Friday, 8 February 2013

The curse of the flying eggs


Here is a comparison of the beginning of Credo 3 in traditional Gregorian chant notation and in modern notation, both to the same scale. The upper example is from Plainsong for Schools, first published around 1930 and the lower example is from the latest edition of Cecilia. It shows how the traditional notation illustrates the phrasing and rhythm of the music in a way that the round-note style does not. The porrectus in "omnium", for instance, is replaced by three spots, which lacking even the indication of a tie which would help to emphasise the fact that here is a group of notes belonging to a single syllable. It is also slightly more compact, making the words easier to read and saving some paper into the bargain.

The comparison also demonstrates the superior clarity achieved by putting the music on a stave with four lines instead of five. The notes are larger, the spaces between the lines are bigger, and four lines are easier to read than five. A further benefit of the Gregorian chant notation is that it does not forced people to sing at a particular pitch. They might want to start on F or A, not on G, as shown here. Choirs will normally choose their pitch by agreement, and what they choose can be determined by the state of the voices which is affected by facturs such as the time of day or even the weather.

Ugly on the page
And not the least of the objections is that it just looks ugly. The angled spots look for all the world like eggs flying across the page.

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