Re: Square and lozenge notes -- Musical Notation 3.1 -- Mensural notation

From: Lukas Pietsch (
Date: Wed Mar 07 2001 - 12:53:03 EST

In my last posting I wrote:
> I also notice that the "black maxima" seems to be missing. Since we
> have the "black" and "white" series, we ought to have them both
> complete, right? "black longa" can be thougt of as unified with
> Gregorian 1d1d3 "virga", and "black brevis" with generic
> 1d147 "square notehead black", but the "black maxima" isn't there.

Patrick Andries has answered this point, suggesting that
the black and white variants should be seen as font variants.
I guess that's a valid point, but it raises the question why the other
musical notes aren't unified in the same way. There are separate characters
(1d1b9) "SEMIBREVIS WHITE" and (1d1ba) "SEMIBREVIS BLACK". Note that these
symbols are *not* affected by the semantic ambiguity problem we were
discussing, which involves only the smaller note values minima, semiminima,
fusa and semifusa.
I'd be interested to learn the rationale behind these choices. Is the
original proposal available anywhere?

As for the other question, that of the stem of "longa" and "maxima": Yes,
Patrick's suggestion is right that the most common form of these notes has
a downwards stem (on the *right* side of the notehead, mind!) In earlier
mensural notation, the directions of noteheads did not depend on the
position of the notehead on the stave, as today; rather, minims and other
small notes always had upwards stems and single longae and maximae mostly
had downward stems. However, the odd example of longae with upward stems
can be found even then. From the mid-16th century onwards the modern
convention of context-dependend stems seems to have emerged, and from then
on both the longae and the minim stems were placed according to it. So, it
seems consistent that the Unicode charts show all notes with upward stems,
implying that upward and downward stems are context-dependend glyph

Plenty of examples of all this can be found in: Willi Apel, Die Notation
der polyphonen Musik 900-1600. Leipzig 1962/1970.


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