Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsHi, my name is Matteo Nanni, and I am Professor of Musicology at the Basel University. I would like to welcome you to the course From Ink to Sound, Decoding Musical Manuscripts. My colleagues and I would like to take you on a journey through time to explore the history of musical notation. During the next weeks we shall introduce you to the world of musical script. You will be able to read musical manuscripts from the past.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 secondsHello. My name is Angelika Moths. I'm teaching History of Notation and Music Theory at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and at Basel University. I also would like to welcome you to this course. To turn ink into sound, it needs voices and instruments. The ensemble Gilles Binchois, under the direction of Dominique Vellard and musicians of the Schola Cantorum will ensure that this course won't not only be an intellectual but also a sensual experience for you.

Skip to 1 minute and 22 secondsEvery day at home or in the street, in the car or at the supermarket, we are surrounded by music and do never ask if and how it's written down. We hear the passing of the ephemeral sounds, but we are a little stumped if somebody asks us to write them down.

Skip to 1 minute and 49 secondsOtherwise we must think that without written music, we wouldn't have access to the music of the past. In the course of the centuries, musical notation evolved out of the oral tradition of singing and playing.

Skip to 2 minutes and 13 secondsOur actual system of musical notation is the result of a long-term process which began in the Middle Ages and still goes on.

Skip to 2 minutes and 28 secondsIn this course we are going to discover and to deepen the insight into the most important occurrences of the development of notation. Through this course you will get acquainted with different kinds of musical notation, and you will learn how to decode and transcribe them. Finally, you will be able to reflect on historically informed performance, to look hopefully at ancient music with fresh eyes.

Hearing and writing music: close-ups on musical notation

Music is an ephemeral object, its existence defined by the flow of time and bound to the present of its performance. If music would not be written down, how could we know the musical compositions from times remote? Notation supplies a unique access to music from the past.

In this course you will learn how to understand the theoretical and practical principles of reading musical notation from the Middle Ages until the Early Modern period. You will get the basic knowledge needed to decode and transcribe early notational systems. We would also like to encourage you to reflect upon the challenges and principles of musical notation as we take into consideration semiotic approaches and visual theory. In addition this course offers several recordings of ancient-music performances provided by musicians of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. This will ensure that you will experience the music also aesthetically.

Some of the central questions we shall tackle during the next seven weeks are the following:

  • What do we know about the materiality of musical notation?
  • How can we learn to read music written in its original notation?
  • Are we able to reconstruct music from the past?
  • How did the way we note music evolve through history?
  • With which strategies did people visualise music in medieval and renaissance times?
  • What can we learn from the history of musical writing in order to deepen our understanding of music?

These are questions for anyone who has ever picked up a manuscript or a facsimile with original notation from the Middle Ages or the Renaissance and enjoyed it. For the answers, we must look to our best current understanding of how notation works – and that means entering into the field of musicology and music philology.

From Ink to Sound provides the basic knowledge you need to read original notation. At the same time the course starts with the assumption that there is a gap between the philological study of musical sources and their reflection in cultural history that should be bridged.

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You can view the profile pages of your fellow learners, and ‘follow’ them to keep track of their comments. We recommend that you follow the educators Matteo Nanni, and Angelika Moths. That way, you’ll be able to see all the comments that they make.

Let us, at this occasion, also introduce the mentors who will help to guide the discussions: Madita Knöpfle studies musicology and scandinavian studies at the University of Basel. After her bachelor’s degree she has continued pursuing her two fields of study and is currently working on her master’s thesis on the correlation of musical notation and compositional techniques. Cristina Pileggi studies musicology and media studies at the university of Basel. After she completed her bachelor’s degree with the two domains “Early Music Notation” and “Media and Society”, she is currently working on her master’s thesis on the correlation of acoustics and optics in audiovisual advertising communication.

We hope you will enjoy this course!

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From Ink to Sound: Decoding Musical Manuscripts

University of Basel