Why can’t I sing these lyrics?

A very late blog post indeed, but I’ve been dwelling on this subject for a while now, and finally found some manner in which to talk about it: music! Perhaps the thing that drew me to my folio of choice the most was the musical notation, eerily similar to the notes & symbols I grew up with. As an inseparable love of my life, I was overjoyed to be able to undertake the transcription of medieval-era music, even if I had no idea how it was traditionally sung. Music was an important part of the liturgical process, linked to most if not all of its celebrations, and an accessible way for laypeople to participate (even if the meaning of the hymn was unclear to them).

For myself, even if this folio was from sometime in the middle of the last millennium, I was drawn to it because I could recognize some of the notes. Or at least, I thought I could…

Following our guest lecture on the subject, I was quickly shocked by how much compression/omission was used before our modern notation system took hold: notes within notes, hidden slurs, ‘catchnotes’ (for lack of a better term), etc. Saving space was as much a concern for music as for text, in order to maximize precious writing supports, so it stands that this kind of musical compression would have happened. Even the notes I thought I could recognize were not at all what I imagined…

For example, when notes were slurred upwards, the notes were nested within one another & linked by a vertical line, rather than side-by-side as is done ‘today’, called a ‘podatus’:



But this rule was different when slurring downward, without nesting, & called a ‘clivis’:




Oh! Don’t forget the ‘climacus’ when it’s three or more notes (but only downward), using diamonds and not squares:


Besides these odd differences in notation, and in trying to transcribe the music into the modern system, I encountered two additional problems:

  • Were the notations I was seeing exactly the same as in our guest lecture’s slides?
  • Was it standardized, or did this particular folio use different rules?
  • There was no time signature, so what tempo did the hymn follow, if any?

A search on the CANTUS melody engine unfortunately did not reveal any similarities between my folio and existing manuscripts, but I have not given up! Using some youtube videos of Gregorian chants (with accompanying sheet music), I intend to fully (& accurately) transcribe the music.


Maybe I could sing it at the end of the year?

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