Mensural Notation

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Mensural Notation


a system of representing musical sounds that was used from the 13th to the 16th century.

Unlike the earlier, plainsong notation, mensural notation made it possible not only to fix the pitch but also to mark the relative duration of sounds. In the 13th century, the following signs were employed to indicate duration, values (in order of diminishing duration): Mensural Notationmaxima or duplex longa (largest or double long), Mensural Notationlonga(long) Mensural Notationbrevis (short), and Mensural Notationsemibrevis (half as short). In the 14th century still smaller duration values were introduced: Mensural Notationminima (smallest) and Mensural Notationsemiminima. There were special signs to indicate rests.

Initially, the basic unit of duration was the longa; later the brevis, and still later, in the 14th century, the semibrevis became the basic unit. The maxima and minima were always divisible into two notes of a lower value, whereas the remaining notes could be divided into two and three notes. The types of rhythmic divisions were called mensura; they were indicated by special signs placed at the beginning of a line. Later, for the purpose of indicating long durations, white notation was introduced; the semiminima and the still smaller duration values that appeared later, ihefusa and semifusa, were indicated by both white and black notation. The system of mensural notation, which reached its final stage of development in the 16th century, was the basis of modern notation.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Although the hymnbook is considerably large and most of the songs also provide a melody printed in white mensural notation, the format is also the smallest Czech hymnal of its time.
Demonstrating the connections between these books allows the author to provide imaginative musical analyses that illuminate the often-overlooked perspectives of musicians beginning to learn mensural notation in various material manifestations.
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Banks further argues that despite the appearance of a lute repertory written and printed in tablature, the lute consort repertory in textless chansonniers, written in mensural notation, was the product of the intersection between the vocal repertory of the chapel and the humanistic repertory of the improvisatori.
(10.) White mensural notation. "White" because most of the notes are white, though the smaller values are black.
Helpful are the equivalency statements made both above (for modern notation) and below the staff (for mensural notation to modern notation) which detail the changes when moving between duple and triple metres.
For instance, it could be argued that the influence of the Italian Trecento on the French Ars Nova, and vice versa, should be central to the history of mensural notation, but White places the main emphasis on the Ars Nova.
Fascination with the rhythmic and contrapuntal convolutions of the flexible mensural notation system had given way to a preference for clear interpretation of text and expressive harmonies set in rhythms married to the graceful flow of the text.
The final chapter, by Barbara Haagh, fittingly discusses the influence of neumes, square notation and mensural notation in the manuscripts and printed antiphoner of Cambrai Cathedral, suggesting that scribes could be 'musically bilingual' or even 'trilingual' and were fully capable of copying both chant and polyphony.
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