Such marks were utterly unknown to the Polyphonists of the 15th and 16th centuries; and it was not until the 17th was well advanced, that they met with general acceptance. In the 18th century, however, all the more essential signs, such as f, p, fp, fz, cres., dim., and their well-known congeners, were in full use; and the numerous forms now commonly employed are really no more than elaborate synonyms for these. Marks of expression, properly so called, such as (symbol characters), and a host of others, though not unknown in the last century, were much less frequently used than now. The Slur, however, the modern substitute for the Mediaeval Ligature, and an infinite improvement upon it, was constantly employed, both to shew how many notes were to be sung to a single syllable, and to indicate the Legato style. So, also, were the marks for Staccato (•) Staccatissimo ('), and Mezzo Staccato ((symbol characters)). But the opposite to these (–) is of very recent invention indeed; and has only, within a very few years, taken the place of the far less convenient term ten. (dim. of tenuto). The Tie, or Bind ((symbol characters)), is found in the Score of Peri's 'Euridice,' printed in 1600. The Swell ((symbol characters)) was first used by Domenico Mazzocchi, in a collection of Madrigals, printed in 1638. The Pause has undergone no change whatever, either in form, or signification, since the time of Basiron. As in the days of Obrecht, the Dotted Double Bar is still used as the sign of repetition; though a tripled bar would no longer be understood to indicate that the passage was to be sung or played thrice; and the dots are not now placed on both sides of the bar, unless the passages on both sides are intended to be repeated. The convenient forms of 1ma and 2nda volta date from the last century. We first find the term Da Capo—now better known by its diminutive, D.C.—in Alessandro Scarlatti's Opera, 'Theodora,' produced in 1693 [App. p.732 "Cavalli's 'Giasone,' 1655"]. For this, when the performer is intended to go back to the Presa ((symbol characters)) the words Dal Segno are more correctly substituted, with the word Fine, to indicate the final close.
The innumerable Graces which formed so conspicuous a feature in the Music of the last century, and the greater number of which are now entirely obsolete, had each their special sign. By far the most important of these was the true Appoggiatura, which, though always written as a small note, took half the value of the note it preceded, unless that note was dotted, in which case it took two thirds of it; while the Acciaccatura, though exactly similar in form, was always played short. The Appoggiatura is now always written as a large note, and the Acciaccatura as a small one: but, it is impossible to play the works of Haydn, or Mozart, correctly, without thoroughly understanding the difference between the two. [See Appoggiatura; Acciaccatura.] The variety of Shakes, Turns, Mordents, Cadents, Backfalls, and other Agrémens, cultivated by performers who have scarcely, even yet, passed out of memory, was very great. A valuable explanation of some of those used in the last century, is given in Griepenkerl's edition of the Organ Works of J. S. Bach, on the authority of a letter written by that Master himself, and, happily, still in existence. [See Agrémens, Mordent, Shake, Turn, etc., etc.]
Of the numerous Clefs employed in the 16th century, five only have been retained. In Full Scores, Classical Composers still write their Voice Parts in the time-honoured Chiavi naturali Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass. In the so-called P.F. Scores of the present day, the Treble Clef is always substituted for the Soprano; and, very often, for the Alto and Tenor also, with the understanding that the Tenor is to be sung an Octave lower than it is written. [App. p.732 "the tenor part in choral works is sometimes indicated by two G clefs close together. Messrs. Ricordi & Co. use a somewhat barbarous combination of the G and C clefs for the same purpose."] When this method was first invented, the Alto was also written in the Octave above that in which it was intended to be sung—as in Dr. Clarke's edition of Handel's Works: but this most inconvenient plan is now happily abandoned; and the Alto part is always written at its true pitch, even when transposed into the Treble Clef. Solo Voice-parts are also written, in full Scores, in their proper Clefs. In P.F. Scores, all except the Bass are always written in the Treble Clef. Handel sometimes used the Treble Clef, so far as the Songs were concerned, even in his Full Scores; and hence it is that, in many cases, we only know by tradition whether a certain Song is intended to be sung by a Soprano or a Tenor. Of course this observation does not apply to the great Composer's Choruses, which were always written in their proper Clefs.
Every Orchestral or other Instrument has, also, its proper Clef; and, in many cases, a distinctive Method of Notation. Violin Music is always written in the Treble Clef—to which, indeed, the name of the Violin Clef is given, everywhere but in England; and to save Ledger Lines, the high notes are sometimes written in the octave below, with the diminutive 8va, and the dotted line, above them.
The Viola always plays from the Alto Clef.
The Violoncello has a peculiar Notation of its own. Its normal Clef is the Bass; but the higher notes are generally written in the Tenor—sometimes, though less frequently, in the Alto. The highest notes of all are written in the Treble Clef; but, with the understanding that they are to be played an Octave lower than they are written, unless the word loco is placed over them, in which case they are to be played in their true place. When 8va … is placed over them, they are played an Octave higher than they are written. Beethoven, in his P.F. Trio in B♭, Op. 97, gives full directions to this effect; but some writers for the Violoncello, dispensing with the word loco, place 8va … over the notes which they wish to be played at their true pitch.
The Contra-Basso part is always written in the Bass Clef; but the Instrument sounds the note an octave lower than it is written. In the Orchestra, the player sits at the same desk as the Violoncello, and plays from the same part: but it is understood that he is to be silent, when any
- See Mendelssohn's protest against this in Letter to Macfarren. 'Goethe and Mendelssohn.' 2nd ed. p. 177.