Vicente Lusitano (d. after 1561)
Even by the standards of 16th century musicians, we know very little about the life of Vicente Lusitano, not even the years of his birth or death. However, we do know that he was born in Olivença and that he was of mixed race heritage, being born to a white father and black mother. He was later ordained priest and left his native Portugal for Rome where two musical treatises and a book of motets where published, making him “the first Black published composer” according to the musicologist Robert Stevenson. Following his conversion to Protestantism in the mid 1550s, he appears to have sought refuge in Württemberg in 1561 but no further details are known. Although he was not as prolific a composer as his contemporaries (he was in fact more renowned as a theorist in his lifetime), his 1555 book of motets contains 23 pieces which show a distinctive musical voice, often exploring unusual sonorities and chromatic harmony.
A selection of motets from Vicente’s Liber primus epigramatum (widely considered to be the first publication of music by a Black composer) including:
Aspice Domine – ATTBarBarB or SAATTB
Isti sunt duae olivae – ATTBarB or SAATB
Sancta mater istud agas – ATTBarB or SAATB