I'm not going to attempt to provide a comprehensive guide to medieval mensural notation here—that'd be a major undertaking and I don't expect to get around to it any time soon. I hope though that this page will at least familiarize readers with the workings of my transcriptions of the Cantiga music, explain my editorial symbols, and generally give the performer enough information to get on with interpreting the original notation, and perhaps performing directly from it. It should also make it possible to look at published versions in modern notation with a better informed and more critical eye.
My transcriptions are based solely on [E] for the 403 cantigas where that manuscript has musical notation. For the nine cantigas that appear twice in [E], I have transcribed the music only once. In the case of CSM 340 (= 412) have I used the later, higher-numbered version, in order to match the lyric structure. For the other eight, I have used the lower-numbered version, and pointed out any interesting differences in the annotations, although all are minor.
There are eleven cantigas which only have music in [To], and I have transcribed these too for the sake of completeness. The original notation for these is rather different from [E], mostly using o and e as the basic mensural units rather than on and o, and generally being less strict in terms of the mensural values of other neumes. For this set, the Neumat rendering uses slightly wider spacing for the stave lines, which gives a better approximation of the [To] style, as well as allowing the presence or absence of internal joining lines between note bodies to be seen more clearly.
Prologue A is just a poetic introduction without music, but five other cantigas are missing their musical notation: CSM 298 and 365 have ruled but empty staves in [E]; CSM 402 has unruled gaps in [E] where the staves should be; and CSM 408 and 409 only appear in the unfinished [F] manuscript, which has empty staves for all of its 104 cantigas.
I have no transcriptions from [T], since all of its cantigas are also found in [E]. Although this is a possible future project along with doing the rest of [To], I'm afraid neither is very high on my To Do list, which nevers gets any shorter however many things I finish. For the performer, I believe that having a complete set of transcriptions from [E] is by far the most important thing, and for the moment I'm content to have completed that work.
I'll start with a brief run-down of the stave symbols that have editorial meaning but no direct musical value, before moving on to more important things like clefs, divisions and, of course, neumes.
|^||decorated capital||This box shows the location of an original decorated capital that sits within the score in the [E] manuscript. These always come at the start of a section—refrain, stanza or (sometimes) the reprise of the refrain after the stanza—so I've kept them in stylized form as a useful visual indication of the overall structure.|
|$||missing decorated capital||Rare; I only use this symbol in the handful of cases where a space was clearly left on the stave for a decorated capital, and the required letter was not included in the normal underlaid text, but either the capital was never drawn or (possibly) it was erased later. This may be of interest mainly to paleographers, perhaps, but I do find that showing the location of such gaps is a useful additional indicator of overall structure (see Cantigas 250, 258 and 317 for examples).|
|>||stave break||A wavy line shows the location of a break between staves in the original manuscript score. Two wavy lines together > > are used to indicate where the score starts a new column on the same page, three > > > show where the score continues onto the reverse of the same folio, and four > > > > show where the score continues onto a new folio. In my transcriptions I break staves according to the metrical structure instead—which in most cases corresponds to the position of a straight vertical division line (see below)—but I didn't want to discard the manuscript break information as it may eventually be useful for automated analyses of the locations of scribal errors (such as accidental repetitions or omissions when starting a new folio).|
|X||deletion||This mark shows where I have removed one or more clearly incorrect musical symbols in the original manuscript. In many cases this is an extra neume that has no underlaid text. Clicking on the Expand edits button at the top of the transcription will display the deleted elements, using the bracketed notation described next.|
|[ old : new ]||edit||
These symbols only appear if you click the Expand edits button. They indicate places where I have made an editorial correction to the music in order to fix unambiguous scribal errors and to ensure correct fit with the lyrics for every stanza. Every edit is accompanied by an explanatory note. In some cases there is no old content—which therefore indicates an insertion; and in others there is no new content—which indicates a deletion. In the default view when edits are not expanded, only the new content is displayed (in red), or the # symbol in the case of a deletion (see above).
Please note that at this stage of my work on transcribing the music of the Cantigas my chief concern is to ensure that all of the music fits all of the lyrics, so as to make it possible to underlay every stanza without a problem. I also try to fix genuine scribal mistakes wherever possible, such as stretches of music being written at the wrong pitch (perhaps because the scribe misplaced the clef). I have, however, given scant attention to mensural problems, for example when a long on has been written in a context where a short o would seem more correct, through comparison with other musical phrases. That sort of thing I'm quite happy to leave for my musical colleague Chris Elmes to sort out in his performing editions (see the References page). And by the way, if you see a crossed-out neume body or tail, for example ox or onx, remember that this is a reproduction of an original scribal correction in the manuscript, not one of my edits.
Clefs, accidentals and divisions
The design of these elements in my transcriptions is based directly on their appearance in the [E] manuscript, rather than on the rounder shapes that have become more traditional for neumatic scores (especially Gregorian chant). Their meanings are nonetheless the standard ones.
To understand the clefs in the neumatic musical notation of the Cantigas, the most important observation to begin with is that they don't dictate absolute pitch, only relative pitch. The songs would have been performed (and still can be) at any pitch that suits the range of voices and instruments present. With that in mind, consider the diatonic scale below—Lydian mode with a flattened fourth, identical to a modern major scale—and in particular the tone and semitone intervals between the notes in the scale:
Musicians who are native speakers of certain European languages, including those of Spain and Portugal, will be used to thinking of do, re, mi etc. as absolute pitches within an octave, identical with the C, D, E etc. familiar to English speakers. But here what is important are merely the relative pitches in the scale, in particular the pattern of tones and semitones. What the do-clef c and fa-clef f actually do, then, is bracket the stave line corresponding to do and fa respectively, with the notes above and below in the diatonic scale occupying the spaces and lines above and below, just like a modern stave. I'll describe clef usage in more detail in the table below, along with the flat sign @ which swaps the tone and semitone intervals at the top of the scale.
Having stressed the point about the stave pitches being purely relative, I should say that it is nevertheless common convention to transcribe do as C, re as D and so on, when converting the Cantiga scores into modern notation, not least because this minimizes the use of accidentals. So there's no harm in thinking of the do-clef as actually marking C on the stave, and the fa-clef marking F. But rigid adherence to that rule will often put the melody out of the comfortable range of an individual singer, so it's good to be flexible. For example, transcribing do as G also works well (especially when the @ flat symbol is used, which gives an F-natural in the G scale).
The do-clef brackets the stave line (never a space) corresponding to do in the diatonic scale. It is a mobile clef, meaning that it can in principle appear on any stave line, although in practice it keeps to the middle line or above. Rather than using leger lines to extend the stave, standard scribal procedure at the time that the Cantigas were written down was to move the clef position (or change clef) within a piece of music as necessary in order to keep the neumes inside the five-line stave. My transcriptions of [E] reproduce this, so be on the alert for moving clefs, otherwise you can easily end up playing bits of the melody a third or more too high or too low. In the near future, however, I intend to add an option to automatically normalize the clef for each Cantiga, displaying leger lines as necessary.
The fa-clef brackets the stave line corresponding to fa in the diatonic scale. It is almost always on the middle line of the stave, notwithstanding the occasional 6-line stave in [E] (which I reduce to 5 in the transcriptions anyway), some apparent scribal errors, and a very few apparently deliberate exceptions, such as the run of four staves with the fa-clef on the second line in CSM 411. Care still needs to be taken to keep track of clefs in a single piece, however, as there are frequent switches from c to f and vice versa.
Note that the fa-clef on the middle line is completely equivalent to a do-clef on the top line.
The ‘flat’ symbol behaves more or less like the modern ♭ sign: it lowers, by a semitone, the note of the diatonic scale corresponding to the symbol's position on the stave. In practice, it is almost always aligned in the space between stave lines corresponding to ti, which is in turn determined by the choice of clef and its position. If you prefer to read do as the note C, then you can think of @ as indicating a B flat in this position. (But of course, if do is G, the flattened ti is F natural.)
There are also a few cases where the note mi is flattened, for example in CSM 189; this is E flat if do is read as C.
Note that the flat sign normally appears immediately after a clef in the [E] manuscript, and remains in effect (flattening the ti or mi) until the end of the stave line (or equivalently, until the new clef at the start of the next stave). There are, however, plenty of cases where the flat is introduced mid-stave, so be on the lookout for it.
The ‘natural’ symbol also behaves like its modern counterpart ♮, that is, it cancels the effect of a preceding ‘flat’ symbol on the same stave, restoring the corresponding note of the diatonic scale to its normal relative pitch.
The use of this symbol is rare in the [E] manuscript, since staves are generally short and the effect of a ‘flat’ expires at the end of the stave anyway. Its appearance—at least as far as it is possible to determine from Anglés' facsimiles—is rather variable, in some places looking like just the top crossbar and lower right stem of the modern symbol (e.g. in CSM 217), and in others like the modern symbol but with no vertical space between the crossbars (e.g. in CSM 371). I have therefore used the modern shape for clarity.
||1 |2 |3 |4 |5||division||
Division lines come in a continuous range of lengths in the [E] manuscript, from the shortest that crosses a single stave line, to the longest that crosses the whole stave and beyond. Rather than trying to reproduce their variety with pinpoint precision (which could single-handedly slow the transcription process down to a crawl) I have restricted the divisions to just five lengths, each of which can be centred at any vertical stave position. This, I believe, gives a good compromise between efficiency and notational accuracy. In fact, it is rather likely that fewer than five lengths would be sufficient to capture the ‘musical meaning‘ of the divisions, but I have preferred not to prejudge that particular issue, instead capturing a fair representation of the manuscript which can be analysed properly later.
What the actual ‘musical meaning‘ of the divisions is, in each case, is a matter of interpretation and debate. It's clear that the longer lines generally appear at metrically significant points—the end of a hemistich or line of verse—and therefore correspond to some kind of rhythmic cadence or caesura. The shorter division lines occur more freely, sometimes doubled (as in CSM 1), and are more akin to dots and rests in modern notation. As with the duration of the neumes, however, I am not going to attempt to give definite mensural values for the divisions here.
The custos is very common in [To], and I have included it in my eleven transcriptions from that manuscript. Although it looks a bit like a on neume, it is easily distinguishable in practice. It always appears at the end of a stave, and is aligned so as to show the pitch of the first note on the next stave. In manuscripts this is useful for continuity across column and page breaks, and is particularly important when the clef on the next stave is in a different position: the custos makes the jump much easier to take in at a glance.
Reading the pitch contours of neumes is for the most part easy, and basically just a matter of identifying the stave pitches of the component note symbols. It's important though to know that pitches are determined by stems as well as body shapes, as shown in the following table:
|Contour||Component note shapes within the neume|
|single pitch||on (in isolation) o e|
|two pitches, step down||ron on (in a few rare combinations like oon) ra ba|
|two pitches, step up||bod od oso (generally equivalent to owo)|
The ron shape always indicates a single pitch step down the scale (an interval of a second) starting on the pitch where the square o body is placed. On the other hand, the step size for ba and ra depends on where the upper and lower ends of the descending a body are placed. However, in the Cantigas this is never more than one or two pitches, i.e. an interval of a second a or a third aa down.
Likewise, bod and od are always a single step up the scale from the body position, but oso may be one or two steps depending on the note spacing, i.e. an interval of a second oso or a third oswo up. (CSM 422 is unique in having an interval of a fifth on oswo at the start of the stanza.) Remember that oso always represents two pitches in sequence, like owo. There are no chords in the Cantiga music!
A rising stem on the left hand side of a note generally has no pitch value of its own. Either it is a purely conventional prop with no clear function as in bod (with od by itself being rare) or it is a mensural indicator (not always reliable) of shortened duration, halving the length of a multi-pitch neume (e.g. owo is long but bowo is short). There are a few cases however in which it makes more musical sense to read it as a pitch step down to the body note, specifically in the neumes bo (CSM 36), bon (CSM 7), bood (CSM 18) and boron (CSM 4, 10 and others).
Finally, and most importantly: don't be tempted to read the stem on the isolated long on as a step down: this is always just a single-pitch note.
There are well over two hundred different neume shapes in the [E] manuscript alone, and as I said at the top of the page, a comprehensive guide to medieval mensural notation isn't really feasible here. However, what I can do to point you firmly in the right direction is reproduce—with kind permission—the data given by Chris Elmes in the introduction to the first volume of his performing editions, where he lists his ‘initial assumptions’ about length when transcribing into modern notation.
Length categories below are S = semibreve, B = breve, L = long, L+ = ‘perfected’ long.
One and two-note neumes
|S||e (very rare as isolated notes in [E])|
|B||o ron od bowo ba|
|B or L||or||owo ra|
|L or L+||or||on oron ood oso royo oyo|
The most important thing here is that interpretation as L or L+ cannot be fully determined by the neume shape alone; rather it depends on the ‘rhythmic mode’ and a lot of contextual cues. See Elmes' introduction for more on this important aspect of the mensural notation of the Cantigas, or Anglés or Pla if you can find them and can read Spanish confidently.
|L||onyeye eyeye bowowo bowoso rawo bowoyo|
|L+||oyoyo royoyo owowo rowowo oyowo owoyo|
Again, the mensural reading L or L+ is highly dependent on context: these are just Elmes' starting points.
Neumes of more than three notes tend to increase in duration in a more-or-less sensible and predictable manner according to the added note shapes, but rhythmic context is always crucial to determining the best interpretation.
In future I hope to add some examples to this page to help explain the interpretation of mensural neumes more fully. In the meantime, the absolute best thing you can do to familiarize yourself with how it all works is to get hold of an edition of the Cantiga music in modern notation—either Elmes, which is readily available, or the volumes by Higinio Anglés or Roberto Pla if you have access to a good library—and start comparing these with my transcriptions or the original manuscripts.
Lastly, although I am confident that the music transcriptions will serve their purpose very well in their current format, both as a solid base for performance and as rich data for future detailed analysis, processing and conversion, I wouldn't call them perfect just yet. So here are a few possible criticisms that I'd like to make before anybody else does.
- With only five division line lengths, and the same range of vertical positions as for neumes, it is not possible to capture the exact appearance of divisions in the manuscript, and there are bound to be borderline cases where different readers would disagree. But even if Neumat supported a continuous range of lengths and positions, this would still not truly reflect the manuscript appearance, where all sorts of other factors come into play: the variable distance between stave lines (sometimes considerable); the fact that some divisions were drawn longer but only inked for part of their length; carelessness leading to slanted and curved lines; and so on. Ultimately, one has to leave facsimilar precision to the facsimiles themselves, and strike a sensible balance that gives us a machine-readable representation which is succinct and practical, but doesn't discard information that may be important. By the way, when in doubt, I have tried to give precedence to division length over position, since it seems unlikely that the latter has any inherent meaning, and also to consistency within a single Cantiga over needless variation.
- There is no explicit representation of the horizontal separation between division lines and the adjacent neumes. The current Neumat rendering merely places the shorter lines (lengths 1 and 2) a bit closer to the preceding neume than the longer lines (lengths 3 to 5) since in the majority of cases this matches the manuscript appearance and helps clarify the structure.
- In a very small number of cases, the shortest division lines appear to have been used merely to visually separate neumes that had to be written very close together on the stave due to a lack of space, and these lines had no metrical or mensural significance at all. The Neumat notation does not at present allow this semantic distinction to be recorded.