Details: Musical Notation in Transition

The Catholic Church played a major role down through the centuries in the development of music in general, and of musical notation in particular.

From earlier forms, to a sort of major development in Gregorian Chant (with a four line staff and stemless notes), to the later development of the five line staff and notes with stems that helped better to express rhythm – all along the way Catholic monks and others moved things forward.

Here is an interesting detail from a painting that I recently saw in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. It shows musical notation at a transition point.

You can see the note heads look similar to those of Gregorian Chant, but there is a five line staff, some of the note heads are hollow, and they have stems on them as well. This painting comes from the late 15th century. (It was actually a portrait, and this little clipping of music served the purpose simply of letting the viewer know that the person portrayed was a musician.)

This is the point at which I would usually put in a plug for a very good and useful book with a slightly triumphalistic title: How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. A good read!

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