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Word-list of Basic Medieval Latin Terms Related to Musical Notation, 1100-1300

The following is a growing list of Latin terms related, either directly or indirectly, to the musical notation of the later Middle Ages. For each entry English definitions and examples of usage from medieval theoretical works on music (with abbreviated references in paratheses) are provided. A comprehensive dictionary of medieval Latin musical terminology Lexicon Musicum Latinum Medii Aevi is currently being compiled at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences (1992-), ed. M. Bernhard, and is appearing in separate fascicles. The website Thesaurus Musicarum Latinarum (University of Indiana, dir. T. Mathiesen) that contains all available Latin theoretical writings of music up to the seventeenth century is a very useful tool for the purpose of examining musical notation terms in their various contexts.

littera letter

The letters of a monochord are fixed to the beginnings of staff lines.
Litterae monochordi affixae linearum capitibus.
(Jacques de Liège, SM, 6, 72)

atramentum ink; cf. incaustrum

Another person …composing also tumultuous melodies, sometimes drew with ink or coal rather than wrote …
Alius etiam …tumultuarias quoque componens cantilenas, atramento vel carbone pinxit aliquando magis quam scripserit…
(Johannes Gallicus, RC, 4)

brevis (Lat. short) breve; in early mensural music a note third or half the value of a long; its origins are in the punctum; cf. longa, semibrevis

There are three types of simple notes, namely long, breve and semibreve.
Simplicium tres sunt species, scilicet longa, brevis et semibrevis.
(Franco of Cologne, ACM, 1)

cantor cantor, singer, headsinger

Here one deals with musical notes that are the notes of chants, used by cantors.
Agatur hic de notis musicis quae sunt notae cantuum quibus utuntur musici cantores. (Jacques de Liège, SM, 6, 72)

Let no one enter the kitchen [of a monastery], except the cantor and the scribes in order to level the wax-tablets, to moisten the ink, and to dry the parchment
Nullus ingrediatur coquinam, excepto cantore et scriptoribus ad planandam tabulam: ad liquefaciendum incaustum ad exsiccandum pergamentum
(Anonymous, EO, 72, 1)

cauda (Lat. tail) stem of a note; cf. tractus

One of the notes has a stem, the other does not.
Punctorum aliud est caudatum, aliud sine cauda.
(Dietricus, RSD 1)

cera wax; vd. tabellae

Would I again entrust the effaced [musical] piece to wax?
Num uero iterum ceris deleta mandarem?
(Renier of St.Lawrence, DIC, 2)

clavis (Lat. key) clef

One should also note that in this chant the clef is called the letter in [relation to] which the note must ascend or descend.
Item notandum quod clavis in hoc cantu appellatur littera, in qua punctus ascendere vel descendere debet.
(Elias Salomo, SAM, 28)

climacus (Gk. klimax, ladder) type of neume signifying three notes in descending order

It is called ... climacus because it descends gradually, that is, step by step.
Dicitur ... climacus quia climaliter id est gradatim descendit.
(Heinrich Eger von Kalkar, CAN, 4)

clivis (Gk. klino, I bend; Lat. clivus, slope) type of neume signifying two notes, the second lower than the first; = flexa

The word clivis comes from cleo which means 'I bend', and is composed of a note and a half-note. It signals that the voice must be bent.
Clivis dicitur a cleo [sic], quod est 'inclino', et componitur ex nota et seminota, et signat quod vox debet inflecti.
(Perseus and Petrus, SMM, 6)

elmuahim (Arabic) rhomboid/semibreve

The elmuahim is often drawn obliquely. Some draw it similar to a rhomboid [?].
Elmuahim vero oblique saepe protrahitur; et quidam protrahunt ipsum simile elmuahim.
(Anonymous, AN4, 2)

elmuarifa (Arabic) plicated rhomboid

There is also a certain elmuarifa - one could say it is irregular. It has a line descending on the left side (as the English draw it), which sounds the same, etc. [?]
Item est quaedam elmuarifa, quae potest dici irregularis, quae habet tractum in sinistra parte descendendo, sicut Anglici depingunt vel notant, quod idem sonat et cetera.
(Anonymous, AN4, 2)

figura shape of a note, shape of a ligature, figure; cf. nota

Figure is a representation of a sound set in one of the modes. On this account it is clear that the figures must signify modes, and not conversely, as some have put it.
Figura est representatio vocis in aliquo modorum ordinate, per quod patet quod figure significare debent modos, et non e converso, quemadmodum quidam posuerunt.
(Franco of Cologne, 4)

There are not only figures (or notes) that are simple but also those that are composite, that is, joined together.
Figurae sive notae non tantum simplices sed compositae, id est, ligatae, reperiuntur.
(Ugolino of Orvieto, DMD, 3, 7, 1)

figurare to notate; cf. neumare, notare

In their practice of notating good notators depict the above as follows.
Boni notatores in figurando sic depingunt supradicta.
(Anonymous, AN4, 2)

figuratio shape

It [i.e., the note] has a square shape, with a tail descending on the right side.
Cuius figuratio quadrangularis est, caudam habens in parte dextra descendentem.
(Franco of Cologne, ACM, 4)

flexa (Lat. curve) type of neume; = clivis

It is called flexa because it descends and is bent to the right.
Flexa dicta quia a semiuocali descendens dextroque flectitur.
(Willelmus, BRM, 3)

flexa resupina type of neume signifying three notes, the second lower than the others; = porrectus

It is called resupina because it is erected on a backwards virga.
Resupina dicta quia super supinam virgam reerigitur.
(Walter Odington, DSM, 5, 2)

graphium vd. stylus

incaustrum ink; cf. atramentum

They use red lines of one colour, or black ones made of ink.
Utuntur regulis rubris unius coloris, vel nigris ex incaustro factis.
(Anonymous, AN4, 3)

intervallum space between staff lines; cf. spatium

The spaces between staff lines have the same value as staff lines.
Intervalla vel spatia valorem habent linearum.
(Jacques de Liège, SM, 6, 72)

libellus (Lat. little book)

Figurarum simul ligatarum quaedam dicuntur cum proprietate propria a parte sui principii, quaedam sine proprietate, quaedam cum opposita proprietate et cetera, prout in quodam libello vel tractatu plenius invenitur, cuius inceptio est: Habito de ipsa plana musica et cetera.
(Anonymous, AN4, 2)

ligatura ligature

When notes are tied together for descending ligature in plainchant, the first note always has a descending stem.
Si vero[notae] vel ligentur ad invicem et sit ligatura descendens in cantu plano, prima semper caudam habet descendentem.
(Jacques de Liège, SM, 6, 72)

linea staff line; = lineatio, regula

Without suitable lines chant can not be ordered well.
Cantus sine competentibus lineis non potest bene ordinari.
(Elias Salomo, SAM, 28)

lineatio staff line; = linea, regula

A method was invented in which certain lines are set out to mark which sounds are equal.
Adinventus modus in quo quaedam ponuntur lineationes per quas signatur quae voces aequales sint.
( Jacques de Liège, SM, 6, 72)

longa (Lat. long) long; in early mensural music the note that is thrice or twice the value of a brevis; its origins are in the virga; cf. brevis, semibrevis

There are three kinds of simple notes, namely long, breve, and semibreve. The first of these has three types: perfect, imperfect and double long.
Simplicium tres sunt species, scilicet longa, brevis et semibrevis. Quarum prima in tres dividitur; in longam perfectam, imperfectam et duplicem longam.
(Franco of Cologne, ACM, 1)

membrana (Lat. skin) parchment; cf. membranula, pergamen

The cantor must procure for himself parchment and ink, and a scribe in case he does not know how to write
Cantor vero procurare sibi debet membranam et incaustum, et scriptorem, si nescit scribere
(Lanfranc of Canterbury, DEC , 17)

membranula (Lat. a little skin) (a small piece of ) parchment; cf. membrana, pergamen

Would I restore the piece to parchment?
Menbranulis resarcirem?
(Renier of St.Lawrence, DIC, 2)

minium red-lead

For F they use everywhere red colour made of red-lead.
Pro F ponunt …ubique colorem rubeum de minio.
(Jacques de Liège, SM, 6, 72)

nervus string, cord

They invented certain notes by which the names of strings and their sounds were to be marked.
Excogitaverunt notulas quasdam quibus nervorum vocabula sonique eorum notarentur.
(Jacques de Liège, SM, 6, 72)

neuma (Gk. gesture, sign) neume; a sign or group of signs attached to one particular syllable of text

Neume is part of the melody.
Neuma est pars cantilenae.
(Walter Odington, DSM, 5, 9)

neumare to neume, to notate; cf. notare, figurare

Hence to neume is to notate or to sing, although the neume has many other meanings.
Unde neumare notare vel cantare est, licet neuma alias multas habeat significationes.
(Jacques de Liège, SM, 6, 72)

nota note; cf. notula, figura, sonus, punctus

The long note has a square shape and a stem on the right side.
Figura notae longae est quadrata et ex dextera parte caudata.
(Hieronymus de Moravia, TDM, 25)

notare to notate; cf. figurare, neumare

Master Peter, the best notator, used to notate his books extremely faithfully according to the practice and custom of his teacher, whom he even exceeded.
Magister Petrus, optimus notator, et nimis fideliter libros suos, secundum usum et consuetudinem magistri sui, et melius notabat.
(Anonymous, AN4, 2)

notator notator, music scribe

In the course of history notators have used various types of notes.
Notatores successu temporis distinctis usi sunt notis.
(Jacques de Liège, SM, 6, 72)

notula note; = nota

Now a certain type of note is called punctum, another one virga.
Quedam enim notula dicitur punctum, quedam virga.
(Perseus and Petrus, SMM, 6)

operator performer

Pauses take place very much at will, according to what seems better to the cantor or performer.
Pausationes vero valde voluntarie procedunt, secundum quod melius videbitur cantori vel operatori.
(Anonymous, AN4, 7)

pausa rest; a notational sign, a vertical line drawn through the staff, that indicates the absence of a sounding note or notes; cf. pausatio

Time is the measure of both a sound produced, and of its contrary, namely that of a sound withheld. The latter is commonly called a rest.
Tempus est mensura tam vocis prolatae, quam eius contrarii, scilicet vocis omissae, quae pausa communiter appellatur.
(Franco of Cologne, ACM, 1)

pausatio rest; = pausa

There are six types of rests: perfect long, imperfect long, right breve, major semibreve, minor semibreve and 'the end of composition [or section]'.
Pausationum sex sunt species: longa perfecta, longa imperfecta ... brevis recta, semibrevis maior, minor, et finis punctorum.
(Franco of Cologne, ACM, 9)

penna quill pen

The marking of notes, however, is a certain propriety [?], which is done both by freestanding notes and by those tied together using thin lines of a pen ...
Est autem notularum notitia quaedam proprietas quae tam per se quam copulatarum aliquando per exiles tractus pennae facta <est> ...
(Anonymous, DM, 4)

pergamen parchment; cf. membranula

Perhaps it is left out because of avarice of parchment or slothfulness of the notator.
Omittitur fortassis propter avaritiam pergameni vel desidiam notatoris.
(Elias Salomo, SAM, 28)

pes (Lat. foot) type of neume signifying two notes, the second higher than the first; = podatus

It is called pes on account of its similarity to a foot.
Pes dictus ad similitudinem pedis.
(Willelmus, BRM, 3)

pes flexus type of neume signifying three notes, the second higher than the others; = torculus

Pes flexus is composed of a pes and a flexa.
Pes flexus componitur ex pede et flexa.
(Walter Odington, DSM, 5, 2)

pictor painter, illuminator

All notators are not cantors, nor are they scribes; they are clerics, indeed they are illuminators.
Omnes notatores non sunt cantores, nec scriptores; sunt clerici, vere pictores enim sunt.
(John of Tewkesbury, QPM, 3, 58)

plica (Lat. fold) the name used for liquescent neumes; in Parisian polyphony of early thirteenth century also used in melismatic music.

Plica comes from the word 'folding' and contains two notes, one higher and another lower.
Plica dicitur a plicando, et continet notas duas, unam superiorem et aliam inferiorem.
(Anonymous, SMA, 6)

podatus or podathus (Gk. pous, podos foot) type of neume signifying two notes, the second higher than the first; = pes

Now a certain type of note is called pes or podatus.
Quedam enim notula dicitur .. pes vel podatus.
(Perseus and Petrus, SMM, 6)

porrectus (Lat. stretched out) type of neume signifying three notes, the second lower than the others; = flexa resupina; vd. Frutolfus, BDM, 14, 1

punctus, punctum (Lat. point, dot, period) a single musical note, a type of neume signifying a single note, a section of music [i.e., a period, vd. J. Yudkin, Diss., p.93]

Note has the same function as vox, figura, sonus or punctus, they only differ in the fact that figura and punctus more often represent a composite [i.e., a ligature]. The others do not.
Nota tamen quod vox, figura, sonus, punctus, actus idem sunt; in hoc tamen differunt, quod figura et punctus saepius pluralitatem repraesentant, alia vero non.
(Anonymous of St. Emmeram, MM,.5, 2)

quadrata vd. nota

rastrum (Lat. rake) a multi-nibbed pen, specially designed to rule staves

regula staff line; cf. línea, lineatio

In accordance with Guido's teaching yellow colour is used everywhere, whether between lines or on a line, to mark C.
Secundum doctrinam Guidonis, apponuntur … pro C ubique, sive sit in spatio, sive in linea vel regula, color croceus.
(Jacques de Liège, SM, 6, 72)

regulare to draw staff lines; vd. regula

For chant certain notators always used to draw four staff lines of the same colour between two lines of text.
Notatores quidam solebant in cantu ecclesiastico semper inter duas scripturas … quatuor regulas regulare eiusdem coloris.
(Anonymous, AN4, 3)

regulator notator, lit. the drawer of staff lines; vd. notator, regula, regulare

But in pure organum and three-voiced conductus [polyphony in general?] they always drew four lines in the tenor, unless the notator was ignorant, yet always five lines in higher voices.
Sed in organo puro et triplicibus maioribus semper in tenore non ponebant nisi quatuor, nisi fuerit ex nescientia regulatoris, sed semper in superioribus quinque.
(Anonymous, AN4, 3)

scalpellum a penknife (to cut the quill)

Would I restore the piece, this time to parchment? I considered privately the small altar and live coals of King Joachim, and the knife of the scribe Judus .. (cf. Jer. 36, 23)
Menbranulis resarcirem? Arulam et prunas regis ioachim et scalpellum iudi scribe animo uersabam ...
(Renier of St.Lawrence, DIC, 2)

scandicus type of neume signifying three notes in ascending order (Lat. scandere, to ascend); vd. Frutolfus, BDM, 14, 1

scriptor scribe

All notators are not cantors, nor are they scribes; they are clerics, indeed they are illuminators.
Omnes notatores non sunt cantores, nec scriptores; sunt clerici, vere pictores enim sunt.
(John of Tewkesbury, QPM, 3, 58)

semibrevis (Lat. half-short) semibreve; in early mensural music note that is half or third the value of a breve; cf. brevis, longa.

Likewise some of the simple notes are longs, some breves, and some semibreves.
Item simplicium aliae longae, aliae breves, et aliae semibreves.
(Franco of Cologne, ACM, 4)

sonus sound, note; = nota, notula, figura

Among some, simple notes are called soni, and it is understood that the written sign marks the formal.
Apud aliquos [notae] simplices soni dicuntur, et sic materiali signo pro formali intelligitur
(Anonymous, AN4, 2)

spatium space between staff lines; cf. intervallum

The staff-line and the space between lines function as parity and imparity.
Se habent linea et spatium sicut imparitas et paritas.
(Jacques de Liège, SM, 6, 72)

stylus or stilus, stylus; writing device used on a wax tablet

It is, nonetheless, pleasing that the mind's eye, together with the point of the stylus, bend to the modulations of the verses, and search out with brevity what the sound characteristic to every single tone in its letter might be . . .
Libet interea mentis oculum una cum acie stili ad modulationes inflectere versuum, et quae propria unicuique sit sonoritas toni in eius litteratura verbis pauculis indagare, uti prudens dinoscere queat cantor varietates versuum in armoniaca vergentes tenore;
(Aurelianus Reomensis, MD, 19)

One should also note that in the depiction the image of the left hand should be used [i.e., of a palm]; for we use the right hand to make pauses, to show notes with a finger and a stylus [or just a stick?], and sometimes we turn pages of a book.
Est et notandum, quod in figura ista debet poni imaginatio sinistrae manus; nam cum dextra facimus pausas, ostendimus punctos cum digito, et stilo, et aliquotiens volvimus librum.
(Elias Salomo, SAM, 7)

tabella wax-tablet; cf. tabula

One of them ... seizing the tablets on which I had written my meagre ideas, examined them for a time.
...quorum uidelicet unus ... arripiens tabellas quibus exiles impresseram cogitatus, aliquantisper considerauit.
(Renier of St.Lawrence, DIC)

tabula wax-tablet; cf. tabula

That art, however, which is properly called music by all, We are unable to touch with the hand, nor to understand from the face, Nor to commit to tablets, or entrust to small books.
Hanc tamen a cunctis quae musica rite vocatur Nec palpare manu quimus, nec cernere vultu, Tradere nec tabulis sed nec mandare libellis:
(Bertrand Prudentius, DAM, 2)

torculus (Lat. screw of a wine-press); type of neume signifying three notes, the second higher than the others; = pes flexus

It is called torculus as if bent backwards.
Dicitur … torculus quasi retortus.
(Heinrich Eger von Kalkar, CAN, 4)

tractulus (Lat.trahere, to draw out) type of neume signifying one note, usually drawn as a short horizontal line; pause sign; cf. tractus

tractus (Lat. trahere, to draw out) tail; small line; pause sign; cf. cauda, tractulus

Whenever several notes are tied together by their tails there is a ligature.
Figura ligata est, ubicumque fit multitudo punctorum simul iunctorum per suos tractus.
(Johannes de Garlandia, DMM, 2);

Hence the figure of pause is a sign or tractus signifying the omission of sound for due measure of time.
Unde figura pausationis est signum vel tractus significans dimissionem soni factam in debita quantitate.
(Johannes de Garlandia, DMM, 8)

virga (Lat. rod, staff) a type of neume signifying a single note, usually produced with a single vertical stroke of the pen

Virga is a simple note oblong like a rod.
Virga est nota simplex ad modum virge oblonga.
(Perseus and Petrus, SMM, 6)

vox sound, voice; cf. sonus

Nobody is able to chant from chant-books unless one knows the figures or notes by which clefs and sounds are signified.
Non enim valet quis in cantuum libris cantus decantare, nisi figuras vel notas quibus claves et voces designantur … cognoverit.
(Jacques de Liège, SM, 6, 72)


Ars cantus mensurabilis
Scriptores ecclesiastici de musica sacra potissimum, 3 vols., ed. Martin Gerbert (St. Blaise, 1784; repr. Hildesheim, 1963)

De mensuris et discantu
Fritz Reckow, Der Musiktraktat des Anonymus 4, 2 vols., Beihefte zum Archiv für Musikwissenschaft, vols. 4-5 (Wiesbaden, 1967)

Breviarium de musica
Frutolfi Breviarium de musica et Tonarius, ed. P. Cölestin Vivell, Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, Philosophisch-historische Klasse, Sitzungsberichte, vol. 188, no. 2 (Vienna, 1919)

Breviarium regulare musicae
Ms. Oxford, Bodley 842 (Willelmus), Breviarium regulare musicae; Ms. British Museum, Royal 12. C. VI., Corpus scriptorum de musica, vol. 12 (Rome, 1966)

Das Cantuagium des Heinrich Eger von Kalkar, ed. Heinrich Hüschen, Beiträge zur rheinischen Musikgeschichte, Heft 2 (Köln, 1952)

De arte musica
Adrien de la Fage, Essais de dipthérographie musicale (Paris, 1864), 293-94, 297-303.

Decreta pro ordine sancti benedicti
Decreta Lanfranci monachis Cantuariensibus transmissa, ed. David Knowles, Corpus Conuetudinum Monasticarum, vol. 3-4 (Siegburg, 1967)

De ineptiis cuiusdam idiotae libelli III
Patrologia cursus completus, series latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 221 vols. (Paris, 1844-1904), vol. 204, col. 15-41

De musica mensurabili
De musica mensurabili, ed. Cecily Sweeney; Corpus scriptorum de musica, vol. 13 (Rome, 1971), 29-56

Declaratio musicae disciplinae
Ugolini Urbevetanis Declaratio musicae disciplinae, ed. Albert Seay, Corpus scriptorum de musica, vol. 7/2 (Rome, 1960)

De mensurabili musica
De mensurabili musica, kritische Edition mit Kommentar und Interpretation der Notationslehre, 2 vols., Beihefte zum Archiv für Musikwissenschaft, vols. 10-11 (Wiesbaden, 1972)

De speculatione musice
Walteri Odington, Summa de speculatione musicae, ed. Frederick F. Hammond, Corpus scriptorum de musica, vol. 14 (Rome, 1970)

Ecclesiastica officia
Les Ecclesiastica officia cisterciens du XIIème siècle, eds. Danièle Choisselet, Placide Vernet (Oelenberg, 1989)

Musica Disciplina
Aureliani Reomensis Musica disciplina, ed. Lawrence Gushee, Corpus scriptorum de musica, vol. 21 (Rome, 1975), 53-135

De musica mensurata
De musica mensurata: The Anonymous of St. Emmeram, ed. and trans. Jeremy Yudkin, Music: Scholarship and Performance (Bloomington, 1990)

Quatuor Principalia Musicae
Scriptorum de musica medii aevi nova series a Gerbertina altera, 4 vols., ed. Edmond de Coussemaker (Paris, 1864-76; repr. Hildesheim, 1963)

Ritus canendi
Johannes Gallicus, Ritus canendi [Pars prima], ed. Albert Seay, Critical Texts, no. 13 (Colorado Springs, 1981)

Regulae super discantum
Regulae super discantum et ad discernendum ipsas notas discantus; ed. Hans Müller, Eine Abhandlung über Mensuralmusik in der Karlsruher Handschrift (Leipzig, 1886)

Scientia artis musicae
Scriptores ecclesiastici de musica sacra potissimum, 3 vols., ed. Martin Gerbert (St. Blaise, 1784; repr. Hildesheim, 1963)

Speculum musicae
Jacobi Leodiensis Speculum musicae, ed. Roger Bragard, Corpus scriptorum de musica, vol. 3/6 (Rome, 1973)

Scriptores ecclesiastici de musica sacra potissimum, 3 vols., ed. Martin Gerbert (St. Blaise, 1784; repr. Hildesheim, 1963), 3:190-248

Summa musice
The Summa Musice: A Thirteenth-Century Manual for Singers, ed. Christopher Page, Cambridge Musical Texts and Monographs (Cambridge, 1991)

Tractatus de musica
Scriptorum de musica medii aevi nova series a Gerbertina altera, 4 vols., ed. Edmond de Coussemaker (Paris, 1864-76; repr. Hildesheim, 1963)

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