A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Quaver

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QUAVER (Ger. Achtelnote; Fr. Croche; Ital. Croma). A note which is half the length of a crotchet, and therefore the eighth part of a semibreve; hence the German name, which signifies, 'eighth-note.' It is written thus , its Rest being represented by .

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 Hawkins (Hist. of Music) and Fétis (art. Muris) to a work entitled 'L'antica Musica ridotta alia moderna Prattica,' by Vicentino (1555), in which it is explicitly stated 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 [Notation, vol. ii, p. 470], 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, or 1/16 of a quaver, 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 Morley (1597) says that 'there were within these 200 years' (and therefore in 1400) 'but four[1] (notes) known or used of the musicians, those were the Long, Breve, Semibreve, and Minim'; and Thomas de Walsingham, in a MS. treatise written somewhat later (probably about 1440), and quoted by Hawkins, gives the same notes, and adds that 'of late a New character 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 Musicæ' (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 (Ex. 1). The white forms of these notes soon fell into disuse, and the black ones have become the crotchet[2] and quaver of modern music.

The subdivision of the quaver into semiquaver and demisemiquaver followed somewhat later. Gafurius, in the work quoted above, mentions a note ⅛ of a minim in length, called by various names, and written either (Music characters) or (Music characters), but the true semiquaver or semichroma, the earliest form of which was (Music characters), does not appear until later, while the demisemiquaver must have been a novelty as late as 1697, at least in this country, judging from the 13th edition of Playford's 'Introduction to the Skill of Musick,' in which, after describing it, the author goes on to say 'but the Printer having none of that character by him, I was obliged to omit it.'

When two or more quavers (or shorter notes) occur consecutively, they are usually grouped together by omitting the hooks and drawing a thick stroke across their stems, thus . The credit of having invented this great improvement in notation is due, according to Hawkins, to John Play ford, whose example in this matter was soon followed by the Dutch, and afterwards by the French and Germans. In Playford's 'Introduction etc.' the notes are described as 'Tyed together by a long stroke on the Top of their Tails,' and it is curious that in the example he gives (Ex. 2) the characteristic hook of the quaver or semiquaver is allowed to appear at the end of each group.

As late as the 13th edition, however (1697), the examples throughout Playford's book, with the single exception of the one just quoted, are printed with separate quavers and semiquavers, and it is not until the I5th edition (1703) which is announced as, 'Corrected, and done on the New Ty'd-Note,' that the notes are grouped as in modern music.

In vocal music, notes [App. p766 "quavers"] which have to be sung to separate syllables are written detached, while those which are sung to a single syllable are grouped; for example—

{ \new Staff { \clef bass \time 4/4 \key b \minor \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \partial 8 \relative f { \autoBeamOff fis8 | b([ ais)] b ais b([ cis]) d a | b\([ g fis eis] fis[ dis] e\) cis | } }
\addlyrics { The peo -- ple that walk -- ed in dark -- _ ness, that } }
[App. p766. "Add as footnote, One quaver of historical importance deserves mention, that which Handel added in pencil to the quintet in 'Jephtha' 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 it a little.'"]

[ F. T. ]

  1. There were really five, including the Large, which Morley calll the Double Long.
  2. It is worthy of notice that in the ancient manuscript by English authors known as the Waltham Holy Cross MS., a note is mentioned, called a 'simple,' which has the value of a crotchet, but is written with a hooked stem like a modern quaver. That a note half the value of a minim should at any period have been written with a hook may help to account for the modern name crotchet, which being clearly derived from the French croc, or crochet, a hook, is somewhat anomalous as applied to the note in its present form, which has no hook.