Editorial Principles

Like so many of us, I studied the Solesmes method for years before taking any interest in semiology or other interpretations. We memorized the rules for ictus placement and became familiar enough to apply them at sight. In my experience with the Vatican edition, only two things have bothered me about the typography itself: 1. the quilisma scandicus can be difficult to distinguish from the ordinary scandicus; my solution was to pencil in an episema under the note preceding the quilisma; 2. flat signs are sometimes positioned excessively far from the affected notes. In my opinion, any restored, reformed, or revised edition needs to rectify these problems—longstanding typographical conventions notwithstanding. The quilisma scandicus should have its lower note positioned to the left of the jagged note, with the upper note printed as a virga, so that the form is punctum+quilisma+virga; the “stacked” form is thereby avoided, greatly improving legibility, and the revised form better corresponds to the oldest manuscripts. Accidentals should be positioned close to the notes they affect.

I believe that several of the neographical forms, i.e. the so-called new Solesmes graphics, are helpful for a historically informed interpretation: the wavy oriscus, ascending and descending augmentative liquescent notes, and the tiny weak beginning (initio debilis) notes. The strophicus provides no practical advantage over the plain punctum and is not used in the Laon Gradual (Laudunensis 239); therefore, I haven't used it in my editions. I have used white or hollow notes to indicate upper auxiliaries or descending passing tones: the short-long or partially cursive clivis, when context suggests that the upper note is of more diminished value; the middle note of the long-short-long climacus, written with an inverse or descending quilisma in the Montpellier manuscript (Tonary of Saint-Bénigne of Dijon, H 159); the two puncta inclinata following Laon’s elongated virga in the scandicus subbipunctis resupinus; and, rarely, the upper note of a climacus.

I have retained the familiar added rhythmic markings of the Solesmes editions, namely, the dot and episema, but used them to indicate proportional note values rather than nuances: the horizontal episema indicating the long value, double the short, and the dot indicating a doubling of the long value, quadruple the short value. Although Dom Mocquereau’s ictus theory has been discredited by more recent scholarship, his theory of rhythmic nuances inexplicably continues to be perpetuated by Gregorian semiologists. When the discrete short and long values in 1:2 proportion described by the medieval writers are interpreted as nuances rather than more or less strict proportions, in the words of the late Jan van Biezen, “we are dealing with nuances of nuances, and that is of course nonsense.” Anyone who considers this an overly harsh statement would do well to examine the testimony of the medieval writers such as Hucbald, Berno, or Aribo, as well as later mensuralists such as Vollaerts, Murray, Blackley, or Van Biezen. I challenge anyone to produce a single shred of evidence in support of a “nuanced” interpretation of the normal long values in any manuscript from before the year 1100. On the contrary, evidence for measured (mensural) or proportional rhythm from the same period is not at all lacking.

I wish to share an observation about scribal errors based on personal experience. When I prepare an offertory with one or two verses for my schola cantorum, I often spend five hours or more in addition to what was needed to prepare the first and second drafts. My process involves recording myself singing from my edition, comparing my recording to the Graduale Novum, Offertoriale Triplex, and Offertoriale Restitutum, and listening to other recordings from the restored editions. Despite my very best efforts, I typically make two or three editorial mistakes that are immediately apparent to my schola, and another three or four that I catch myself. Were the medieval scribes so meticulous in their work, without recording and playback technology, without other editions to compare, and relying upon their own memory? I don't have the answer, but I imagine there might be a considerable number of errors even in the very best manuscripts. Comparative analysis is indispensable, especially when we encounter something that seems particularly counterintuitive—and unlikely to have been passed down as a strictly oral tradition for several generations—or extraordinarily difficult to sing as literally notated.

Whether our interpretation is semiological, accentualist/oratorical/rhetorical, or mensuralist/proportionalist, we are largely in agreement about the relatively long and short values of the manuscripts and the rhythmic errors of the Liber Usualis and other “old Solesmes” editions. How can we work together to develop a performing edition that will achieve the widest possible circulation and influence the greatest number of singers? Many of us seem more than willing to do our part. Is collaboration impossible because of interpretive differences, or is there still hope for an edition that will satisfy all of us and be accessible to every singer? I hope my contributions will prove to be a step in the right direction.

Finally, I wish to explain the rationale for some of my other editorial decisions. As in the Vatican and Solesmes editions, the quarter bar (divisio minima) indicates an optional breath without added time, i.e. taken from the value of the preceding note, normally after a neume ending with a vowel or voiced liquid consonant, or with a consonant that is doubled at the beginning of the next word; the half bar (divisio minor), a breath without added time, normally after an unvoiced consonant or where the sense of the text suggests a pause; and the full (divisio major) or double bar (finalis), a breath with an added rest after a note held to its full value. In my edition, the virgula (comma) has a different meaning than in the Solesmes editions: I have used it to indicate a breath that adds a rest worth half a beat after a note held to its full value. (Note that the virgula, like the rhythmic signs, is an addition by the Solesmes monks, not found in the Vatican edition itself.) The vertical episema is used as a precautionary indication of syncopation. In addition to the horizontal episema indicating a note value worth a full beat, a dot (punctum morae) is added before some bar lines to indicate doubling, likewise in the scandicus subbipunctis resupinus figure to represent Laon’s elongated virga. It cannot be emphasized enough that all ornamental notes—quilisma, initio debilis, white/hollow notes, and the upper auxiliary of the oriscus—come before the beat and take their value from the preceding note. In rare instances, a note worth a beat and a half is notated with dot plus vertical but not horizontal episema. Elsewhere, an isolated white/hollow punctum is used to indicate the equivalent of a dotted rhythm in modern notation.


Patrick Williams, September 2021

Table of Note Values

Concessions to Modern Performance Practice