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William-Adolphe Bouguereau (30 November 1825 – 19 August 1905)

Guido d’Arezzo (991/992 – (17 May?) 1050):  Micrologus

I did not finish my last blog.  Suddenly, I stumbled upon information that contradicted what I had learned.  I therefore stopped to investigate matters.  Fortunately, the information I had provided was accurate.

In other words, it is true that in his treatise, entitled the Micrologus, Guido

  • renamed or gave a second name to the C-D-E-F-G-A set (the hexachord);
  • and that he used the first syllable of each line of the Ut queant laxis, (presumably worded by Paul the Deacon (c. 720 – 13 April probably 799), or Paulus Diaconus.  The Ut queant laxis was a popular hymn to St. John.  Consequently, Guido d’Arezzo chose a mnemonic device.
  • As well, Guido placed the neumes on a four-line staff, to which a fifth line was added later.  Neumes could be placed on lines or in the spaces between (as well as above and under) the lines.

The Staff

The Keyboard

However, what he renamed were neumes (rectangles), the name given to notes in Gregorian chant.  Because Gregorian chant is monophonic (one voice), all Guido needed was the ut clef.  It could be moved from one line to another, and the line on which he placed the key was the ut or do.


Mensural NotationArs cantus mensurabilis, c. 1280

With respect to mensural notation, one should mention Franco of Bologne‘s treatise Ars cantus mensurabilis (The art of measured chant).  His mensural notation is called Franconian notation.  Franco’s main contribution stems from shaping the notes themselves in a manner that indicated not only pitch, but also duration.


We know that before the invention of printing, colours were used to indicate duration.  In fact, the manner in which neumes were drawn was also useful and decorative, without the use of colour.  Some manuscripts, often named a codex, resembled books of Hours.  But printing did not preclude making neumes black or white.  Moreover shapes, the stem and quavers sufficed to demonstrate duration.  Schools emerged that did away with Guido’s rectangle or, as indicated in my last blog, composers started to use it to represent a rest.

Key signature 

This is a subject I will not discuss, except to say that

  • the do or ut can start on C or-D-E-F-G-A and later B set, and that;
  • by adding sharps or flats, we can make the ut (do)-ré-mi-fa-sol-la-si chain sound identical, but higher or lower.  If the melody starts on si or B, one needs a high voice, the soprano being the highest;
  • If the ut or do starts on C, there is no sharp (#); nor is there a flat (b).

For a depiction of the above, click on this link.

Dance and mensural notation

Mensural notation was also related to dances.  For instance, in a waltz, one slides into the first beat.  Therefore, the first beat may not always be perfectly equal to the second and thirds beats.  At one point in history, the Baroque era mainly, suites or partitas were dances: the sarabande, the minuet, the corrente, the bourrée, the polonaise, the allemande, etc. Earlier, people danced pavanes, galliardes, branles estampies, etc.


By linking mensural notation to the movements of a dance, rythm acquires a more meaningful and pleasurable dimension.  First, rhythm shapes the melody. Second, it touches the body.  If music has beats, the human heart beats.  Music also breathes.  So mensural notation cannot be too rigid.  We must also take tempo into accountIt seems we play music faster now than before, which might be explained because the disk or record may also dictate duration.  That should not be the case.  Tempo is part of the composition.  There is room for interpretation, but interpretation also has its limits.

Lumina Vocal Ensemble
Evan Sanders (descant), James Cowling (descant) and Kenneth Pope (treble)
University of Adelaide, March 2011
Medieval Tune c. 1300


© Micheline Walker
26 November 2011