Daye, and Vautrollier, and other early typographers, each gloried in a certain individuality of style which the Antiquary never fails to recognise at a glance. But, the general character of musical typography underwent no radical change, from the first invention of printing, until the close of the 16th century. In this respect Plain Chaunt was even more conservative than Measured Music. After the invention of the Square Notes—Notulæ quadratæ, the Gros fa of French Musicians—it was always printed, as now, in black Longs, Breves, and Semibreves, on a Stave of Four Lines, on either of which the F or C Clef might be placed, indiscriminately. The G Clef was never used. Time-Signatures, Rests, Points, and other signs used in Measured Music, were, of course, quite foreign to its nature: but, black Ligatures, angular in character, and of infinitely varied form, were of constant occurrence. As no change in the constitution of Plain Chaunt is possible, no change in its Notation is either needed or desired. But, with Rhythmic Music, the case is very different; and we can readily understand that the Notation of the 16th century proved insufficient, in many ways, to meet the necessities of the 17th.
The daily-increasing attention bestowed upon Instrumental Accompaniment, during the development of the Monodic Style, led to some very important changes. [See Monodia.] The varying compass of the Instruments employed demanded a corresponding extension of the Stave, which was provided for by the unlimited use of Ledger Lines. A single Ledger Line, above or below the Stave, may, indeed, be occasionally found among the Polyphonic Music of the 16th century; but, only in very rare cases. The number of additional lines was now left entirely to the Composer's discretion; and it has continued steadily to increase, to the present day.
Polyphonic Music was always printed in separate parts. Sometimes, as in the case of Ottavio del Petrucci's rare volumes, each part appeared, by itself, in a delicious little oblong 4to. Sometimes, as in the Roman editions of Palestrina's Masses, four or more parts were exhibited, at a single view, on the outspread pages of a large folio volume. But, the connection between the parts was never indicated; and the Music was never barred—a peculiarity, which, in this case, seems to have produced no inconvenience. This plan, however, was quite unsuited to the new style of composition. When Peri published his 'Euridice,' in the year 1600, he placed the Instrumental Accompaniment below the Vocal part, and indicated the connection between the two by means of Bars, scored through the Stave—whence the origin of our English word Score. The same plan was followed by Caccini, in his 'Nuove Musiche,' in 1602; and, by Monteverde, in 'Orfeo,' in 1608: and the practice of printing in Partition, as score has always been called every where but in England, soon became universal.
The new Bars were a great help to the reader; but, the invention of the Cantata, the Opera, and the Oratorio, introduced new forms of Rhythm which it was all but impossible to express with clearness, even with their assistance, so long as the cumbrous machinery of Mode, Time, and Prolation, remained in common use. To meet this difficulty, the Time-Table itself was entirely remodelled—not in essence, for the broad distinction between Binary and Ternary Rhythm formed the basis of the new, as well as of the old system but, in the means by which that fundamental principle was enunciated, and its results expressed in writing. The great advantage of the new method lay in the recognition of a definite value for every note employed. The longer notes were no longer made Perfect, or Imperfect, by Position; but all were referred to the Semibreve, as a fixed standard of duration; and all, without exception, were subject, in their natural forms, to binary division, and could only be made ternary by the addition of a dot—the old Point of Augmentation—which increased their value by one half. The chief factors of the system were, the aliquot parts of the Semibreve, as represented by the Minim, the Crotchet, the Quaver, and the Semiquaver. A certain number of these factors, now called the Beats of the Bar, was allotted to each Measure of the Music. When that number was divisible by 2, the Time was said to be Common; when it was divisible only by 3, the Time was Triple. To express the more complicated forms of Rhythm, the several Beats were themselves subjected to a farther process of subdivision, which might be either binary, or ternary, at will. When it was binary, the Time, whether Common, or Triple, was said to be Simple. When it was ternary, in which case each Beat represented a dotted note, the Time was called Compound; and with very good reason; each Measure being, in reality, compounded of two or more shorter Measures of Simple Triple Time.
The Time-Signatures by which this new system was expressed in writing were, for the most part, fractions; the denominators of which indicated the proportion between the Beats of the Bar and the typical Semibreve, while the numerators denoted the number of such beats to be taken in a Measure. When the numerator was divisible only by 2, it indicated Simple Common Time; when only by 3, Simple Triple. In Compound Common Time it was divisible either by 2, or 3; and, in Compound Triple, by 3, and 3 again. The only exceptions to this practice were formed by the retention of the Semicircle, for Common Time with four Crotchets in a Measure, and the barred Semicircle, for the Time called Alla Breve, with four Minims. The Simple Common Times most used in the 17th and 18th centuries were, , , and 2; the Simple Triple Times, 3, 3, 3, and 3; the Compound Common Times were 6, 6, 6, 6, 12, 12, 12, and 24; and the Compound Triple Times, 9, 9, 9, and 9. Mozart, as if in emulation of the departed mysteries of Proportion, has used 3, 2, and 3, simultaneously, and with wonderful
- A quick form of Simple Common Time, with two Minim Beats In the Measure, is used, in modern Music, with the Signature of the barred Semicircle, and very improperly called Alla Breve. Mendelssohn much regretted that he did not bar the Semicircle in his Overture to Die Meerestille.