Eleanor Selfridge-Field and Edmund Correia, Jr.
© 1994 Center for Computer Assisted Research in the Humanities
Reproduced by the IEEE Technical Committee on Computer Generated Music by permission

Category 5. Early Music

Type 4. Modern editions of music in mensural notation.

a. Mensurstriche. Because of the lack of true equations in the treatment of pulse in music from before the seventeenth century, modern editors of scholarly editions often prefer to use Mensurstriche (barlines running between rather than across staves) to indicate the lessened domination of a regular accent. Especially in imitative music, accent could vary from part to part.

The system of key signatures used in common music notation expresses conventions used in the tonal system, which recognizes only two modes major and minor. Twelve modes were in use in the Renaissance (eight had been in use earlier). "Key" signatures in conjunction with cadence tones were defining points for modes. It was common in the sixteenth century to transpose modes, and at this juncture "key" signatures took on the additional role of indicating transpositions.

This superstructure of relationships was built on the still earlier system of hexachords, which were also transposable. In the hard hexachord, an F was usually sharpened (); in the soft hexachord a B was usually flattened (). Either could be cancelled () in the ensuing use of the natural hexachord.

Performers of the time were supposed to know, because of their intensive study of the hexachordal system, when to apply sharps and flats to the music. This practice was called musica ficta. Composers and copyists often neglected to indicate these chromatic inflections. Modern editors often prefer to serve the dual purposes of protecting the information provided by the original source and aiding the modern performer by indicating suggested chromatic inflections above the affected note rather than before it.

A modern edition of mensural notation with musica ficta is shown below in Johannes Brunet's "Victimae paschali laudes," Ex. #35.

Ex. #35. Jeffrey Dean developed extensions to Finale to produce this example, which appeared in Computing in Musicology 8 (1992), 164. b.

Facsimile reproduction. There were so many systems of notation in use in the Middle Ages that scholars may be interested to see the original presentation of material. In this event it is most helpful to have a facsimile of the original material.

One scholar of Renaissance music, David Palmer, developed a palette of tools to use in the creation of facsimiles of manuscripts. In Ex. #36 we see not only the neumes and notes of several works from around 1500 but also the ornamental clef signs and illuminated initials found in the original sources.

Ex. #36. This illustration was produced by David Palmer using Subtilior Press. It appeared in Computing in Musicology 5 (1989), 105.

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