A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Abbreviations

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ABBREVIATIONS. The abbreviations employed in music are of two kinds, namely, the abridgment of terms relating to musical expression, and the true musical abbreviations by the help of which certain passages, chords, etc., may be written in a curtailed form, to the greater convenience of both composer and performer.

Abbreviations of the first kind need receive no special consideration here; they consist for the most part of the initial letter or first syllable of the word employed—as for instance, p. for piano, cresc. for crescendo, ob. for oboe, cello for violoncello, fag. for bassoon (fagotto), timp. for drums (timpani); and their meaning is everywhere sufficiently obvious. Those of musical passages are indicated by signs, as follows.

The continued repetition of a note or chord is expressed by a stroke or strokes across the stem, or above or below the note if it be a semi-breve (Ex. 1), the number of strokes denoting the subdivision of the written note into quavers, semiquavers, etc., unless the word tremolo or tremolando is added, in which case the repetition is as rapid as possible, without regard to the exact number of notes played. On bowed instruments the rapid reiteration of a single note is easy, but in pianoforte music an octave or chord becomes necessary to produce a tremolo, the manner of writing and performing which is shown in Ex. 2.


\relative c''
<< {
\override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f } \new staff { c2:8^\markup { \italic Written } <e c g>: | c1:16 | \time 2/4 f,2:32 | \time 4/4 f4:8 a:8 c:16 f:16 | b,8:16 d:16 b:16 g:16 a:32 b:32 c:32 d:32 \bar "|." }
   \new staff { c8^\markup { \italic Played. } c c c <e c g> <e c g> <e c g> <e c g> | c16 c c c c c c c c c c c c c c c | f,32 f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f | f8 f a a c16 c c c f f f f | b, b d d b b g g a32 a a a b b b b c c c c d d d d }


\relative c'' << { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f } \time 2/4 \new staff { <g g'>4:16 ^\markup { \italic Tremolo } <e' c g>:16 | \repeat tremolo 4 { <c e>16^\markup { \italic Tremolo }  g } | s4 }
   \new staff { g'32*8/12 g, g' g, g' g, g' g, g' g, g' g, <c e>32*8/12 g <c e> g <c e> g <c e> g <c e> g <c e> g | <c e>32 g <c e> g <c e> g <c e> g <c e> g <c e> g <c e> g <c e> g | s4 } >>

In the abbreviation expressed by strokes, as above, the passage to be abbreviated can of course contain no note of greater length than a quaver, but it is possible also to divide a long note into crotchets, by means of dots placed over it, as in Ex. 3. This is however seldom done, as the saving of space is inconsiderable. When a long note has to be repeated in the form of triplets or groups of six, the figure 3 or 6 is usually placed over it in addition to the stroke across the stem, and the note is sometimes, though not necessarily, written dotted (Ex. 4).


\relative c'' << { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f } \time 4/4 \new staff { c2^\markup { .. } c2^\markup { .. } | c1^\markup { .... } | s2 }
\new staff { c4 c c c | c c c c | s2 } >>


\relative c'' << { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f } \time 4/4 \new staff { c4:8^\markup { \smaller { 3 } } c4:8^\markup { \smaller { 3 } } c2:8^\markup { \smaller { 6 } } \bar "||" \time 6/4 c4.:8^\markup { \smaller { 3 } } c4.:8^\markup { \smaller { 3 } } c4.:16^\markup { \smaller { 6 } } c4.:16^\markup { \smaller { 6 } } \bar "||" }
\new staff { c8*2/3 c c c c c c c c c c c | c8[ c c] c[ c c] c16[ c c c c c] c[ c c c c c] } >>

The repetition of a group of two notes is abbreviated by two white notes (minims or semibreves) connected by the number of strokes ordinarily used to express quavers, semiquavers, etc., according to the rate of movement intended (Ex. 5). The duration of the whole passage should be at least a minim, since if a crotchet were treated in this manner it would present the appearance of two quavers or semiquavers, and would be unintelligible. Nevertheless, a group of demisemiquavers amounting altogether to the value of a crotchet is sometimes found abbreviated as in Ex. 6, the figure 8 being placed above the notes to show that the value of the whole group is that of a crotchet, and not a quaver. Such abbreviations, though perhaps useful in certain cases, are generally to be avoided as ambiguous. It will be observed that a passage lasting for the value of one minim requires two minims to express it, on account of the group consisting of two notes.


\relative c' << { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f } \time 4/4 \new staff { \repeat tremolo 2 { f8 a } \repeat tremolo 4 { f16 a} | \repeat tremolo 4 { f8 a } | s4 }
\new staff { f8 a f a f16 a f a f a f a | f8 a f a f a f a | s4 } >>


\relative c'' << { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f } \time 2/4 \new staff { \repeat tremolo 4 { c32 a } \repeat tremolo 4 { g32 c } | s4 }
\new staff { c32 a c a c a c a g c g c g c g c | s4 } >>

A group of three, four, or more notes is abbreviated by the repetition of the cross strokes without the notes as many times as the group has to be repeated (Ex. 7); or the notes forming the group are written as a chord, with the necessary number of strokes across the stem (Ex. 8). In this case the word simili or segue is added, to show that the order of notes in the first group (which must be written out in full) is to be repeated, and to prevent the possibility of mistaking the effect intended for that indicated in Ex. 1 and 2.


\relative c' << { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f } \time 4/4 \new staff { \repeat percent 4 { d16 f a f } | s4 }
\new staff { d16 f a f d f a f d f a f d f a f | s4 } >>


\relative c' << { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f } \time 4/4 \new staff { d16 f a f <d f a>2.:16^\markup { \italic Simili } | s4 }
\new staff { d16 f a f d f a f d f a f d f a f | s4 } >>

Another sign of abbreviation of a group consists of an oblique line with two dots, one on each side (Ex. 9); this serves to indicate the repetition of a group of any number of notes of any length, and even of a passage composed of several groups, provided such passage is not more than two bars in length (Ex. 10).


\relative c' << { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f } \time 4/4 \new staff { \repeat percent 2 { e8[ g c g] } | \repeat percent 4 { e16 g c g } \bar "||" }
\new staff { e8 g c g e g c g | e16 g c g e g c g e g c g e g c g } >>


\relative c' << { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f } \time 4/4 \new staff { \repeat percent 2 { e16 g f e f g a b c g a b c d e f g a g f e d c b a g c b a g a f } \bar "||" }
\new staff { e16 g f e f g a b c g a b c d e f g a g f e d c b a g c b a g a f | e g f e f g a b c g a b c d e f g a g f e d c b a g c b a g a f } >>
A more usual method of abbreviating the repetition of a passage of the length of the above is to write over it the word bís (twice), or in some cases ter (three times), or to enclose it between the dots of an ordinary repeat
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \override Score.Clef #'stencil = ##f \time 2/4 \bar "|:" s2 \bar ":|" }

Passages intended to be played in octaves are often written as single notes with the words con ottavi or con 8vi placed above or below them, according as the upper or lower octave is to be added (Ex. 11). The word 8va (or sometimes 8va alta or 8va bassa) written above a passage does not add octaves, but merely transposes the passage an octave higher or lower: so also in clarinet music the word chalumeau is used to signify that the passage is to be played an octave lower than written (Ex. 12). All these alterations, which can scarcely be considered abbreviations except that they spare the use of ledger-lines, are counteracted, and the passage restored to its usual position, by the use of the word loco, or in clarinet music by clarinette.


<< { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f } \time 2/4 \new Staff { c''8^\markup { \smaller { \italic "Con 8vi." } } d'' e'' f'' \bar "||" \clef bass g_\markup { \smaller { \italic "Con 8vi." } } e c4 \bar "||" s4 }
\new Staff { <c'' c'''>8 <d'' d'''> <e'' e'''> <f'' f'''> | \clef bass <g g,> <e e,> <c c,>4 | s4 } >>


<< { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f }
\time 4/4 \new Staff { \ottava #1 f'''8 e''' d''' c''' \ottava #0 b''^\markup { \smaller \italic loco } a'' g''4 \bar "||" \clef bass \ottava #-1 a,,8 b,, c, d, \ottava #0 e_\markup { \smaller \italic loco } f g4 \bar "||" \clef treble \ottava #-1 \set Staff.ottavation = #"Chalumeau" e8 g c' g f a c' a | g \ottava #0 e'_\markup { \smaller \italic Clar. } g' c'' e''2 \bar "||" }
\new Staff { f'''8 e''' d''' c''' b'' a'' g''4 | \clef bass a,,8 b,, c, d, e, f, g,4 | \clef treble e8 g c' g f a c' a | g e' g' c'' e''2 } >>

In orchestral music it often happens that certain of the instruments play in unison; when this is the case the parts are sometimes not all written in the score, but the lines belonging to one or more of the instruments are left blank, and the words coi violini or col basso, etc., are added, to indicate that the instruments in question have to play in unison with the violins or basses, as the case may be, or when two instruments of the same kind, such as first and second violins, have to play in unison, the word unisono or col primo is placed instead of the notes in the line belonging to the second. Where two parts are written on one staff in a score the sign 'a 2' denotes that both play the same notes; and 'a 1' that the second of the two is resting.—The indication 'a 3' 'a 4' at the head of fugues indicates the number of parts or voices in which the fugue is written.

An abbreviation which is often very troublesome to the conductor occurs in manuscript scores, when a considerable part of the composition is repeated without alteration, and the corresponding number of bars are left vacant, with the remark come sopra (as above). This is not met with in printed scores.

There are also abbreviations relating to the theory of music, some of which are of great value. In figured bass, for instance, the various chords are expressed by figures, and the authors of several modern theoretical works have invented or availed themselves of various methods of shortly expressing the different chords and intervals. Thus we find major chords expressed by large Roman numerals, and minor chords by small ones, the particular number employed denoting the degree of the scale upon which the chord is based. Gottfried Weber represents an interval by a number with one or two dots before it to express minor or diminished, and one or two after it for major or augmented, and André makes use of a triangle, Isosceles-right-triangle.svg, to express a common chord, and a square, Square - black simple.svg, for a chord of the seventh, the inversions being indicated by one, two, or three small vertical lines across their base, and the classification into major, minor, diminished, or augmented by the numbers 1, 2, 3, or 4, placed in the centre.

[ F. T. ]