Capturing Music

Capturing Music

The Story of Notation

Book - 2015
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Before the era of recording -- before wax cylinders, vinyl, or digital media -- songwriters, composers, and musicians relied on sheet music and musical notation to disseminate their works. In this marvelously witty and engaging chapter of music history, Kelly, a Harvard musicologist, thoughtfully reviews the long process through which musical notation developed.
Publisher: New York : W. W. Norton & Company, 2015
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780393064964
Characteristics: xv, 238 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm + 1 CD


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Sep 18, 2018

Fascinating, witty explanation of what at first seems an impenetrable topic (earlier methods of writing music were different in kind, not just in style, from today's scores and sheet music). The terms are explained: finally, it's easy to know the difference between a neume and a note (besides how it looks on a page) -- as well as how a virga differs from a punctum, a breve from a semibreve, what a "perfection" was, and why the 14th-century pop-culture antihero Fauvel was always drawn with the head of a horse. The whole thousand-year-plus history is explained, mostly in its formative centuries, along with various geniuses (Guido the Monk, Philippe de Vitry) who invented ways of notating specific pitch or rhythm. There's also some commentary by the so-called Anonymous 4 (not the vocal group who are named after him), and the book ends with a complex operatic score: one page of "Wozzek" by Alban Berg. Since this system of notation was invented in Europe (mostly in France), all of the examples come from there; it would have been nice to see how the system has been adapted to write non-Euorpean music such as jazz and gamelan (as well as contemporary variations like graphic scores). But this history is interesting and explanatory as far as it goes. A side note: the accompanying CD is intended just as examples, but it is quite beautiful and I recommend listening to it on its own.


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