Mensural

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Musica Mensurata

The notes of plain song were originally of the indeterminate length; and were lengthened or shortened indefinitely, in accordance with the rhythm or accent of the words to which they were adapted. But after the invention of Figured Music it became necessary to design a system of notation capable of expressing the relative duration, as well as the pitch, of every note intended to be sung; and thus arose a new species of song, called Cantus menusrabilis or Measured Music.

One of the earliest known writers on this subject was the celebrated Franco of Cologne who, upon the strength of his Tract entitled Ars cantus mensurabilis written during the latter half of the 11th century, has frequently been credited with the invention of the Time Table. It is but fair, however, to say that in this very tract Magister Franco himself speaks of ‘many others, both recent, and ancient’, who have written on the same subject; whence, notwithstanding the testimony of Marchettus of Padua, who wrote two centuries later, we must infer that we are indebted to our author rather for a compendium of what was already known at the time when he flourished, than for a new or original discovery.

In confirmation of this view Coussemaker, in his Scriptures de musica medii aevi, cites several MSS. Which appear to be of earlier date than the treatise of Franco; and prints, in extensor, examples which set forth systems for less completely developed than that which Franco describes.

Next in point of antiquity to Franco’s treatise is one written by our own countryman, Walter Odington of Evesham, in the 13th century. Others follow, but Marchettus of Padua, in 1274; Johannes de Muris, in 1321; Robert de Handlo – another Englishman – in 1326; Prosdocimus de Beldemandis, in 1410; Franchinus Gafurius, in 1480; and numerous other authors, who all concur in representing Franco as an authority entitled to the utmost possible veneration.

See the following article for more details on the history of musical notation.

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