The idea of expressing the values of notes by diversity of form has been ascribed by certain writers to De Muris (about 1340), but this is undoubtedly an error, the origin of which is traced by both Hawkin and Fetis to a work entitled L’antica Musica ridotta alla moderna Prattica, by Vincentino (1555), in which it is explicitly stted that De Muris invented all the notes, from the Large to the Semiquaver. It is, however, certain that the longer notes were in use nearly 300 years earlier, in the time of Franco of Cologne, and it seems equally clear that the introduction of the shorter kinds is of later date than the time of De Muris.
The fact appears to be that the invention of the shorter notes followed the demand created by the general progress of music, a demand which may fairly be supposed to have reached its limit in the quarter demisemiquaver, occasionally met with in modern music.
The Quaver, originally called Chroma or Fusa, sometimes Unca (a hook), was probably invented some time during the 15th century, for Morely (1597) says that ‘there were within these 200 years’ (and therefore in 1400) ‘but four (notes), known or used of the musicians, those were the Long, Breve, Semibreve, and Minim’; and Thomas de Walsingham, in is MS. Treatise written somewhat later (probably about 1440), and quoted by Hawkins, gives the same notes, and adds that ‘of late a new characters has been introduced, called a Crotchet, which would be of no use, would musicians remember that beyond the minim no subdivision ought to be made.’
Franchinus Gafurius also, in his Practica Musicae (1496), quoting from Prosdocimus de Beldemandis, who flourished in the early part of the 15th century, describes the division of the minim into halves and quarters, called respectively the greater and lesser semiminim, and written in two ways, white and black. The white forms of these notes soon fell into disuse, and the black ones have become the crotchet and quaver of modern music.
The subdivision of the quaver into semiquaver and demisemiquaver followed somewhat later.
When two are more quavers (or shorter notes) occur consecutively, they are usually grouped together by omitting the hooks and drawing a thick stroke across their stems.
This grouping, which had been in use for centuries in MS. Music, was one of the great difficulties in the way of printing from music types; ti was not overcome until about 1690, when John Heptinstall brought it into use.
In vocal music, quavers which have to be sung to separate syllables are written detached, while those which are sung to a single syllable are grouped.
One quaver of historical importance deserves mention, that which Handel added in pencil to the quintet in ‘Jeptha’ in 1758, six years after he is supposed to have lost his sight, and which in Schoelcher’s words shows that by ‘looking very closely at a thing he was still able to see a little.’« Back to Dictionary Index