Hyperion Records

Dominique Phinot

born: c1510
died: before 1561
country: Flanders

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Information about Phinot’s career is confined to a handful of documents from the 1540s and 1550s which indicate that he was a musician in the service of Duke Guidobaldo II of Urbino. A memorandum of 1544 records that he was proposed by the Duke for the post of ‘cantor’ (singer or choirmaster) at the cathedral in Pesaro.

Since all of Phinot’s works received their first printings during the period 1538–1555, the composer is likely to have been in his late twenties by the first date, in which case he would have been born around 1510. From Girolamo Cardano’s essay Theonoston, which implies that Phinot was executed for homosexual practices, we learn that his death occurred before 1561.

Phinot’s output consists of over a hundred motets, two Masses, and settings of Vesper Psalms and the Magnificat, as well as two books of French chansons and two Italian madrigals. The acclaim with which his sacred compositions were received is evident both in the frequency of their publications as well as in the writings of his contemporaries. He was renowned as a master of imitative polyphonic writing, a trait which he shares with Gombert, Clemens non Papa, Willaert, and others of that generation who were the successors of Josquin Desprez. Indeed, the theorist Hermann Finck in 1556 placed Phinot behind only Gombert, Clemens, and Crecquillon (and ahead of Willaert) in a list of composers he described as ‘foremost, most excellent, subtlest and, in my judgement, to be imitated’.

The publication in Lyons during 1547–8 of two collections of Phinot’s motets secured his reputation for the rest of the century and beyond. Not only do the five-voice motets in the Liber primus mutetarum confirm his outstanding polyphonic skills but the Liber secundus contains five eight-voice works which are of considerable historical importance. The latter are unique in the mid-sixteenth century in their treatment of double-choir dialogue, a technique in which two four-part ensembles normally alternate thematically related phrases of varying lengths. These works are the antecedents of the resplendent Venetian polychoral tradition of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

In his eight-voice sacred works Phinot builds upon those essential features of double-choir technique which first appeared in the liturgical music of northern Italy, mainly in the Veneto, during the early decades of the sixteenth century. Psalms and canticles, which had for long been associated with ritual antiphonal performance, frequently inspire double-choir settings by composers such as Ruffino d’Assisi (fl1510–1532) and Francesco Santacroce (1488–1556), who already exploit varied lengths of choral exchange, contrasts of high and low register between ensembles, and chordal writing, in order to create genuine double-choir dialogue.

from notes by Roger Jacob & Stephen Rice © 2009

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