Wherefore the Virga?
  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,995
    A child in my schola wants to know, if a virga is the same as a punctum, why not just have a punctum?
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Virga: Stemmed Puctum (used only in combination with other neums) Gregorian Chant Practicum Page 2.
  • I gather that the shape comes from the quill pen, but I like the look of them: help you sing smoothly downward.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592

    I often wondered about that myself, because I learned modern music before chant.

    However, it seems that the virga was used because it made the line easier to read: punctums all in a row would be very difficult.

    One MSS in particular proves this. It has all the notes VIRGA then PUNCTUM then VIRGA then PUNCTUM, etc. But another, from the same time period, has just the opposite! That is how we know it didn't refer to length of the note.
  • Conventional chant notation represents an attempt to incorporate elements of the (adiastematic) St. Gall notation into a diastematic notational system.

    The St. Gall notation does not show exact pitches; but it does show the direction in which the melody is moving. In the St. Gall notation the virga, which looks like a forward slash, normally represents a note that is higher than the one which follows it and usually higher than the note which precedes it.

    A virga found in the St. Gall notation is often (but not consistently) transcribed in conventional chant notation as a "punctum with a tail on it."

    The virga is not always without rhythmnic significance. The rhythm of a torculus preceded by a virga is not the same as that of a porrectus flexus. The neumatic break (between the virga and the torculus) is understood by some to indicate a lengthening of the note represented by the virga. In the old Solesmes editions a virga so placed is usually marked with a dot.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Bruce, (I knew semiologists are going to mention something about this), would you show some examples in the chants, torculus preceded by a Virga and of a porrectus flexus? I'd appreciate it very much. (whether I agree with it or not, I guess I'll decide after I learn more about it.)
    Although this might be too much to implement consistently in singing with the schola, I'm pretty interested in this.
  • In the attached .pdf document you'll see an example of a virga-plus-torculus and an example of a porrectus flexus.

    I must, however, qualify what I wrote earlier. The virga that stands before the torculus is lengthened and/or emphasized not because it is a virga but because of the neumatic break that separates it from the torculus. The editors of the old Solesmes editions recognized the significance of the neumatic break when it occurred in this context. They normally placed a dot after the virga.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,995
    Thanks for the helpful responses.

    I'm wondering now if the virga has a kind of "lifted" sound to it, as we hear in the top note of a podatus.
  • Kathy wrote: "I'm wondering now if the virga has a kind of "lifted" sound to it, as we hear in the top note of a podatus."

    I think that the very concept of a "lifted" sound is a product of Andre Mocquereau's romantic imagination.

    He frequently asserted the medieval Latin had a pitch accent rather than a stress accent; but linguists disagree. Some think that classical Latin had a pitch accent (like classical Greek). All agree that if Latin ever had a pitch accent, it had been transformed into a stress accent by the fourth century.

    A virga without an episema and not followed by a neumatic break receives no special emphasis--either according to Cardine or according to Mocquereau.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Thanks, Bruce. I see dotted virga(s) in front of
    torculus in GR. (I see even virga with horizontal episema in front of torculus). Now I understand them better.

    Kathy, some might have other opinions on this. But the top 'note' of podatus probably is different feeling from the Virga. The top note of podatus doesn't fall on the beginning of the syllable, it sort of carries it over, so it should be sung lightly. But virga can start a syllable, or even within a syllable, I think it is different 'lift' than from that of podatus, (like in "e"-leison in Kyrie XI, which I do feel 123, 123, 123 on ''e". Those 9 notes were a bit challenge for my beginning schola, and I have them sing 123,--- it was much easier that way, and the two virgas help to sing 1.).