early 1470s by a fellow Carmelite, Johannes Bonadies; one of the Magnificats and three Italian songs, with fuller texts (Faenza gives only incipits), also appear in another Carmelite manuscript, I-MAc 518 (Memelsdorff, 2006). Diva panthera pays tribute to the city of Lucca: a panther appears in the Lucca city arms. Ave sublim’ e trimphal vexillo very likely was composed for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, of major importance in the Lucca calendar (Memelsdorff, 2006, p.19). Tard’il mio cor, in ballade form, is attractive. The more ambitious Amore is especially interesting both for its text (a ballata by Lorenzo de’ Medici; Memelsdorff, 2006, pp.20–22) and its musical connections. The tenor is the basis of Hothby’s second Magnificat, as Robert Mitchell noticed (1989, vol. 1, p.98), and the cantus is heavily influenced by Bedyngham’s O rosa bella (mentioned by Fallows, 1999, p.570, demonstrated in Haar and Nádas, 2007, pp.301–3). The English idiom is noticeable.

Two works are lost. One is the carmen with an enigmatic inscription mentioned in the Dialogus as composed 24 years earlier (i.e. in the early 1450s). Hothby explains that it incorporated the image of Pythagoras at the forge with four hammers and was written to obey his teacher in order to remember the proportions (Blackburn, 2016, pp.748–9). The other is a rota demonstrating the note values of the mensural system, mentioned by Giovanni del Lago in a letter to Pietro Aaron of 17 August 1539 (SpataroC, p.712); it is not clear whether it is a composition or a figure.



The Musical Works of John Hothby, ed. A. Seay, CMM, xxxiii (1964) [S]

John Hothby, Historia Sancti Reguli Episcopi et Martiris, ed. B. Brand, Wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen/Musicological Studies, lxv (Ottawa, 2010) [B]

Office, Mass movement, Magnificats, and motets

Office of St Regulus (attr.) [B]

Kyrie, 3vv, based on Kyrie ‘Cunctipotens’ [S]

Magnificat, 3vv, even-numbered verses only [S, pp.10–16]

Magnificat, 3vv, even numbered verses only [S, pp.17–21; fuller text in I-MAc 518; T = T of Amore ch’ay visto; identified by R. Mitchell; see Strohm, 2008, p.27; related musically to the cantus of Bedyngham’s O rosa bella; demonstrated in Haar and Nádas, 2007, pp.301–3]

Ora pro nobis, 3vv (discussed in SpataroC, nos.45, 49, 51, 63) [S]

Que est ista que ascendit, 4vv [S]

Italian songs

Amore ch’ay visto, 3vv [S; fuller text, by Lorenzo de’ Medici, after I-MAc 518 in Memelsdorff, 2006, p.16]

Ave sublim’e triumphale, 3vv [S; for full text after I-MAc 518 in Memelsdorff 2006, p.16; ed. Haar and Nádas, 2007, pp.293–6]

Diva panthera, 3vv [S; full text after I-MAc 518 in Memelsdorff, 2006, p.16]

Tard’il mio cor, 3vv [S]

Lost works

Carmen with enigmatic inscription (Blackburn, 2016, pp.748–9)

Rota demonstrating the values of the mensural system (SpataroC, p.712)


  • Johannes Hothby: De arte contrapuncti, ed. G. Reaney, CSM, 26 (1977) [R i]
  • Johannes Hothby: Tres tractatuli contra Bartholomeum Ramum, ed. A. Seay, CSM, 10 (1964) [S]
  • Johannes Hothby: Opera omnia de musica mensurabili, ed. G. Reaney, CSM, 31 (1983) [R ii]
  • Johannes Hothby: Opera omnia de proportionibus, ed. G. Reaney, CSM, 39 (1997) [R iii]
General treatises
  • Calliopea legale (I-Fn Magl.XIX.36, ff.84–92; Fn Pal.472, ff.1–8v; GB-Lbl Add.36986, ff.35–40; I-Vnm lat.VIII.82, ff.80–114v; US-Wc ML171.R32, ff.39–48bisv [inc.]); ed. with Fr. trans. in Coussemaker (1852), 295–349; Schmidt (1897); with Eng. trans. in McDonald (1990)
  • Dialogus in arte musica (I-Fn Magl.XIX.36, ff.81v–83v), S; see also Seay (1955)
  • Epistola (Fn Magl.XIX.36, ff.74–8), S
  • Excitatio quedam musice artis per refutationem (Fn Pal.472, ff.16–21), S
The tractatus complex
  • Tractatus quarundam regularum artis musice (GB-Lbl Add.36986, ff.2–24v; I-Fn Pal.472, ff.9–15)
  • Ars plana musice (Fn Magl.XIX.36, ff.78v–81v)
  • De musica intervallosa (Fl 29.48, ff.1–6; Vnm lat.VIII.82, ff.40–62)
  • Regule (Rli 36 D 31, ff.21v–37)
Teachings on the monochord
  • Iste est modus et ordo faciendi monocordum antiquum (I-Vnm lat.VIII.82, ff.137–9)
  • Questo e il modo da fare il monocordo (Fn Pal.472, ff.8v and 15)
  • Regule de monocordo manuali (FZc 117, f.41)
  • Voces differentes quidem forma septem sunt (Fn Pal.472, ff.21–2)
  • Part of Ars plana musice also includes teachings on the monochord.
Teachings on notation
  • De cantu figurato secundum eundem fratrem Johannem Hothbi Carmelitam (I-FZc 117, f.25rv), R ii; CoussemakerS, iii, 330–32
  • Del canto afigurato (Rv O 29, ff.15–16v), R ii
  • Proportiones secundum Joannem Otteby (GB-Lbl Add.10336, ff.62v–73v; Llp 466, ff.22v–30v), R ii
  • Regule Magistri Johannis Hoctobi anglici cantus figurati (I-Vnm lat.VIII.82, ff.77–79v), R ii
  • Sequuntur regule cantus mensurati eiusdem Ottobi (Fl Plut.29.48, ff.119v–120v), R ii
Teachings on counterpoint
  • Regole dil contrapuncto (I-Rv O 29, ff.18–23v), R i
  • Regule contrapuncti Johannis Octobi Carmelite (Fl Plut.29.48, ff.118–119v; GB-Lbl Add.36986, ff.31v–32v), R i
  • Regule contrapuncti secundum predictum magistrum [Giovanni Hochtobi] (I-Vnm lat.VIII.82, ff.75–7); ed. in Reaney (1988)
  • Regule Hothbi supra contrapunctum (FZc 117, f.33); ed. in CoussemakerS, iii, 333–4; R i
  • Spetie tenore del contrapunto prima (GB-Lbl Add.36986, ff.26–30), R i
Teachings on proportions
  • Quid est proportio? (GB-Lbl Add.10336, ff.58–62v; Llp 466, ff.19–22v)
  • Regule fratris Jo. hothbi super proportiones (I-FZc 117, ff.24v–25; Vnm lat.VIII.82, ff.69–73v; F-Pn lat.7369, ff.26–8); ed. in CoussemakerS, iii, 328–30, R iii


  • MGG1 (G. Reaney); SpataroC; StrohmM
  • C.-E.-H. de Coussemaker: Histoire de l’harmonie au Moyen-Age (Paris, 1852/R), 295–349
  • L. Nerici: Storia della musica in Lucca (Lucca, 1879/R)
  • U. Kornmüller: ‘Johann Hothby: eine Studie zur Geschichte der Musik im 15. Jahrhundert’, KJb, 8 (1893), 1–23
  • A.W. Schmidt: Die Calliopea legale des Johannes Hothby (Leipzig, 1897)
  • A. Seay: ‘The Dialogus Johannis Ottobi Anglici in arte musica’, JAMS, vol.8 (1955), 86–100
  • A. Seay: ‘Florence: the City of Hothby and Ramos’, JAMS, vol.9 (1956), 193–5
  • A.B. Emden: A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500, 2 (Oxford, 1958), 969, 1409
  • G. Reaney: ‘The Manuscript Transmission of Hothby’s Theoretical Works’, A Festschrift for Albert Seay, ed. M.D. Grace (Colorado Springs, CO, 1982), 21–31
  • K. Berger: Musica ficta: Theories of Accidental Inflections in Vocal Polyphony from Marchetto da Padova to Gioseffo Zarlino (Cambridge, 1987)
  • G. Reaney: ‘The Musical Theory of John Hothby’, RBM, vol.42 (1988), 119–33
  • R. Mitchell: The Palaeography and Repertory of Trent Codices 89 and 91 (diss., U. of Exeter, 1989)
  • T.L. McDonald: The ‘Musica plana’ of John Hothby (diss., Rutgers U., 1990)
  • A.M. Busse Berger: Mensuration and Proportion Signs: Origins and Evolution (Oxford, 1993)
  • R. Woodley: John Tucke: a Case Study in Early Tudor Music Theory (Oxford, 1993), 50–52
  • G. Reaney: ‘New Additions to Hothby’s Counterpoint Treatises and Theory’, MD, vol.52 (1998), 45–56
  • D. Fallows: A Catalogue of Polyphonic Songs, 1415–1480 (Oxford, 1999)
  • B. Brand: Liturgical Ceremony and Performance Practice at the Cathedral of Lucca, 1275–1500 (diss., Yale U., 2006), esp. 317–23
  • P. Memelsdorff, ‘John Hothby, Lorenzo il Magnifico, e Robert Morton in una nuova fonte manoscritta a Mantova’, AcM, vol.78 (2006), 1–32
  • B. Brand: ‘The Development of the Polyphonic Chapel at the Cathedral of Lucca’, L’istituzione ‘cappella musicale’ fra corte e chiesa nell’Italia del Rinascimento: Camaiore 2005 (Florence, 2007), 73–90
  • J. Haar and J. Nádas: ‘Johannes de Anglia (John Hothby): Notes on his Career in Italy’, AcM, vol.79 (2007), 291–358 [to be read in the light of Strohm, 2008]
  • B. Brand: ‘John Hothby and the Cult of St Regulus at Lucca’, EMH, vol.27 (2008), 1–45
  • R. Strohm: ‘John Hothby, the Lucca Choirbook – and Further Dragon’s Heads?’, AcM, vol.80 (2008), 59–66 [correcting Haar and Nádas, 2007]
  • R. Strohm, ed.: The Lucca Choirbook: Lucca, Archivio di Stato, MS 238; Lucca, Archivio Arcivescovile, MS 97; Pisa, Archivio Arcivescovile, Biblioteca Maffi, Cartella 11/III (Chicago, 2008), esp. 29–34
  • B.J. Blackburn: ‘“Notes Secretly Fitted Together”: Theorists on Enigmatic Canons – and on Josquin’s Hercules Mass?’, Qui musicam in se habet: Studies in Honor of Alejandro Enrique Planchart, ed. A. Zayaruznaya, B.J. Blackburn, and S. Boorman (Middleton, WI, 2015), 743–60, esp. 748–50
Acta musicologica
Early Music History
Venice, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France
Kirchenmusikalisches Jahrbuch
Lucca, Archivio di Stato
Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart
Washington, DC, Library of Congress, Music Division
Rome, Biblioteca Vallicelliana
Musica disciplina
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Dipartimento Musica
Revue belge de musicologie
Journal of the American Musicological Society
Rome, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei e Corsiniana, Biblioteca
R. Strohm: Music in Late Medieval Bruges (Oxford, 1985)
Faenza, Biblioteca Comunale Manfrediana, Raccolte Musicali
Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana
B.J. Blackburn, E.E. Lowinsky and C.A. Miller: A Correspondence of Renaissance Musicians (Oxford, 1991)
London, Lambeth Palace Library
London, British Library