2. GREGORIAN NOTATION
Manuscript: "A Child was born for us and the Son has been
given to us"
In the 11th century the repertoire of chants in the Church covered
already the feast of each day and of each event of the Liturgy.
The sacred texts had its own characteristic and variety of forms:
Introits, Antiphons, Graduals, Hallelujahs, Offertories, Communions,
Sequences, etc. to which it should be added those parts of the Liturgy
called "Ordinary": Kyries, Glorias, Creeds, etc.
All this had to be entrusted to the memory of singers who did not
have any musical help, except some marks on the text indicating
simply when the melody rose or descended just as is shown in the
above manuscript. Of course, the conservation of the chants entrusted
only to the good memory did that they were in danger to disappear.
Initially the musical notation served like an aid-to-the-memory
for whom already had an idea about how should sound. It not was
intended that notation was "scientifically" precise. The
concept that a melody can be sung reading correctly the score (without
the need of having listened previously) is something relatively
The oldest examples of musical notation in Western Europe were
a kind of writings more as annotations for the texts that were sung.
On the other side, the purpose of notation was more that of indicating
the expressive character to stand out the subtleties of the vocal
expression than that of indicating the height of the melodic notes
(at present a great deal of investigation is going on by musicologists
specialized in Medieval music) .
a benedictin monk named Guido d' Arezzo (Italy 990 - 1050) found
the solution. From the hymn of the Eves of St John the Baptist feast
d'Arezzo organized what would be later the scale: UT
queant laxis (C) REsonare fibris (D) MIra
gestorum (E) FAmuli tuorum (F), SOLve
polluti (G) LAbii reatum (A), Sancte
Ioannes (SI —B—). See
the score of the hymne.
He invented the stave of four lines; of them, a yellow line would
be UT (subsequently became DO —C— ) and a red line would
indicate FA (F); this would give origin later to the notion of the
1. HEIGHT OF THE SOUNDS
The height of the sounds is indicated by the location of the notes
in a stave of four lines, with the possibility to use lower and
upper additional lines.
The clefs are of DO (C) and of FA (F) which can be in the second,
third or fourth line.
The possible extension is:
Here is presented, in its order, the primitive notation, the actual
Gregorian notation and its equivalent one in modern notation.
Virga=Stick; Punctum quadratum=square point, Punctum inclinatum=inclined
Pes, Podatus of the Latin foot; Torculus, of the
latin torquere=to twist, by its broken form; Porrectus, of the Latin
porrigere=to extend, by the extended form of its lines; Climacus,
of climax=stair; Scandicus, of scandere=to rise; Salicus of salire=to
- Those that are formed by joining simple neumes for a single
Resupini: when are complemented with
Praepunctis or subpunctis if they are
notes included before or after:
- The neumes that have the last one or two last notes of smaller
size receive the name of licuescens or semivowels; the purpose
of these notes is to call the attention on the correct pronunciation
of the text. Pes, Clivis, and Climacus licuescens are called also
epiphonus, cephalicus and ancus, respectively. The smallest size
of the lisquescens note does not imply at all modification in
- The ones that contain pressus, (of the Latin premo=to press,
to stop), that is to say the coincidence in height of the final
note of a neume with the initial note of another in a same syllable.
It is given also among a punctum and a neume.
- The ones that contain quilisma (of Greek külío=to
revolve, to roll) a jagged note, serve to join two notes separated
by an interval of third. It is never presented alone. The note
that precedes to quilisma is lengthened moderately but must not
be duplicated in length.
- The strophicus (of Greek strophao=to rotate) is a punctum quadratum
and might appear in three forms:
- The oriscus (of Greek óros=limit or height, hill) is
a punctum quadratum placed at the end of a neume.
- Bivirga and Trivirga are formed by the union of two or three
virgas respectively. (Virga=Stick. Bivirga and Trivirga=two or
three sticks respectively)
2. SPECIAL CASES OF EXECUTION
- The horizontal episema is placed on one or more notes and
signifies expressive and light extension of those sounds: is a
horizontal line. The note with ictus in the salicus should be
prolonged as if had episema. The episema extends a little
the note but it does not duplicate it.
It should not be confused with the vertical episema that almost
always is placed under the note and marks the binary or ternary
steps (see the chapter devoted to Rhythm).
- Distropha and Tristropha should be executed in flexible and
light form. It is mandatory the repercussion in the first note
of each one of them and in the first note of the neume that continues
them if it is at the same height.
- When the third note of a tristropha carries ictus, it can be
executed with repercussion. The oriscus is always of smooth character.
The two notes of the pressus should be executed like a clear,
strong, and double sound (The distropha, the tristropha and the
oriscus never form pressus).
- Bivirga and trivirga should be executed like the strophicus,
but its repercussion is more notorious.
The scandicus with the melodic form D-A-B should be executed like
Examples of repercussion:
4. SIGNS OF PAUSE (bars).
The signs of pause, originated by the structure of the text, are:
a) Minimum dividing line, that separates the
clauses or smaller parts in which the text is divided; it does
not imply to breath.
b) Smaller dividing line, that separates the
members of phrase. These are not more than clauses of greater
amplitude; it implies to breath almost always.
c) Greater dividing line that separates the
phrases: Equals to a silence of simple duration of a note and
obliges to breathe.
d) Double dividing line, that indicates greater
conclusive or also final sense of the composition. It equals to
a simple silence of a note, at times prolonged a little more .
5. OTHER SIGNS
The custos is a sign that goes at the end of each stave. This is
not sung, instead it serves as a visual cue to the pitch of the
first note on the next line. Also it is used when inside a same
musical piece there is a change of clef.
In Gregorian Chant the only accidental is B flat
(rarely) which is indicated by a
B Flat sign. The Flat affects not only the note B that
carries it but to the others that appear later and it is canceled
by the change of word, by any dividing line or by the natural sign.
The B Flat at the foot of the clef remains during all the piece
and is canceled only by the natural sign.
The Liber Usualis provides a cue for singing the "Gloria
Patri" after the introit verse. "Euouae" indicates
the vowels of the syllables of "saeculorum Amen", which
ends the "Gloria Patri".
MARTINEZ SOQUES, Fernando. Método de Canto Gregoriano, Capítulos
VI y VII. Ed. Pedagógica. Barcelona, 1943.