The Neume Notation Project

Louis W. G. Barton

GlossaryGlossary of Musicological Terms

Index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

An auxiliary mark written before a note to modify the note's pitch. The most common accidentals are the sharp and the flat, which raise or lower the note's pitch by a half step respectively.

A book, usually manuscript, containing music for use at the Mass (antiphonale missarum) or the daily office (antiphonale officii).

apostropha (or, stropha, or strophicus)
A neume form, written like the apostrophe of vowel elision, that indicates a lightly, or delicately rendered note. The apostropha is always written in combination with other neumes. There is debate about correct interpretation of the apostropha.

The art of decorative or fancy handwriting. Writing was a high-tech skill in medieval times. Few people had the training and experience to do it well; until the founding of universities, almost all scribes were monks. Copying of religious texts was done with great care and artistry. Music writing required even greater skill, and so copying of music manuscripts was left only to the most experienced scribes. [See § Overview, General Discussion of the Project, for more information.]

The singer in charge of the choir in a church or monastery, generally responsible for the choir and for seeing to it that the correct chants are sung for the liturgy.

cheironomic notation
Notation symbols that represent the gestures of the hand that inform singers of the correct note to sing in a chant. Cheironomy (i.e., the hand signs, themselves) was used in ancient Egypt and is evident today in isolated Jewish religious practice. Unheighted neume notation is sometimes called cheironomic notation, as it indicates the general melodic shape, rather than specific not pitches.

chant [see plainchant]

[Latin for key] A mark at the beginning of a staff that establishes a correspondence between staff lines and tones of the scale [Italian scala, "ladder"]. Generally, there are two clefs used in chant notation, the doh clef and the fah clef. Doh and fah are tones of the solfège scale (doh, re, me, fah, sol, la, ti, doh). The staff line marked with the doh clef establishes which line is doh, and similarly when a fah clef is used. Modern music, by contrast, uses the C, F, and G clefs, which have a similar purpose in setting the relative pitch of the rest of the staff lines.

Example: doh clef on a four-line staff

Example: fah clef on a three-line staff

A two-note neume in which the second note is lower than the first.

A manuscript volume.

common practice notation
A term synonymous with 'modern music notation'. This is the form of music notation familiar to most people. It involves quarter notes, half notes, rests, time signature, etc.

copying error
A transcription mistake made by a scribe when copying a manuscript. The study of where and when variations were introduced into manuscript copies can give important clues about the line-of-transmission of plainchant melodies. "Until the 9th century words were not separated, although in some writing, both inscriptions and literary works, dots or points were used as divisions. These practices accounted for many errors in transcription by scribes who were either careless or uneducated. The difficulty of deciphering medieval manuscripts arises largely from such faults in copying, as well as from the contractions, abbreviations, and ligatures that were employed to economize on labor and expensive parchment" [George E. Duckworth, "Paleography," Microsoft Encarta 97 Encyclopedia].

[Latin for body] The term used by musicologists when they refer to the entire collection of music in a particular style, or from a particular geographical region, from one historical period, or using any other reasonable classification.

A musical scale (as is used in Western music) where notes fall into discrete pitches that are a whole tone or a semitone apart.

Divine Office (or, canonical hours, or, Hours of the Office)
The prayer liturgy of the Catholic Church. It involves the chanting of psalms and reading of lessons from Scripture. Traditionally the Office is observed at eight specified hours interspersed through the day and night. In monasteries, the Office is prayed together by the community.

[from Greek 'ekklesia', meaning those who are called out] Pertaining to the church. For purposes of this Project, the word is used ordinarily in reference to the Catholic Church (catholic meaning universal), as that was the only church in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. The term includes both the regular Church (i.e., parishes and cathedrals) and religious orders (i.e., religious communities, such as those at monasteries).
[See § Overview, General Discussion of the Project, for more information.]

ecphonic notation
Notation that depicts the general shape of a melody, rather than specific pitches. This form of notation is found on ancient manuscripts of Byzantine religious chant.

A distinct musical phrase or event expressing a thought or emotion.

The vertical placement of a neume above the Latin text. One can think of 'height' as corresponding roughly to the pitch of a note. Especially in early neumed documents, however, neume height might only be a general indicator of melodic direction. In a 'lossless' data representation, it is important to retain a record of the neume's height for two reasons. First, scale tones in chant are relative and do not correspond to pitches in the modern sense. Second, the height of a neume is often vague in the original document; retention of this information can provide important clues for analysis of the manuscript's origins.

Artistic decoration of manuscripts that is not an essential part of the text or melody. Broadly defined, this category includes florid initial letters, pictorial 'miniatures', border motifs, and other decorations. Illuminations are often in full color. Typically, manuscripts were written by three different monks: one would write the text, leaving space for notation of the melody and for decorations; a second would notate the chant melody; a third would create the decorated initial letters. Illustration of miniatures was often sent outside the monastery to be done by lay artists. See µ "Sample Images from Neumed Manuscripts" for examples of illuminations.

A brief, melodic fragment (typically only a few notes) used for identification of a particular chant melody.

The acoustical distance between two notes. This is normally measured in terms of the degrees of the musical scale in use (cf., clef). In the case of medieval chant, the scales are modes (q.v.), and the degrees are named as solfège tones. For example, the interval between doh and re is a second; the interval between mi and sol is a third.

A combination of characters for graphical display. In Medieval manuscripts two or more neumes are often written together as a 'compound' neume. Musicologically we wish to draw an important distinction between (a) neumes that can be graphically built up as combinations of simpler forms, and (b) complex neume forms that have distinct semantics. We define a ligature as a compound that is not semantically distinct from the combination of its component neumes.

A modifier of a neume, often written as a tight loop at the end of the neume, to indicate liquescence. Liquescence is a particular vocal rendering of complex syllables in the text, especially at diphthongs and the juxtaposition of consonants. Liquescent neumes provide an excellent example of why it is necessary to retain the semantics of neumes in the data representation: Liquescent neumes are ambiguous. In the St. Gall tradition, for instance, a single liquescent neume-form can refer to two different normal neume signs (e.g., virga and clivis), even within the same manuscript. It is necessary to refer to a 'control' manuscript (i.e., one containing a stereotypical melody) to infer which of the ambiguous meanings is intended.

The body of religious rituals prescribed for 'public' (i.e., community) worship. The liturgy includes music, sacred or inspirational texts, and prayers. When referring specifically to the liturgy of the Catholic Church, the word is normally capitalized. The Liturgy is comprised mainly of the Mass and the Divine Office (q.v.).

A collection (usually bound) of hand-written documents. Medieval manuscripts were written on parchment (or, sheepskin), since papyrus from Egypt was scarce; consequently, they are highly durable. Prior to about A.D. 800, text manuscripts were written only by a small number of highly-skilled monks. In the reign of Charlemagne [A.D. 768-814] there was a concerted effort to increase literacy in Europe. Legions of new scribes were trained, and manuscript copying was done on a massive scale. New, cursive scripts were invented to make copying faster.

[from the Latin, Ite, misse est, meaning, "Go. It is sent forth." Said at end of Mass] The religious ritual of songs, readings, prayers, and consecration of the Bread (or, Body of Christ) for the celebration of the Eucharist (breaking of bread) in the Catholic Church.

mensural notation
Musical notation that prescribes specific relative durations of notes. In modern notation this is done with quarter notes, half notes, etc., assembled into units called 'measures'. Medieval chant notation does not specify such rhythmic values for notes.

mode (or, Church mode)
One of eight musical scale patterns used by medieval chant. Only two of these modes survive in modern music, and are now referred to as the major and minor scales.

ms. The common abbreviation for manuscript (q.v.). Plural: mss.

A scholar who studies the history of music. As with other kinds of history, historians of music are concerned with much more than just recording names, dates, and events. Musicologists also study a broad range of related topics, such as musical culture, handwriting, trends in art, politics, and religion, that influenced musical style, and so forth. To some extent musicologists are also concerned with music theory, as they analyze the structure of old music and the nature of the compositional process.

One of the set of symbols (simple or compound) used in medieval times for writing music. Neumes are quite different from modern musical symbols, both in appearance and meaning. [See § Overview, General Discussion of the Project, for more information.]

A neume modifier or a free-standing neume form, written in some shape similar to the tilde of some modern languages, to indicate a variety of nuances in the vocal rendering.

The study of ancient handwriting. Paleographers (those who specialize in paleography) can deduce much about the age of manuscripts, lines of transmission, etc., by studying the handwriting of individual scribes. Our "lossless" data representation seeks to preserve a musicologically-accurate, but stylized facsimile of manuscripts. Paleographers, however, rely on close examination of the original manuscripts. For that reason, paleographic analysis of manuscripts lies beyond the scope of the Neume Notation Project.

performance significance
Ornamentation, vocal color, inflection, or articulation.

pictographic notation
Musical notation depicting general melodic shape, rather than specific notes. [See unheighted neume.]

How high an auditory tone is, specifically its acoustical frequency.

plainchant (or, plainsong)
The general name given to songs that were chanted as part of religious worship in the medieval Christian church. They are characterized by the lack of a regular beat, lack of instrumental accompaniment, and a peculiar modal sound. [See § Overview, General Discussion of the Project, for more information.]

A compound neume consisting of a virga, an oriscus, and a punctum. The pressus can be found either in isolation or in combination.

Two or three semicircular loops, never found in isolation but is always tied to an ascending virga forming a quilisma-pes. Normally a quilisma-pes is preceded by a note which is always at a lower pitch. Most often this note is part of a quilismatic group but sometimes it belongs to the preceding neume. In this case the quilisma is directly attached to a new text syllable. [Cardine, Gregorian Semiology, 1982, p. 199.]

schola cantorum (or simply, schola)
The trained choir of a church or monastery.

A set of horizontal lines on which music notation is written. Typically in modern printings of medieval chant, four lines are used per staff. In medieval manuscripts, however, there might be no staff line, or between one and six lines per staff.

unheighted neume
Neume notation, especially in early sources, that does not have horizontal guidelines and is likely indicative of general melodic shape rather than specific tones and pitches.

A single-note neume written in a manner similar to an acute accent.

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Revision: 24 June 2001.
Copyright © 2001, Louis W. G. Barton