The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries saw an unprecedented increase in the production of manuscripts not focused solely on music written for liturgical services, but which contained a diversity of musical styles, genres, and subject matter. These new repertoires were copied in music-only manuscripts, and in manuscripts that interweave songs, texts, and illustrations. At the same time, techniques for specifically notating individual rhythmic durations were developed, a notation called ‘mensural’ or ‘measurable.’ Almost all polyphonic music (music composed for two or more voice parts) from 1300-1600 is notated in mensural notation, the rules of which changed little from c. 1350. Yet modern editions invariably introduce many layers of translation when they present this music: for example, translating the original notation into modern notation that often obfuscates the original’s intent; or categorizing and collating individual music compositions according to the conventions of modern publications, ignoring the presentation context within the original manuscript sources.
‘Measuring Polyphony’ presents, for the first time, digitised versions of polyphonic compositions written during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, offering new possibilities for mediating the scholarly and public experience of this richly evocative music within its original manuscript context. The project began at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University, and now continues at Brandeis University. It leverages the potential of the rich digital image repositories of music manuscripts and the community-based standards for encoding music notation of the Music Encoding Initiative (MEI). ‘Measuring Polyphony’ has three goals:
Karen Desmond, Brandeis University
Programming of the mensural notation transformation scripts
Martha Thomae Elias, McGill University
Website design, architecture, and programming
Elizabeth Koshelev, Brandeis University
Laurent Pugin, co-director, Répertoire International des Sources Musicales, Switzerland
Encoding and proofreading
Emily Hopkins, Sam Howes, Sadie Menincain (McGill University)
Shawn Mikkelson, Daniel Shapiro (Brandeis University)
Web interface prototype design
Arya Boudaie, Brandeis University
The first stage of this project focused on a representative sample of 64 three- and four-voice French motet repertory that dates from c.1300 to c.1350 (that is, a repertory that bridges the ars antiqua and ars nova) and offers examples of both those styles of music notation. Presented here are 24 motets from the eighth fascicle of the Montpellier Codex, copied in the 1310s; 18 motets from Roman de Fauvel (copied c. 1317) and the Brussels Rotulus (copied c. 1330); and 22 motets from the Ivrea Codex that are also listed in the Tremoïlle Index (both these sources date from the 1370s or later).
Working from the lessons learned during the process of encoding this repertoire, future plans include encoding a larger repertoire of medieval polyphony, most likely another self-contained ars antiqua repertoire, such as the remaining motets from the the eighth-fascicle Montpellier motets and/or the Roman de Fauvel, or from another fascicle of the Montpellier Codex, or perhaps the 100 motets transmitted in the Bamberg Codex. If you have a repertoire of compositions that you would like to encode, and have the time and/or resources to transcribe and proofread your transcriptions according to the process outlined below, please be in touch and we can offer further guidance.
Mensural notation was developed in the late thirteenth century in order to more precisely denote rhythm in polyphonic music, and was the notation system that continued to be used to notate music until the sixteenth century. Mensural notation presents particular difficulties for encoding since it is a context-based notation. In other words, whereas the shape of a note and its duration are in a one-to-one relation in notation from the common practice period, this is not the case with mensural notation, where the same note shape can be used in different contexts to denote different durations. Thus the process of encoding mensural music is considerably more complex than encoding Common Practice notation, especially because no currently available music notation software offers the possibility of notating music in scored-up mensural notation. The process that we developed during the course of this project is summarized below.
The transcriptions are taken from a single manuscript source (and thus are diplomatic transcriptions and not editions), and the digital encodings of these transcriptions follow the MEI schema (a core set of rules developed for encoding music notation documents as XML). The MEI schema has a mensural notation module. At present, the encodings of the ‘Measuring Polyphony’ project capture the following notational features:
The process we devised to create the encodings is as follows:
The encoded transcriptions are presented here online in a scored-up mensural notation via a customization of Verovio, an open-source library for engraving MEI music scores into SVG and which also generates audio playback highlighting the transcription as it plays in real time. The Verovio code library also provides the functionality to download a PDF of the SVG image. For this project, Laurent Pugin, the developer of Verovio, extended the library so that it could display the scored-up transcriptions in black mensural notation, and allow for the highlighted playback of mensural notation in a variety of MIDI instrument formats.
For many of the compositions presented here, digital images of the original manuscripts are available online. In the case of the Roman de Fauvel manuscript (Ms f. fr. 146), the Bibliothèque nationale de France has made its images available through the IIIF framework, and thus those images can be accessed directly through the Measuring Polyphony interface. The image viewer on is the open source Diva.js, developed by Andrew Hankinson. When the manuscript images are not yet available through IIIF, links to the institution’s websites are included here, so that users can view the manuscript images directly on the appropriate institution’s website.
A lightweight web architecture has been employed here. Since the metadata for these compositions is already available through DIAMM, all the necessary metadata about each composition is encoded directly in the meiHead element of the MEI files, and the website built with the open source Jekyll Pages of Github.
Semibreves: In the ars antiqua repertoire, which includes the Fauvel motets, all semibreves (in groups of four or more) encoded simply as semibreves separated by dots of division (although those semibreves notated with a downward stem are specified in the encoding), unless downward stems were added in the manuscript source, if so the semibreve is recorded as longer, usually by tagging it as a major semibreve. Pairs of semibreves are encoded following Franconian conventions of minor, major, unless the first note is marked by a descending stem. Encoding the motets in this way will allows for an eventual flexibility in imposition a mensural interpretation, for example, in those Fauvel motets where it is unclear whether they are in tempus perfectum or imperfectum. One could envision an eventual online edition where a performer could easily switch back and forth between different editorial interpretations of mensuration or rhythmic duration. For now, the groups of semibreves are simply ‘fit’ into the duration of a breve.
Accidentals: Whether indicated in manuscript, or added as editorial suggestions, last for the equivalent of one measure, marked by dashed barlines, in the transcription
Hyphens between text syllables: In the export of the texts from syllables, the placement of hyphens between syllables needs to be corrected. Hyphens are not currently displayed in this iteration of the interface (May 2018).
Ligatures: While ligature groupings, including coniuncturae, were recorded in the Sibelius transcription, Sibelius is primarily an engraving software concerned with the graphic appearance, and in Sibelius the brackets that mark ligatures are not associated properly with specific notes (i.e., they are not specifically attached to the notes at the beginning and ends of the ligature brackets). Thus it is currently tricky to export the ligature markings out from Sibelius to MEI. We are pondering solutions, however (May 2018).
Plicas: Currently Verovio does not display a specific grapheme for notes marked with plicas; these are, however, encoded in the mensural MEI file, and viewable in the code (May 2018).
Ficta: There is a current issue with distinguishing between original and added accidentals (ficta accidentals) in the Sibelius to MEI export. We are in the process of manually correcting the added accidentals, but not all compositions have been updated yet (May 2018).
There are 8 motets for which transcriptions have been made and proofread, however, because of some of their quirky mensuration issues (such as changes of mensuration, or coloration), they currently cannot be transformed accurately with the MEIMensural script, and are only viewable on this site currently in their ‘modern notation’ versions.
These pieces present useful case studies as we begin the next phase of this project, which is to consolidate lessons learned from this project in the creation of a streamlined yet flexible process, which would include the the development of a simple mensural MEI editor, that would allow musicologists to input ars antiqua or ars nova mensural notation directly into an web-based editor, and view, hear, and correct scored-up versions during the actual process of transcription.
One of the primary purposes of this project is as ‘proof-of-concept’ and lessons learned will be applied to the next iteration of this project, to be implemented on a larger scale, with user feedback. Therefore, any responses, with respect to the interface, repertoire chosen, bugs, or ideas for further development are appreciated immensely and can be sent directly to email@example.com.