Re: Square and lozenge notes -- Musical Notation 3.1 -- Mensuralnotation

From: Lukas Pietsch (
Date: Wed Mar 07 2001 - 19:58:55 EST

Patrick insisted:

> They also question the presence of a SEMIBREVIS+FLAG-2 in
> older material (pre-1420 let's say).

and the longer I look into the matter, the more I get the impression that
his informants are actually right and I was wrong. Looking into W. Apel,
probably still the most authoritative book on mensural notation, I don't
find evidence of a "Fusa" (with 2 flags) in Black Notation (i.e. "pre-1420"
as we've come to call it on this list.)

What we get is:

(A) Black Notation (until around 1400):
Brevis (square head)
Semibrevis (lozenge head)
Minima (lozenge head with stem)

(B) Late Black Notation: lots of experimenting with note values one level
below the semibreve: black, white and red noteheads, half noteheads, stems;
double stems above and below; hooks, curls. Lots of different names too:
"semibrevis minima", "dragma", perhaps "fusa". Much too varied to get all
the possible shapes into Unicode at this point. What we do *not* get, not
even in the wildest dreams of the avantgardists of the time (and mind you
these guys were *very* avantgarde!) is a note *two* metrical levels below
the Minim. We don't get shapes with one stem with two parallel flags
either. And even less do we get a consistent terminology for such a note.

(C) White Notation: from the mid-15th century onwards we consistently get
white noteheads for the well-established note values:
maxima-longa-brevis-semibrevis-minim. Below that, we slowly find
established smaller note values, eventually down to three levels below the
minim: Semiminima and Fusa, plus much later the Semifusa. For Semiminim and
Fusa we initially get two alternative forms:

Semiminim: white notehead + stem + flag
Fusa: white notehead + stem + two flags.

Semiminim: black notehead + stem
Fusa: black notehead + stem + flag

Apel says about these (my translation, p. 93:) "Semiminim and Fusa occur in
two forms, of which the black ones are by far the more common. Occasionally
one finds both forms in the same manuscript or even within the same
composition, with no apparent difference in meaning."

What does this mean for a standardized terminology? In System (A) the small
note values play no role at all, and those note values that exist can
easily be unified with those in system (C). There'll just be a typeface
difference between black and white variants.
System (B) is far too chaotic to try to base Unicode terminology on.
System (C) has a well-established terminology. (C2) is so similar to modern
notation that its notes could even be unified with the modern ones.

The only serious terminological ambiguity is that a "black notehead + stem"
can be either a Semiminim in System (C2), or a Minim in System (A). "Black
notehead + stem + flag" can be either a Fusa in System (C2) or any kind of
shortish note (possibly also called a Fusa) in chaotical System (B). In
this second case, the choice is easy: Unicode should draw its terminology
from the more stable system, C2. Hence, to be consistent, we should also
prefer the C2 terminology over the A one in the first case.

So, I would now join Patrick in a suggestion to rename as follows:
              Current Draft New Proposal
1D1B9 Semibrevis White Semibrevis
1D1BA Semibrevis Black (can be left out)
1D1BB Minima Minima
1D1BC Minima Black Semiminima
1D1BD Semiminima White Semiminima White, or: alternative Semiminima
1D1BE Semiminima Black Fusa
1D1BF Fusa White Fusa White, or: alternative Fusa
1D1C0 Fusa Black Semifusa

The only open question: when designing a font for use with 14th cent. Black
Notation, should one unify by meaning or by glyph shape? I.e., in order to
encode a Black-Notation Minima, should one use codepoint u+1D1BB (with the
same meaning but providing a black glyph for it, just as for the larger
notes), or should one use codepoint u+1D1BC (with the same glyph but a
different meaning?)


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