Which Composer Is Given Credit For Inventing Chant Notation On A Staff

The Origin of Notation

It was in my last blog article that I discussed the specifics of Gregorian chant. In this one, I’ll go into the reasons why historians are so well-versed in such specifics. The reason for this is, of course, notation. A wonderful breakthrough that enabled the transmission of musical sound through the use of ink and paper was made possible. Prior to the development of efficient notation, the traditions of Gregorian chant had to be passed down verbally from generation to generation. It took hundreds of years before efficient notation could be devised for the chant tunes and practices that were taught, learnt, retaught, and relearned from monk to monk.

Individual variance was frequently seen as a result of this memory-and-formula method, in which the monks relied on stock words and recognized clichés.

Conditions for Invention

Higher learning, cultural expansion, and economic stability were all fostered by an alliance between the Roman popes and the Frankish Kings. The Carolingian Renaissance (800-1150 CE), a period of human prosperity that took place in what is now modern Germany, France, and Italy, is considered to be the most prosperous period in human history. As early as the ninth century, the Roman liturgy had been declared to be the sole recognized ritual of Christendom across the world. It was necessary for the Roman liturgy to compete with a smorgasbord of local liturgies, primarily the Gallican rite, in order to survive in this huge area of country.

  • Indeed, prior to the development of notation, the two chant repertoires were intermixed to some extent, mostly as a result of the oral traditions of migratory Christians.
  • The deadlock contributed to part of the selection pressure that eventually resulted in the development of musical notation.
  • Notation developed in this area because it was in the center of the junction between the Roman and Galician languages of the Middle Ages, where it was developed.
  • As a result, the Frankish monarchy was under the greatest amount of pressure to suppress the Gallican rite and accept the Roman liturgy in its place.

As a result of these pressures, it was the Frankish monks who were responsible for the invention of musical notation. There is no documented documentation of this occurrence. Note-taking appears to have developed spontaneously, with little or no input from anyone outside the musical realm.


Despite the lack of a written record, historians have deduced from the musical artifacts themselves that the neumes were first employed in Frankish regions about the year 850, according to the written record. It was originally used to define a certain type of melodic phrase that could be sung in a single breath, and it originates from the Greek wordpneuma (which means breath). After a few centuries, however, the wordneume (as well as its pluralneumes) became increasingly popular for describing the marks that designate this type of single-breath musical phrase.

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The curve traced by the high and low notes of a melody is known as the melodic contour.

(These are not neumes, by the way.) Despite the fact that neumes were extremely valuable to the monks of the Carolingian renaissance, historians find them to be rather less so.

Neumes are simply pictograms for musicians, and their purpose is only to increase memory retention.

Liturgical Books

Aside from the absence of a written record, historians have deduced from the musical artifacts themselves that the neumes were first employed in Frankish territory somewhere around the year 860. It was originally used to define a certain type of melodic phrase that could be sung in a single breath, and it originates from the Greek wordpneuma (which means “breath.” The term “neume,” as well as its pluralnoumes, started to be employed to designate the marks that denoted this type of single-breath musical phrase as the years went by, though.

The curve traced by the high and low notes of a melody is referred to as the melodic contour.

It should be noted that they are not neumes).

Their pitches are arbitrary, and there is no indication of the half-step/whole-step connection or intervals.

Musicians use neumes, which are essentially pictograms that are used just to trigger their memories. As a result of these restrictions, monks started putting these curved symbols into their liturgical books.

Oldest Notated Examples

Neumes are inserted over the Latin text of a liturgical hymn in the section below. TheCantatorium of St. Gall is the name of this building. The chantViderunt omnes may be found in the manuscript, which is currently housed in a Swedish library. It is considered to be one of the first full neumatic writings. Accordance with musicologists, it was composed between 922 and 925 CE. Achant discovered in a progressive dating system from about the year 900 is possibly even older than the St. Gall text.

  • We were lucky enough to have a copy of the text on hand.
  • In fact, the Chartres Gradual and the Canatorium of St.
  • Another early example of neumatic notation, and one that was far more precise musically than the preceding ones, came from the town of Dijon in the French province of Bourgogne.
  • The book, which was printed at Volpiano’sscriptoria (a workshop where the monks prepared liturgical texts by hand), had neumes as well as an unusual alphabetical notation in the form of the Greek alphabet.
  • As one of the relatively few educated writers from the Middle Ages who managed to retain part of the Greek wisdom and culture, Boethius was a rare find.
  • That theTonary of Saint Benignewas more musically correct than the music contained in theGradual of Chartres or theCantatorium of St.
  • There were comprehensive notational examples of all kinds of chant styles in the tonary, which was most likely constructed somewhere in the 980s.
  • Here is a page from the St.
  • Please take note that the following alphabetical indications and neumes have been written in above the text:
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Theoretical Treatises

The theoretical treatises written throughout the Middle Ages, which are maybe even more important than graduals and antiphoners for determining the character of chant, are worth reading. An example of such a treatise is Musica enchiriadis(anonymous, late ninth century), which included musical examples written in Greek letter notation and directional neumes. Many facets of the Gregorian plainsong, as well as characteristics of polyphony—the musical tapestry in which more than one melody is played at the same time—were explored in depth in this book.

In a subsequent blog article, I’ll go into further detail on the origins of polyphonic chant.

Daisen notation was used to illustrate certain intervals of the scale, such as the half-step and the whole-step, among other things.

In addition to the intervallic detail supplied by the Daisen notation, Musica enchiriadis also included Greek letter name notation as well as directional neumes to help the listener navigate through the music.

In order to attain musical precision through a form of convergence of notational traditions, the forenchiriadis employed a strategy known as convergence of notation. Here is a passage from the musical work Musica enchiriadis:

Notational Improvements

Throughout the years, there have been various transitions and advancements in the use of neumatic notation. The introduction of raised neumes was the first significant upgrade to the system. This type of neume was used to denote the different highs and lows of the melody by placing the marks at different heights above the chant text. Diastematic neumes are the type of neutrons that fall into this category. Here we have theViderunt omnes once more. This one is derived from the gradual and is notated with raised neumes: It was the personnel, though, who brought about the most significant changes.

  1. Specific pitches were marked by the lines.
  2. As a result, a discrete note representation was established.
  3. It was probably between 1025 and 1028 that Guido of Arezzo(992 till sometime around 1033), an Italian monk and master in Gregorian chant, produced the musical treatiseMicrologus, which was published in the early eleventh century.
  4. It was a simple two-line system, with a yellow line representing the note C and a red line representing the note F.
  5. The neumes were then put above or below these lines, allowing for more precise pitch control.
  6. Clips are musical notation markers that are applied at the start of a line of music to identify the note that line represents.
  7. He was also the one who came up with the idea of solmization.
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(Today, we sing the scale with the words do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti instead of the traditional do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti.) Guido came up with the concept for this solmization after recognizing that the first six phrases of the chantUt queant laxis described the first six notes of one of the church modes, which he had already discovered.

  • Check out the following example of Ut queant laxis expressed in contemporary notation: Imagine that we take those six notes and stack them on top of each other, with the higher set of six affixed to the lower set’s fourth-note pich.
  • This move may be executed seven times, and the result is a pitch set that contains the whole note range of the Gregorian Chant repertory.
  • This system of pitches was invented by followers of Guido of Arezzo, and the collection of pitches that resulted was known as the system of hexachords.
  • The followers carried out this range innovation as a pedagogical device to prepare them for the work of modification.
  • The use of a system of hexachords made it possible to quickly switch between modes.
  • The Guidonian Hand was a memory aid in which solemnization syllables were allocated to the creases and folds in the palm of one’s hand in order to help in recall.

Watch the video below to see Professor William Mahrt, a modern-day musicologist, demonstrate the usage of the Guidonian hand:

Modern Scholarship

For our current grasp of neumatic notation, we owe our debt to the Solesmes monks in the late nineteenth century. They gathered, structured, recopied, and updated the neumatic script for the whole repertory of the Roman liturgy at Solesmes Abbey in Sarthe, France, which was done by the monks of the Abbey. In 1903, Pope Pius X declared their work to be the official norm of the Catholic Church. In part as a result of the work of the Solesmes monks, Gregorian chant has experienced a surge in popularity, and interest in the music has been rekindled.

This time it’s written in a more recent version of Solesmes monknotation.


During the period between 850 and 1050, notation advanced significantly, although solely in the area of pitch notation (see below). It would take another 300 years for rhythm notation to become established. The origin of notated rhythm will be discussed in greater depth in a later lecture.

Works Cited

During the period between 850 and 1050, notation advanced significantly, although solely in the area of pitch notation. It would take another 300 years for the art of notating rhythm to develop further. After that, we’ll talk about the development of notated rhythm.

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