He has always been a popular figure among musicologists but the fact that he was black has often been relegated to the background.
Born to a white father and a black mother in Portugal, Europe around 1522, Vincente Lusitano pursued a career as a composer and music theorist that extended over to his mother’s African roots and his father’s European backgrounds, as well as, southern and northern Europe, including Venice, Rome and Stuttgart.
Europe’s musicologists would later try and detach him from his mixed background and would regard him as white.
As a composer, Lusitano wrote a number of choral works, including motets and a madrigal, but he is better known for winning a public debate with Nicola Vicentino.
In the 1551 debate in Rome, Lusitano championed traditional views on the role of the three genera in music (diatonic, chromatic and enharmonic) over more radical ones espoused by Nicola Vicentino.
“The dispute between the Portuguese Vincente Lusitano and the Italian Nicola Vincentino concerning the application of Greek genera to more recent music led to a public dispute settled in Rome during June 1551.
“Lusitano advocated a conservative position that music was diatonic unless two consecutive semitones (chromatic genus) or enharmonic dieses (enharmonic genus) were present.
“VICENTINO sought – unsuccessfully as far as the two judges were concerned – to accommodate all three genera by emphasizing the presence of thirds, which in the diatonic genus would necessarily be derived as combinations of two seconds but which occur naturally in the remaining two genera,” accounts from a book, Music Theory from Zarlino to Schenker: A Bibliography and Guide stated.
The 16th-century composer and music theorist was also noted for his important book on theory entitled Introdutione facilissima et novissima de canto ferma (1553), which contains an introduction to music, a section on improvised counterpoint, and his views on the three genera.
It is recorded that Lusitano, who was also an ordained Catholic priest, at a point in time travelled to Italy, allegedly in the entourage of Portugal’s ambassador to Rome.
He subsequently taught in the cities of Padua and Viterbo and achieved much success, receiving high fees from his students.
Around 1556, Lusitano converted to Protestantism, a movement that began in northern Europe in the early 16th century as a reaction to medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices.
He subsequently got married and would later seek refuge in 1561 at the court of the Protestant Duke Christoph of Württemberg as many Protestants were under persecution in Catholic ruled countries.
Though he disappeared from historical records afterwards, Lusitano is still celebrated as one of the spheres within which black Europeans often found success – music.