Capturing the Music

This past weekend I decided to revisit some of the old material on medieval liturgical manuscripts and so I went back to those wonderful videos of Thomas Kelly describing the different developments in musical notation. I agree with Liv “he is a cute old man” and would add that he is a cute old man who loves medieval liturgical manuscripts, he’s passionate about them and that passion makes the viewer excited about them too. In one of the videos on Musical Notation, being the cute old man that he is, Thomas Kelly plugged his then new book Capturing Music which was published in 2015. Hmmm. I wonder if the library has a copy of it I thought to myself and lo and behold they did!! So, the past few days I’ve been reading through it and have been enjoying it immensely: Kelly is just as entertaining a writer as he is a speaker. He begins with a preliminary look at a chant from Switzerland recorded in the tenth century and explains the rough notations of the “quilisma” (PS. Kelly says that the quilisma, a small dot followed by three swiggles, was to be sung in “an authoritative shout” and disappeared in square notation- hmm I wonder why) and “liquescence” saying that these tell the singers “there are three notes ascending and how to sing them” but these notations did not convey the pitch or what the notes were: which is what our modern musical notation does[Thomas Kelly, Capturing Music, 12].

Kelly explains that the singers would have been familiar with the songs and that these notations were reminders, like rubrics-red-letter words, that explained how to vocally perform the notes. If you recall from a few weeks ago when Prof. Alexis Luko was in class she mentioned Guido of Arezzo and explained how he invented various methods for teaching music such as the Guidonian hand with its mnemonic device of ut-re-me-fa-so-la. But more importantly it was Guido who invented the musical staff notation to record pitch and it is these sorts of technological developments which Kelly deals with in the book: he explores everyone from Guido to Franco of Cologne. But even more useful for me, since my folio has musical notation, is that Kelly explains in detail what each of the square notations, which appear in my folio, mean and how the melody is constructed from them.

image provided expresses the square notation that was developed in the 12th and 13th century in Northern France and became the standard musical notation that replaced Aquitaine notation [Michal Olejarczyk, “The Origin of Square Notation”, Roczniki Teologiczne, 2015:127] Punctum “dot”, Virga “stick”, Pes “foot”, Clivis “slanted”, Torculus “little turn”, Porrectus “stretched”, Scandicus “climb”, and Climacus “Gk. ladder”.

If your folio has any musical notation I highly recommend that you take a look at Kelly’s book and there are also several fantastic articles on JSTOR that deal with Square Notation such as the one cited above. Happy to see the below blog post too, Yawhoo for medieval musical notation!!


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