Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsWe have just heard and seen the video recording of Dominique Vellard and his ensemble singing the Introitus Sacerdotes tui, Domine.

Skip to 0 minutes and 20 secondsMaybe you could hear that they did not sing just the pitches of the melody, but that this recording takes into consideration how the medieval voice was articulated. The reason of this subtle shading of the melody is that the Vellard ensemble was singing after having memorised the chant and then reading from the neums.

Skip to 0 minutes and 49 secondsEven if neumatic notation cannot visualise the pitches and the rhythmic relations, it is, however, capable to display the voice articulations in a very detailed manner. I want to show you some examples. You see here a version of Sacerdotes tui from a manuscript written around 960 in the monastery of Einsiedeln, Switzerland. It is notated with so-called German neumes. On the left side, you can see the beautifully illuminated initial over the song text, here in tan colour, it is easy to recognise the single neumes written with darker ink. [MONASTIC CHANTING]

Skip to 2 minutes and 32 secondsIn this segment, you can see many different neums: a pes quadratus, a porrectus, a climacus, a clivis. We also see here two times the significative letter E for equaliter, same pitch, and other neums I shall talk about shortly. The different shapes of the neums and the additional signs had an influence on the performance. I will show you which effect they have on the declamation. Let's verify it as we read and listen. First, I want to talk about the litterae significativae, letters which were meant to clarify the meaning of the neums affecting the rhythm, the pitch, or the manner of execution. For example, L stands for levare, a rise in the pitch. And C for celeriter, faster.

Skip to 3 minutes and 50 seconds[MONASTIC CHANTING]

Skip to 3 minutes and 59 secondsThe episema is a small stroke that is here added to the clivis. It probably indicates a lengthening of the notes to which it applies. In this example, you can hear it before and after a quilisma, which gives another emphasis to the notes. In medieval sources, it is described as a trembling and rising sound. [MONASTIC CHANTING]

Skip to 4 minutes and 41 secondsHere, you can see the same melodic feature, two times a downwards interval, the first time in the normal shape of a clivis, the second time with a different articulation of it. It is a cephalicus, a so-called liquescent neum, which indicates article or vocal treatments for these notes. Liquescence is a feature of neumatic notation which arises in singing certain consonants to provide a semi- vocalisation of that consonant as a passing note to the next pitch. Here, it occurs on the consonant N of the word duant. There is also an addition of a letter I for inferius, that is, lower. [MONASTIC CHANTING]

Skip to 5 minutes and 48 secondsFinally, I want to show you a more complex combination of neumatic signs. On the words David servuum, you can see here on the syllable ser, a torculus with several articulation signs.

Skip to 6 minutes and 10 secondsTwo letters are added, L for levare, raise, and P for pressionem, driving forward, becoming faster. The shape of the torculus here is different from the one you became acquainted with in the past steps. The longer and bent line here indicates a special voice effect on the word servum. It is a liquescent neum that emphasises the consonantal sound R. [MONASTIC CHANTING]

How does a medieval voice sound?

In this video you can verify how the neumatic notation delivers a lot of details on the articulation of the voice, permitting a subtle shading of the melody.

Prof. Dr. Matteo Nanni explains how different shapes of neumes and additional signs influence the articulation. The musical examples are taken from the recording of the introitus Sacerdotes Tui by the Ensemble Gilles Binchois under the direction of Dominique Vellard.

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This video is from the free online course:

From Ink to Sound: Decoding Musical Manuscripts

University of Basel