Library at Oxford, the Notes of the Plain Chaunt are written upon the alternate Lines and Spaces of a regular four-lined Stave. This precious MS. is generally believed to have been written during the reign of King Ethelred II, who died in 1016. The words Ut Ethelredum regem et exercitum Anglorum conservare digneris, inserted in the Litany, at fol. 18. B, certainly confirm this opinion. But a great part of the MS., including this paicicular Litany, is written in the old Notation, without the Stave; and sometimes both forms are found upon the same sheet. The subjoined fac-simile, for instance, shewing the places at which the Four-line Stave first makes its appearance in the volume, is taken from the middle of a page, the first part of which is filled with Music written upon the more antient system.
We do not pretend to under-rate the chronological difficulties which surround the question raised by this remarkable MS. Unless it was written at two different periods, two different methods would seem to have been used simultaneously in England at the opening of the 11th century, some considerable time before the appearance of Guido's 'Micrologus'—the most important of his works—which, it is tolerably certain, was not written before the year 1024, if even so early as that. Now a portion of the MS. was most certainly written before that date; and, if the evidence afforded by a close examination of its caligraphy may be trusted, there is every reason to believe that it was transcribed, throughout, by the same hand; in which case, we may fairly infer that the Stave of Four Lines was known and used in this country [App. p.732 "correct by reference to vol iii. p.692b"], at a period considerably anterior to its supposed invention in Italy. The advantages it presented, when made to serve as a vehicle for Neumæ, were obvious. It fixed their positions so clearly, that no doubt could now exist as to the exact notes they were intended to represent; and comparatively little difficulty was henceforth experienced, by the initiated, in reading Plain Chaunt at sight. A careful comparison of the subjoined example with that given upon page 468 will illustrate the improvement it effected far more forcibly than any verbal description. The careful drawing of the Neumæ here sets all doubt at defiance.
So long as unisonous Plain Chaunt demanded no rhythmic ictus more strongly marked than that necessary for the correct pronunciation of the words to which it was adapted, this method was considered sufficiently exact to answer all practical purposes. But, the invention of Measured Chaunt discovered a new and pressing need. [See Musica Mensurata.] In the absence of a system capable of expressing the relative duration as well as the actual pitch of the notes employed, the accurate notation of Rhythmic Melody was impossible. No provision had as yet been made to meet this unforeseen contingency. We first find one proposed in the 'Ars Cantus mensurabilis' of Franco de Colonia, written, if we may trust the opinion of Fétis, and most of his critical predecessors, during the latter half of the 11th century—though Kiesewetter, rejecting the generally accepted date, argues in favour of the first half of the 13th. Franco's plan does
- Bodley MSS. 775.
- From a MS. of the 14th century, preserved In the Library of the University at Prague, (xiv. G. 46.) In the original Codex, an extra line has been added (ungeschickter Weise gezogen, Ambros say) between the Third and Fourth, to mark the place of the F Clef. In order to preserve the clearness of the example, we have here omitted it.