Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Although chant was probably sung since the earliest days of the church, for centuries they were only transmitted orally. The earliest written notation for chant appears in the 9th century. At first the markings only appear as curvy signs above the text, based loosely on ancient Greek inflection marks. While these signs indicated whether the melody went up or down, and how many notes there were, there was no indication of what intervals were to be sung; these are called chironomic or in campo aperto neumes. Presumably these were intended only as mnemonics for melodies learned by ear. The earliest extant manuscripts (9th-10th centuries) of such neumes include:
- the abbey of St. Gall, in modern-day Switzerland
- Messine neumes (from the monastery of Metz in northeast France)
- Aquitanian neumes (southern France, also used in Spain)
- Laon, Chartres, Montpellier
In the early 11th century, Beneventan neumes (from the monastery of St. Benevant in southern Italy) were written at varying distances from the text to indicate the overall shape of the melody; these are called diastamatic neumes. Shortly after this, one to four staff lines clarified the exact relationship between pitches. All of these neumes resembled the same thin, scripty style of the chironomic notation. In 13th century England, Sarum chant was notated using square noteheads, a practice which subsequently spread throughout southern Europe (although in Germany a variant called Gothic neumes continued to be used until the 16th century).
Standard neumatic notation
Various manuscripts and printed editions of Gregorian chant, using varying styles of square-note neumes, circulated throughout the Catholic church for centuries. Some editions added rhythmic patterns, or meter, to the chants. In the 19th century the monks of the Benedictine abbey of Solemnes , particularly Dom Joseph Pothier (1835-1923) and Dom André Mocquereau (1849-1930) collected facsimiles of the earliest manuscripts and published them in a book called Paléographie musicale . They also assembled definitive versions of many of the chants, and developed a standardized form of the square-note notation which was adopted by the Catholic church and is still in use in publications such as the Liber usualis (although there are also published editions of this book in modern notation). The Solemnes monks also determined, based on their research, performance practice for Gregorian chant, based generally on giving every note equal length, but the rhythmic practices of chant are a subject of deep dispute among modern musicologists.
Neumes are always used syllabically; a three-note neume, for example, indicates that (at least) three notes are to be sung to a single syllable. The single-note neumes indicate that only a single note corresponds to that syllable. Chants which primarily use single-note neumes are called syllabic; chants with typically one multi-note neume per note are called neumatic, and those with many neumes per note are called melismatic.
Single note neumes
The virga and punctum are sung identically. Scholars disagree on whether the bipunctum indicates a note twice as as long, or whether the same note should be re-articulated as the name repercussive implies.
|Clivis||Two notes descending|
|Podatus or Pes ("foot")||Two notes ascending|
When two notes are one above the other, as in the podatus, the lower note is always sung first.
|Scandicus||Three notes ascending|
|Climacus||Three notes descending|
The fact that the first two notes of the porrectus are connected as a diagonal rather than as individual notes seems to be a scribe's shortcut.
Several neumes in a row can be juxtaposed for a single syllable, but the following usages have specific names. These are only a few examples.
|Praepunctis||a note appended to the beginning is praepunctis; this example is a podatus pressus because it involves a repeated note|
|Subpunctis||One or more notes appended at the end of a neume; this example is a scandicus subbipunctis|
Other basic markings
|Flat||same meaning as modern flat; only occurs on B, and is placed before the entire neume, or group of neumes, rather than immediately before the affected note.|
|Custos||At the end of a staff, the custos indicates what the first note of the next staff will be|
|Mora||Like a dot in modern notation, lengthens the preceding note, typically doubling it|
These markings, although present in almost all early manuscripts, are subject to great dispute.
| Vertical episema|
|Seems to indicate a subsidiary accent when there are five or more notes in a neume group|
| Horizontal episema|
|Used over a single note or a group of notes (as shown), essentially ignored in the Solemnes interpretation; other scholars treat it as indicating a lengthening or stress on the note(s).|
| Liquescent neume|
|Can occur on almost any type of neume; usually associated with certain letter combinations such as double consonants, consonant pairs, or diphthongs in the text|
|Always as part of a multi-note neume, usually a climacus, this sign is a matter of great dispute; the Solemnes interpretation is that the preceding note is to be lengthened slightly.|
Other interpretations of the quilisma:
- Shake or trill -- Prof. William Mahrt of Stanford University supports this one
- Quarter-tone or accidental. The support for this interpretation lies in some early digraphic manuscripts which combine chironomic neumes with letter-names. In places where other manuscripts have quilismas these digraphs often have a strange symbol in place of a letter, suggesting to some scholars the use of a pitch outside the solmization system represented by the letter names. The trigon is a neume peculiar to St. Gall which may also have a microtonal meaning.
There are also litterae significativae in many manuscripts, usually interpreted to indicate variations in tempo, e.g. c = celeriter (fast), t = tenete (hold), a = auge (lengthen, as in a tie). The Solemnes editions omit all such letters.
Rhythmic interpretation of neumes
While most scholars agree with the Solemnes monks that the shapes of the notes do not indicate any kind of rhythmic variation, and the notes are all of equal length (except when the mora is encountered), there are many differing interpretations. Some champion two note values, one shorter and one longer (twice, or even three times, as long); but that school of thought cannot achieve consensus on how the two note values are to be applied. Musicologist Gustav Reese said that the second group, called mensuralists, "have an impressive amount of historical evidence on their side," (Music in the Middle Ages, p. 146), but the equal-note Solemnes interpretation has permeated the musical world, apparently due to its ease of learning and resonance with modern musical taste.
Other types of neumes
- Mozarabic or hispanic neumes (Spain), also called Visigothic script. These neumes have not been deciphered, but the Mozarabic liturgy varies somewhat from the Roman rite.
- Daseian notation
- Buddhist chant uses a type of neume.
- Graduale triplex, ISBN 2-85274-094-X, a special edition of the Graduale Romanum with chant notation in three forms, one above the other, for easy comparison: Laon, St. Gall, and square-note
- Paléographie musicale, ISBN 2852742195, facsimiles of early adiastamatic chant manuscripts
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