Melanie Spiller and Coloratura Consulting

Escapades in Early Music, Writing, and Editing

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Red Notes

leave a comment »

There’s a quirky little thing in Medieval and Renaissance music: Some of the notes were red instead of black. It’s possible that there were only two colors because the only inks that didn’t fade between then and now were red and black and that the colors have even less significance than historians have given them. It could be that the red notes (there are far fewer of the red notes than the black ones) were how ink faded when corrections were made at some later date. It could even be that there were lots of colors, and they all degenerated to red and black over the years.

Or it could be that they made the notes red on purpose. Here’s what the experts think.

In an early form of notation called heightened neumes because the little squiggles were placed on a staff defining the intervals between the notes, some manuscripts used red ink to draw the staff line that represented the C. (C is a relative term. Modern musicologists might think of it as the tonic, rather than the actual note C as tuned to A=440.) As music evolved into a melody and a drone, and then into a faux bourdon (a harmonizing line that ran parallel to the melody), composers needed a way for the performers to see—from a distance—that something special was happening.

So they used red notes for descants, for a signal that something interesting was happening rhythmically, that something should be sung or played up an octave, and to point out a special case, such as a ficta (sharp or flat note outside of the mode or key signature) or a repeat. It’s one of many good ideas that got dropped with the modern printing press.

When red notes weren’t available, “hollow” notes—white with black outlines—replaced them, and soon red notes weren’t used at all because the white notes were more convenient. Even so, red notes survived well into the 15th century in more elaborate manuscripts, especially in England.

Guido D’Arezzo (991/992-after 1033, Italy), who is credited with putting unheightened neumes on a series of staff lines, suggested that one staff line be made red to mark out the F notes and another made yellow for C. (If you play the harp, you’ll know that this system is still used on the strings—red for C and blue for F.)

Philippe de Vitry (1291-1361, France) used red notes to indicate a change in rhythm in the manuscripts collected in Roman de Fauvel (14th century allegorical verse with a collection of music in it).

The “mannered” style of notation attributed to Philippus de Caserta (1350-1420, Italy) intermingled black and red notes as part of a more artistic presentation of the notes on the written page.

Sometimes composers used red ink to indicate that a certain passage was the opposite of whatever the prevailing notes were doing. This could have the effect of a hemiola, or a four-against-three kind of rhythm. (Go ahead, mark out threes in one hand and fours in the other. It’s a lot like patting your head and rubbing your belly, but it has an interesting pulling effect, if you can manage it.) In other works, the colored notes indicate triplet effects (three short notes against a single beat).

In the 14th and 15th centuries, chromatic music, musica ficta, and dividing intervals less than equally (called “imperfect” division and led to the discussion of “just” versus “mean” tuning) were called “color.” Sometimes these special notes indicated optional ornamentation. All of these types of notes were marked in red.

White notes (not filled in—hollow heads) were used for special purposes in the Italian trecento. In the first part of the 15th century, white notes replaced black ones for all the values, and in the latter half of that century, the semi-minim (a medium-length note of one beat) lost its tail and became black, and notes of shorter value—also black—appeared with increasing numbers of tails until the same divisions we have today (white for everything from a half note—minim—and longer, and black for the quarter note—semi-minim—and shorter).

In the 14th through the 16th century, coloring a note red meant that the performer lopped a third of the length right off: Red notes were quicker than black notes. Late in the 16th century, the formerly red notes were colored black and filled in and meant half rather than a third of the duration, and the longer notes were left open—they were “hollow.” We’re still using this system today (hollow notes are still longer than filled-in notes).

In isorhythmic music (repeating rhythmic patterns), the red notes indicated a series of repeated notes in the cantus firmus line. That’s the one called the “tenor,” where the chant is sung slowly while the other lines (usually higher in pitch) prance around, only lining up with the cantus firmus occasionally.

Through the 18th century, the red notes indicated wild ornamentation, either written or improvised. The improvised sections were dubbed “coloratura” in the 19th century to indicate the wildness and the notation. Now, there’s a whole singing voice named after it.

And that’s the story of red notes. If you have more—or differing—research. I’d love to hear about it.

Sources:

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1994

“Early Medieval Music up to 1300,” edited by Dom Anselm Hughes. Oxford University Press, London, 1954

“Music in the Middle Ages,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1940

“The Notation of Polyphonic Music 900-1600,” by Willi Apel. The Mediaeval Academy of America, Cambridge, 1961

“Music in the Medieval World,” by Albert Seay. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, 1965

“Medieval Music,” by Richard Hoppin. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1998

“The Pelican History of Music, Volume 1: Ancient Forms to Polyphony,” edited by Denis Stevens and Alec Robertson. Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1960

 

Advertisements

Written by Melanie Spiller

October 23, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Music Notation Explorations: The Dasia System

leave a comment »

I’m obsessed with the history of music notation. I’ve got a whole shelf of books on the subject, and I’m always boring anyone whole listen and sketching on random scraps of paper and paper napkins.

Recently, I tripped over a form I hadn’t seen before, and on closer inspection, I find that it had been quietly hiding in the dark recesses of several of my own books! I’m determined to make it a secret no more, so here it is. The story of the Dasia system.

Guido D’Arezzo (990/991-after 1033) was a scholarly monk credited with creating Do-Re-Mi and putting the neumes that were being used to represent musical gestures on the staff. He’s kind of a big deal, in his own quiet way. In his Micrologia, Guido attributed the system of Daseia (that’s the plural form of Dasia) to Odo of Cluny (c878-942). Odo is credited for naming the notes after the letters in the alphabet, although he used ALL the letters, first the capitals and then the lower cases, and only found 52 notes in the scale, which was admittedly more than they thought they’d ever need at the time. Most instruments, even the organs of the time, didn’t go much further than the two octaves (or so) of a human singing voice.

The reason Guido attributed Dasia to Odo was that Dasia notation was discussed in the 9th century treatise Musica enchiriadis (occasionally attributed to French Odo of Cluny, and sometimes to Frankish Hucbald, c840-930, and also sometimes to German Abbot Hoger, d. 906). This treatise illustrated the earliest known forms of polyphony (multiple lines of melody meant to be sung simultaneously).

Unlike the systems for notating chant, which is monody (one line of melody, sung or played by all involved), Dasia was based on the tetrachord principle of Greek music theory (in its most basic form, two tetrachords—four notes each—plus a whole tone, equals an octave), and Greek symbols were used. The Dasia system is only a little bit different. (Mostly, it seems that the whole tones were piled at the top of the tetrachords. So two tetrachords plus a whole tone is an octave, but four tetrachords in a row plus two whole tones in a row at the top end are two octaves.)

The system covers a two-octave range of notes in a series of tetrachords (a tetrachord is four step-wise notes of a scale), each of which is granted one of four signs to represent the specific note. Three of the signs are based on the letter F (I didn’t find any explanation for why an F was used). The fourth sign is like the accent sign of Greek grammarians, called an acutus, and it signifies the half-step between it and the sign below it. This is just like the two pairs of white notes on the piano that don’t have black notes between them.

Here’s what it looks like on a modern five-line staff.

DasiaNotation2

In this image, modern-shaped notes are on a modern staff to give you a point of reference. I used this image (from Wikipedia) so you can understand the principles.

In the first and lowest tetrachord, the signs are turned backward; in the second tetrachord, the most commonly used notes, the signs are forward; in the third tetrachord, the signs are upside-down; and in the fourth and highest, they’re turned both upside-down and backward. A different accent sign is used in each of the tetrachords so that you knew where you were in the scale—remember, they didn’t have a staff yet. The N stood for inclinum, the I for iota, the V (it looks like a lower-case N) for versum, and the cross for iota transfixum.

This is what the music written using this system looked like.

Dasian Polyphony

This is a bit of polyphony, in roughly parallel movement. Both lines (the clumps of symbols connected by lines on the right), were meant to be sung at the same time. You can see that the gesture of “up” and “down” was understood in terms of the notes relationship to each other, but marking off how great or small the interval was took the Dasia.

The words—lyrics—are all piled up neatly on the left. The Dasian tetrachords involved are in that nice vertical dividing box, and the melody is on the right, with certain syllables at relevant points pinned to their relevant places. You had to already know the words, pretty much, in order to read this, and the two singers sang different words from each other. It’s rather probable that it took a few tries for the singers to shape it into something they liked.

It’s like a new secret language, isn’t it?

The use of Dasia symbols was brief—less than 50 years and not widespread, mostly in Italy. By Guido’s time, neumes were in common usage, and that’s what evolved into modern notation.

Sources

  • “The Notation of Polyphonic Music, 900-1600,” by Willi Apel, The Mediaeval Academy of America, 1953
  • “Music in the Middle Ages,” by Gustave Reese, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1940
  • “Temperament, The Idea the Solved Music’s Greatest Riddle,” Stuart Isacoff, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2001
  • “Music, Body, and Desire in Medieval Culture, from Hildegard of Bingen to Chaucer,” by Bruce W. Holsinger, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2001
  • “The Notation of Medieval Music,” by Carl Parrish. Pendragon Press, New York, 1978
  • “Music in Medieval Manuscripts” by Nicolas Bell. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2001
  • “A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2010.
  • “Medieval Music,” by Richard Hoppin. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1998.

 

Written by Melanie Spiller

October 10, 2017 at 9:21 am

Composer Biography: Comtessa Beatriz de Dia (c1140-c1200)

with 3 comments

Also Countess of Dia, Comtess de Dia, and Beatritz

Pretty much all the press goes to male composers during the Middle Ages, but every now and then, a woman sneaks through their defenses. One of these was Comtessa Beatriz de Dia. She was a troubadour—or rather a trobairitz, which is the name for a female troubadour.

Troubadours were, for the most part, of noble blood, but were perhaps third (or fourth, etc.) sons (or a daughter) and not expected to inherit the family castle or join the priesthood. This left them with considerable funding and a lot of free time on their hands. Playing a musical instrument was considered suitable employment for the long and languorous hours, and a few found themselves wandering among various estates, entertaining as they went.

It was also popular at the time (12th through 14th centuries) to woo the mistress –married or otherwise—of the castle you were visiting, and the vast majority of troubadour songs are about this kind of courtly—and unrequited—love. Every now and then, like there were women troubadours, there were married noblewomen willing to stray for the sake of a little romantic poetry. Husbands looked the other way just as the wives were expected to look the other way about their own dalliances.

Beatriz was the wife of Guillem of Poitiers (dates unavailable, but possibly the grandson or great-grandson of Guillem IX, 1071-1176, the earliest of the troubadours whose works survive). Beatriz was also the lover of the famous troubadour Raimbaut d’Orange (1146-1173).

In most contemporary documents, Beatriz is known only as the Comtessa de Dia, but she was likely the daughter of Count Isoard II of Dia (dates unavailable), which is north of Montellmar in southern France. The names of these towns seem to have changed, but if Montellmar is the same place as Montelimar, it’s about 90 miles south of Lyon and halfway between Toulouse and Turin (Italy). A town called Die is about 60 miles east of Montelimar. These could just be towns with similar names and in about the same place as the troubadours hung out, though. I’m totally guessing.

It was fashionable at the time to write the lives of saints in biographies called vitas. Troubadours found that appealing and wrote secular versions called vidas. Some friend or relative wrote these things, and the details can’t be verified. This makes it entirely possible that Beatriz is a fictional character, according to one source. Or just embellished a bit. It’s hard to know.

Regardless of whether she was real or fantasy or whether anything known about her is true, her shadow reveals a lot about the women troubadours and their lovers through her poetry.

There are five pieces attributed to Beatriz, one of which is a tenso (debate). Incidentally, most of the songs attributed to trobairitz are argumentative. (History is written by the victors, and men have been the ones documenting music until the 20th century, for the most part. If you could slough off all your bad moods to the losers in a battle, wouldn’t you?)

At any rate, of the five pieces, only one has music associated with it, A chantar m’er de so qu’ieu non volria. This is a canso of five strophes plus a tornado, with each strophe having the musical form ABABCDB. The music was preserved in Le Manuscrit du Roi, collected by Charles of Anjou (1226-1285), the brother of Louis IX (1214-1270). Le Manuscrit du Roi contains over 600 songs, most composed between the 12th and 13th centuries.

Music notation was a slippery thing (for more about this, read The History of Music Notation) at the time, and whoever wrote down Beatriz’ surviving piece wrote it in tenor clef, as if a man would sing it, even though the pronouns that reveal gender are unequivocal. Let’s look at it!

A Chantar m’er de so qu’ieu non volria (translation by Meg Bogin)

Of things I’d rather keep in silence I must sing:

So bitter do I feel toward him

Whom I love more than anything.

With him my mercy and fine manners are in vain,

My beauty, virtue and intelligence.

For I’ve been tricked and cheated as if I were loathsome.

 

There’s one thing, though, that brings me recompense:

I’ve never wronged you under any circumstance,

And I love you more than Seguin loved Valensa [hero and heroine of a lost romance]

At least in love I have my victory,

Since I surpass the worthiest of men.

With me you always act so cold,

But with everyone else you’re so charming.

 

I have good reason to lament

When I feel your heart turn adamant

Toward me, my friend: it’s not right another love

Take you away from me, no matter what she says.

Remember how it was with us in the beginning

Of our love! May God not bring to pass

That I should be the one to bring it to an end.

 

The great renown that in your heart resides

And your great worth disquiet me,

For there’s no woman near or far

Who wouldn’t fall for you if love were on her mind.

But you, my friend, should have the acumen

To tell which one stands out above the rest.

And don’t forget the stanzas we exchanged.

 

My worth and noble birth should have some weight,

By beauty and especially my noble thoughts,

So I send you, there on your estate,

This song as messenger and delegate.

I want to know, my handsome noble friend,

Why I deserve so savage and cruel a fate.

I can’t tell whether it’s pride or malice you intend.

 

But above all, messenger, make him comprehend

That too much pride has undone many men.

 

There are recordings of this:

  • Studio der Frühen Musik on the album “Chansons der Troubadours”
  • Hesperion XX on “Cansos de Trobairitz”
  • Clemencic Consort on “Troubadours, volume 2”
  • French Anonymous on “Medieaval Banquet”
  • Montserrat Figueras on “Demina Nova: Canco—Estat Ai En Greu Cossirier”
  • Elizabethan Conversation, Andrea Folan, and Susan Sandman on “The Medieval Lady”
  • Giraut de Bornelh on “Troubarouds/Trouveres/Minstrels”
  • Catherine Bott on “Sweet is the Song: Music of the Troubadours & Trouvères”
  • Martin Codax on “Bella Domna: The Medieval Woman—Lover, Poet, Patroness, and Saint”

It’s important to note that this isn’t just the only piece to survive by Beatriz. It’s the only piece by a trobairitz to survive with the musical notes.

The rest of her poems were set to flute music, according to the vida. Her usual subject matter includes optimism, praise of herself and her true love, and betrayal. In one poem, Fin ioi me don’alegranssa, she makes fun of the alusengier, a person known for gossiping, comparing those who gossip to “a cloud that obscures the sun.”

East-German Irmtraud Morgner (1933-1990) uses Beatriz as the subject of a whole historical novel series. Some are available in English, but most are in German.

I find it interesting that only one of my sources written by men mentioned Beatriz. When there are only a few handfuls of music from a particular time and culture, why would they choose to leave one individual out, especially as she is the exception (being female) and not the rule?

Sources:

“The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers,” edited by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel. The Macmillan Press Limited, New York, 1995.

“Women in Music,” edited by Carol Neuls-Bates. Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1996.

“Women Making Music, The Western Art Tradition, 1150-1950,” edited by Jane Bowers and Judith Tick. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1987.

“Women & Music, A History,” edited by Karin Pendle. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2001.

“Music in the Medieval West,” by Margot Fassler. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2014.

“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.

Reviving or Resuscitating

leave a comment »

It has been a long time—nearly three years—since I blogged. You may have followed me here  http://blogs.officezealot.com/spiller/ when I had a regular spot with the nice folks at Office Zealot. I took a break, a hiatus, you might say, while my day job interfered somewhat, because they asked me to write on pretty much the same subject.

I finished that project, and now I feel free to write about writing again. Meanwhile, in my spare time, I have finished a first draft of my Hildegard von Bingen pilgrimage (non-fiction) and 18 chapters of a 20-chapter work of fiction about Hildegard. So this year, 2011, is going to be about finishing the latter and beginning the revision process on both. I hope to start looking for a publisher as well.

This blog will be different from the last. The last one was solely devoted to writing about writing. This one will do that, but will be more personal, as well. I plan to talk about my musical endeavors, my travels, my plans for the next work of fiction, and anything else that strikes my fancy. There will be some major themes.

I want to welcome you back and thank you for your patience, and I want to encourage you to visit the OZ site or my Web page, www.melaniespiller.com, for all those old articles about writing. They are mostly about technical writing—or for technical writers, I should say—but there are a few about fiction, political satire, travelogues, and advertising copy.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you, too.

Keep on Writing!

Written by Melanie Spiller

February 9, 2011 at 10:42 am

Posted in Thoughts, Uncategorized

Tagged with