The Neume Notation Project


Initial 'T'he thousands of medieval manuscripts containing musical notation are among the monuments of western culture. Their study, over many generations, has allowed scholars to retrace the foundations and the development of western music and have contributed to many scholarly disciplines. These documents are best studied comparatively, and much work has been done in this area. But comparison is limited by the varieties and styles of musical notation which, although they have basic conceptualy elements in common, vary enormously in detail, and as to what information is transmitted.

This project seeks to establish a uniform means of providing comparable transcriptions of the musical content of these documents. Since the earliest notations (9th-11th centuries) provide indications of melodic direction, but not of the pitches of individual notes, transcription in modern musical notation of early documents by reference to later, pitch-specific documents are always speculative with respect to pitch, and necessarily omit much information as to nuance, performance, and rhythm which the earlier notations provide.

Our goal is to allow scholars to record, in machine readable and searchable form, the enormous corpus of medieval music (which includes not only chant but also a wide range of other genres, sacred and secular); using this platform, future transcriptions can be compared and studied with little or no loss of information. The detailed comparative study that such a database will eventually allow will permit highly important insights into the nature and development of medieval music which are not possible at present.

Thomas Forrest Kelly

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Revision: 20 May 2001.
Copyright © 2001, Thomas Forrest Kelly