|page : Mensuration - an introduction||site index|
No tied notes
Ternary values do exist
Note values may change
A few words about tactus
Strategy of a transcription
Notes and rests symbols
Shall we divide values?
Fasten your seat belts!
|Next page: The rules|
No barlinesThis is striking at first sight, and it will remain a problem as long as we won't become familiar with the very heart of this music: we'll have to listen to sentences paced by the tactus, instead of counting values fitting a regular time signature.
No tiesTies are used today for several reasons:
Ternary values do existNowadays all value ratios are binary: a whole note is equal to two half notes, each of them being equal to two quarter notes, and so on. Formerly some ratios were ternary, and this is more and more true when looking at older music, because these ternary ratios - which were said perfect - were the very foundation of the system. We use to think today, and there's some evidence for that, that this idea of perfection was first related to the ternary nature of God.
|Mensuration signs found at the beginning of each part told which notes were in ternary or in binary relationships. Mensurations weren't necessarly the same in each part, and they might change when a new sign was written further inside the staff.|
Note values may change
That's probably the most astounding feature of the system at first sight, but also the most specific and the most understandable one, if we remember the lack of ties. Since new values couldn't be built by adding smaller ones with ties, they were obtained by substraction: in a ternary mensuration, a long note may be made shorter by some smaller note standing on its right or left side!
|Though the mensuration sign first specifies that a perfect note weights three smaller ones, this long note may be imperfected by a neighbouring smaller note, and then weights only two of them; the total values still amount to three, and this is called a perfection.|
A few words about tactusAt first sight there's no tempo indication for any music of this time, but that's not true, because it was indeed included in mensuration signs, at least when considering their standard meaning at the very beginning of the system: several documents of this time show singers touching each other's shoulders with hands, in order to beat the tactus, which specifies that a semibreve (our whole note) should be played roughly as fast as human heart beat.
Strategy of a transcriptionWe will start from a facsimile like those available on the site, and we'll get its transcription into modern notation, and then we'll even be able to listen to it: if you haven't did it yet, please go and listen to my transcriptions of Josquin, Barbireau, Mouton, etc, on the page dedicated to pieces from the renaissance, I guess this will give you some reason to read the following lines!
|First be careful to chose an easily readable facsimile. It's more important than you might think at first sight, since my experience has been that the bad condition of a document may lead to more problems than the transcription rules themselves: some continuation signs may refer to various places on the sheet, some notes have been emendated, some note stems are hardly visible, some rests may look like points - or conversely - all these problems can be real traps for the beginner that we still are at the present time!|
|Then, you'll have to change ligatures on the manuscrit into separate note symbols, like those we write today. I think this is a simple and pleasant process, which is explained on my page about ligatures. Having done so, you'll get a sequence of notes, but you won't know yet their value ratios, which are specified by mensuration, our present subject.|
Rests and notes symbolsI won't give once more the note names shown at the beginning of the page about ligatures; instead I'll give only their abbreviations and symbols, with a new line dedicated to rest symbols:
Shall we divide values?Now, a few words about a practice quite usual amongst many editors: dividing note values. If you don't, it means that you'll transcribe a semiminim by a quarter note, a minim by a half note, then, according to mensuration, a semibreve by a dotted or undotted whole note, a breve by a dotted or undotted square note, a longua by two or three tied square notes, and a maxima, which is nearly always binary, by four tied square notes!
|I'd answer yes, every time we don't get a cumbersome modern transcription, that is, in all cases but those which involve a part written in very long values from its beginning to its end, like would be the case of a cantus firmus, for instance. In this latter case, and only then, we'll have to divide all values by four, for instance, and thus transcribe maximas by square notes, ternary or binary longuas by dotted or undotted whole notes, etc, and semiminims by semiquavers.|
Division levelsI'm happy to give you now good news, rather than bad ones: indeed, only two levels of division are really relevant in most cases, and they are: how many semibreves (whole notes) in a breve (square note), and how many minims (half notes) in a semibreve.
Fasten your seat belts!Now it's time to give the mensuration rules, that you'll find on the next page.