Capturing Music: The story of notation
Thomas Forrest Kelly
pub. 2015, 238p
This showed up in the search results for a totally unrelated topic and looked interesting. I'm glad I went with the whim.
Although Capturing Music deals mainly with medieval music and entirely with western notation, the writing is great with lots of deep information. It's clearly well researched and the writer truly loves the music he's studied. Reading this made me want to further explore my own notation and gave me lots of ideas for how to do that.
Interestingly, our modern system of notation chooses to privilege some of these [characteristics] (how high and how long), which are built in to how we write the notes, and literally marginalize others (how loud, what sound quality), which are indicated in letters and symbols around the edges. [p. 4]
A "liquescence" is produced when the mouth moves to make a nasal m or n at the end of a syllable ("Amen"), or to change a vowel on a diphthong (ou, eu, etc.: "cloud"). [p.12]
A couple of basic principles are already noticeable in this example, and they are at the foundation of our Western musical system (not at the foundation of other notational systems, perhaps, but of ours): first that this is music meant to go with words; and second, that the basic unit of music-writing is not the note but the syllable. [p. 12]
Perhaps the chief reason for writing music with neumes was not to record the melodies themselves, but how you perform those melodies. [p. 54]
The fourteenth century is one of the great periods of mathematics. Music, that part of science that deals with number and proportion, had long applied numerical ratios to the relationships of one note to another, to the intervals between one pitch and another, often doing so by comparing the lengths of strings sounding two different notes. Now such proportions and ratios are applicable to durations also; almost any combination can be created out of patterns of twos and threes. As soon as clear mensuration -- that is, measurability and comparability -- becomes a part of rhythm, things get interesting very fast. [p. 154]
The complexity of this notation creates a kind of subjectivity. ... an observer does not appreciate the inherent beauty of God's creation, but rather constructs, with her or his own senses, a perception and an evaluation that emerges from an individual process, with the result that everyone perceives the world differently -- or perceives a different world. This view is quite unlike what came before it. [p. 194]