of the Alphabet. Many centuries later, these were superseded by a species of Hieratic Character, the components of which were known to the Monks of the Middle Ages under the name of Neumæ. The final stage of perfection was reached, when these last were developed into the characters now called Notes, and written upon the Lines and Spaces of the Stave.
The Greeks made use of Uncial Letters, intermixed occasionally with a few Minusculæ, and written in an endless variety of different positions upright, inverted, lying on the right or left side, divided in half, placed side by side, and otherwise grouped into some hundred and twenty well-marked combinations, which, with more than a thousand minor variations, have been so clearly described by Alypius, Aristides Quintilianus, and other Hellenic writers, that, could we but obtain authentic copies of the Hymns of Pindar, or the Choruses of Sophocles, we should probably find them easier to decypher than many mediæval MSS.
When Greece succumbed beneath the power of Western Europe, Roman Letters took the place of the more archaic forms, but with a different application; for, while the details of Greek Notation were designed with special reference to the division of the system into those peculiar Tetrachords which formed its most prominent characteristic, the Roman Letters were, at a very early period, applied, in alphabetical order, to the Degrees of the Scale—a much more simple arrangement, the value of which is too well known to need comment. Boëthius, writing in the 6th century, sanctioned the use of the first fifteen Letters of the Roman Alphabet, for certain special purposes. This number was afterwards reduced to seven—it is not easy to say by whom. Tradition ascribes the first use of the lesser number to S. Gregory, but on very insufficient grounds; though the reactionary idea that he was unacquainted with the Alphabetical System, cannot for a moment be entertained. It is certain that Letters were used, for many centuries, in the Notation of Plain Chaunt, in the West; just as the use of the Greek Characters was retained in the Ofiice-Books of the Eastern Church. After the 8th century, though they rarely appeared in writing, the Degrees of the Scale were still named after them. As symbols of these Degrees, they have never been discarded. Guido used them, in the 11th century, in connection with the Solmisation of the Hexachords; though their presence, as written characters, was then no longer needed. The first eight, indeed, lived on, in a certain way, until quite recent times, in the Tablature for the Lute, which always claimed a special method of its own. This, however, was an exceptional case. Long before the invention of the Stave, the system came virtually to an end: and, in our own day, it survives only in the nomenclature of our notes, and the employment of the F, C, and G Clefs. [See Hexachord, Tablature.]
Though wanting neither in clearness nor in certainty, this primitive system was marred, throughout all its changes, by one very serious defect. A mere collection of arbitrary signs, arranged in straight lines above the poetical text, it made no attempt to imitate, by means of symmetrical forms, the undulations of the Melody it represented. To supply this deficiency, a new system was invented, based upon an entirely different principle, and bringing into use an entirely new series of characters, of which we first find well-formed examples in the MSS. of the 8th century, though similar figures are believed to have been traced back as far as the 6th. These characters consisted of Points, Lines, Accents, Hooks, Curves, Angles, Retorted Figures, and a multitude of other signs, or Neumæ, placed, more or less exactly, over the syllables to which they were intended to be sung, in such a manner as to indicate, by their proportionate distances above the text, the places in which the Melody was to rise or fall. Joannes de Muris mentions seven different species of Neumæ. A MS. preserved at Kloster Murbach describes seventeen. A still more valuable Codex, once belonging to the Monastery of S. Blasien, in the Black Forest, gives the names and figures of forty: and many curious forms are noticed in Fra Angelico Ottobi's Calliopea leghale (written in the latter half of the 14th century), and other similar works. The following were the forms most commonly used; though, of course, mediæval caligraphy varied greatly at different periods.
1. The Virga indicated a long single note, which was understood to be a high or a low one, according to the height of the sign above the text. A group of two was called a Bivirga, and one of three, a Trivirga—representing two and three notes respectively.
2. The Punctus indicated a shorter note, subject to the same rule of position, and of multiplication into the Bipunctus, and Tripunctus.
3. The Podatus represented a group of two
- The authenticity of the three Hymns, printed, in 1581, by Vincenzo Galilei, rests on such slender grounds, that it would be extremely unsafe to accept them as genuine.
- The septem discrimina vocum of Virgil (Æn. vi. 645) have been supposed to allude to these seven letters; and the context certainly suggests some possible connection with the subject.
- Though discussion of individual authorities is quite foreign to the purpose of the present article, it may be well to observe, that, within the last five years, a well-known Belgian writer—F. A. Gevaert—has advanced certain opinions connected with the subject of antient Notation, very much at variance with those of most earlier Historians. The reader will find Mons. Gevaert's views fully explained in his 'Histoire et Theorie de la Musique dans l'Antiquité,' Paris, 1876.
- From , a nod, or sign; or, as some have supposed, from , the long succession of notes sung after a Plain Chaunt 'Alleluia.'