Transcribing St. Gall to a stave - how are the pitches known?
  • jabv
    Posts: 14
    I formed this question while reading the 1957 Robert Carroll article referenced in a recent discussion (I am somewhat of a chant newbie and definitely a semiology newbie). It doesn't seem like much of a leap to me to see the transcription of rhythm from a manuscript like St. Gall to a stave, but I don't see at all how it is possible to render the pitches. How does a copyist determine whether a podatus has a range of a step or a third?

    As a newcomer to the field, I find it amazing that there seem to be so many discussions about whether manuscript rhythms have been preserved faithfully while the transcription of pitches seems to be a given. Perhaps I am betraying how little I know!
  • WGS
    Posts: 220
    Do some research on the famous Montpellier Mss. Understanding the markings thereon was like finding a Rosetta Stone. In addition to text and neums, there were "little letters" which indicated the pitch relationships.
    Thanked by 1jabv
  • jczarn
    Posts: 65
    I asked exactly this question at Deacon Schaefer's semiology breakout session during the Colloquium. You are quite correct that the St. Gall neumes don't give the exact melody. They do sometimes indicate a general sense of pitch (e.g. lower note vs. "much lower" note) but this obviously isn't enough to reconstruct a full melody.

    This is not to demean the importance of the Montpellier manuscript, but I think it is a common misconception (mine too, until recently) that it immediately allowed for complete reconstruction of chants from just the St. Gall neumes themselves.

    As far as I understand it, the monks at Solesmes created huge tables comparing each chant as written in numerous "square note" manuscripts as well as what is found in the St. Gall. They used the St. Gall (and/or Laon?) to help determine which version of the melody to be most authentic for each chant. Hopefully some others will be able to elucidate further, but that is at least my high-level understanding.
  • jabv
    Posts: 14
    Fascinating!

    So my understanding is that it is indeed impossible to determine, for example, the exact range of a St. Gall torculus. However, the Solesmes monks and other scholars are able to compare St. Gall neumes to other, "apocryphal" (if you will), square note transcriptions, and in so doing they can get a pretty good idea of what the intended pitches are. Part of the issue involved is in working with manuscripts of varied consistency or perceived authority, right?

    I searched briefly for "montpellier manuscript chant" and only turned up information on a "Montpellier Codex" that is a compilation of medieval French polyphony. Was it this codex that was so important in creating authentic transcriptions? Perhaps the cantus firmi were the revealing aspect?
  • Evan M
    Posts: 7
    The St. Gall manuscripts are valuable as the earliest generation of sources on Gregorian chant, that is, the same tunes (with minor variations) that we know and love today. By the 11th century we find manuscripts with heightened neumes, that is, positioned on a (drawn or imaginary) staff to indicate pitch, still working with the same melodies; shortly thereafter, the familiar flat and natural signs are increasingly used to clarify the ambiguous pitch b.

    Rhythm (and/or dynamics) is usually the main topic in chant interpretation, because the pitches follow modal scales and can be assumed to be basically constant over time (except for some intriguing microtonal inflections). The Solesmes monks worked by comparing the same tune written in early manuscripts, paying especial attention to the division of the notes into neumes (which is amazingly consistent across places and times) to formulate their rhythmic prescriptions, a mode of research and conjecture that continues today.
    Thanked by 1jabv
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,165
    jabv: have a look at this explanation.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,165
    The facsimile is v 8 in this archive index, the second copy near the bottom of the page is easier to read than the older copy listed first.
    Thanked by 3Elmar CHGiffen jabv
  • Merci, @a_f_hawkins, but is there an American, not Canadian, translation?
    Thanked by 1jabv
  • I did a Google translate, and my favorite passage is this:
    If he had not made ​​a detour to Montpellier, no correct restoration of Gregorian chant by credit rating without line would have occurred in the nineteenth century.

    I did a quick comparison of a few Introits from my Triplex and the facsimile, though. The feeling of singing this music from an 11th c. hand is exquisite. It also looks like this 11th. c. hand (and the monk whose it is) would have no trouble with Gregorio software (at least until you give him a clef other than c4).
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen jabv
  • jabv
    Posts: 14
    a_f_hawkins: thank you so much! What a fascinating manuscript.

    Is the Antiphonary of St. Benigne the first instance of alphabetic notation for pitches?

    Thanks to all who have chimed in on this thread!