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St. Gallen Neumen, written between 922 and 926 AD

Neumen ( Greek νεῦμα neuma , German 'wink' ) are graphic signs, figures and symbols that have been used since the 9th century to notate the melodic shape and the desired interpretation of Gregorian chant . Occasionally they are also used for writing down secular and religious melodies outside of the liturgy. Usually they are above the text.

Furthermore, short melodic units, melodic formulas or melismatic melody parts over individual vowels - such as the Jubilus , which is sung on the last vowel of the Alleluias - were referred to as neumes as early as the early Middle Ages . In this case, the term neume was derived from Pneuma (Greek πνεῦμα pneuma , spirit, breath, air).

Origin of the term

The derivation of the term neume from the practices of so-called cheironomy is controversial in today's musicology. It cannot be inferred from ancient sources that the neumes were actually intended to depict finger and hand movements ("waves") of the Cantor or were stylized. There is also nothing to prove that the Cantores in Carolingian served time cheironomy. Nevertheless, at least the St. Gallen neumes are seen in connection with cheironomy. However, it is disputed whether the neumes concerned should trace conducting movements or whether it was rather the other way round and the cantor traced the neumes in his conducting movements. An ivory tablet from Lorraine, probably made in the 10th century, shows gestural hand movements by all members of a schola.

The use of the word neume in the sense of musical characters has only existed since the 11th century. In older literature, there are instead terms such as nota , figura notarum or forma notarum . This more general term also includes other early forms of notation such as Dasia or letter notation. The transition from nota to neuma is attested in an anonymous essay, mostly dated to the late 11th century:

De accentibus toni oritur nota quae dicitur neuma.

"The nota , which is called neuma , arises from the accents of the tone "

The term neume only became common in the 19th and 20th centuries in the wake of scientific research into Gregorian chant and its notation.

Origin of the neumes / notas

There are different theories about the origin and emergence of neumes / notas, none of which can be regarded as unequivocally certain. The most important possible models for Gregorian neumes dealt with in them are briefly mentioned below.

  • The “hints” of Cheironomy are no longer seen without contradiction as the starting point for the neumes. In no case can one infer the origin of the signs from the etymology of the term neume , which was applied late to the musical notation - as shown above.
  • A direct connection with Greco-Syrian, Syrian-Soghdic, Greco-Coptic and Latin dot characters as well as with Byzantine and Hebrew ecconetic characters such as the Teamim is discussed contradictingly.
  • Prosodic characters and accents such as acute and grave accents are very similar to some neumes. Nevertheless, their role model function remains controversial.
  • The focus may have been on models conveyed by the Goths from southern Gaul and Spain and their adaptation in the scriptoria of the Carolingian area.

But it is also argued that the Gregorian neumes / notas without direct models emerged anew in Carolingian times out of the needs then prevailing.

In the early music theory writings Musica Albini and Musica Disciplina , not only is the individual tone defined as the smallest part of music theory, but also the parallel to the letter as the smallest part of linguistic theory and the standard measure (meaning the number one) as the smallest part emphasized arithmetic. In analogy to these analytical linguistic and mathematical disciplines, this points to a detailed consideration, rational consideration and categorization of the melodies, as can be proven in the tone of St. Requier / Centula shortly before 800. In North American musicology, various theories have recently been discussed about the question of which impulses could have been significant for the emergence of the new writing. Undoubtedly, the Carolingian efforts to unify the liturgy and scripture played a major role in this context. The chronicle written by Ademar de Chabannes from the year 1028 reports on the special commitment of the Carolingian cantors, who had learned the notam romanam , although they were now called notam fransciscam . Kenneth Levy already interpreted the notas mentioned in the Admonitio generalis of Charlemagne (789) as a musical notation in accordance with this use of the term and that of Aurelian von Réome and assigned them to the “prehistoric” phase of the written down of Gregorian chant. Leo Treitler also dated the beginning of the notas , which were later called neumen , to the late 8th or early 9th century due to numerous indications. The original term used by Charlemagne in 789 for the notation of Gregorian chant was obviously nota and was only later replaced by the term neuma .

Oldest neumes and families of neumes

The oldest surviving sources of new entries date from the 9th century. They are assigned to German, French, northern Spanish and Paleo-Franconian Neumen families. These oldest neumes available to us are not restricted to the repertoire of Gregorian chant, but often accompany extra-liturgical religious and secular texts such as those by Boethius and Martianus Capella .

The three oldest of the surviving liturgical collections of neumed Gregorian chant date from the early 10th century. They were written down in St. Gallen ( Codex Sangallensis 359 ), in Laon ( Codex Laon 239 ) and in Brittany ( Codex Chartres 47 ). The neumes contained therein - they are now called St. Gallen neumes , Lorraine neumes and Breton neumes - have in common, but differ in essential characteristics and probably in their aim of defining the melody and the expression of the text-related melodies as well as practice of singing, learning and memorizing. In spite of the notation, however, the pieces were initially learned viva voce by singing to the front and back. The neumes could be used as a control, as suggested by the report by St. Gallen historian Ekkehard IV about the legendary antiphonary of Romanus, which came directly from Rome to St. Gallen in the 8th century.

The three families of neumes already mentioned show the two main practical concerns of the new reform of the Roman Catholic liturgy, namely to grasp the ups and downs of the melodic line and to ensure the text-related expression. The St. Gallen Neumenschrift is considered perfect in terms of the intended expression. It is best researched. Gregorian semiology is primarily concerned with its decoding and interpretation .

Scriptoria as local centers of diffusion

The written recording and transmission of Gregorian chant was done from scriptoria, which often developed their own neumes to record the melodies. Over 100 European locations are known. Some of them gave their names to the Neumen families cared for by them and in their vicinity, for example St. Gallen, Benevento and Bologna. For some neumen families, it was not the names of individual scriptoria that were chosen, but of the surrounding landscapes, such as the Aquitaine, Lorraine and Breton neumes.

Similarities and differences in the design of the neumes

Synopsis of notations of the Graduales Tu es Deus

In musicology, neumes are classified according to different perspectives. It often happens that a neumen family falls into several of these groups.

Adiastematic and Diastematic Neumes

The rough division into diastematic (indicating pitch) and adiastematic (not indicating pitch) neumes does not adequately capture their reality. In most neumen families and dialects, both pitches and expressive values ​​as well as rhythmic and dynamic differences are represented. Nevertheless, the two terms have generally established themselves as an important distinction between neumes.

The adiastematic neumes are those of the oldest neumen families. They initially convey the melody without specifying the exact interval. Only the direction of the melody movement within a neume is expressed. In contrast, rhythm and articulation are often given very precisely. Small letters ( Litterae significativae ), for example, give more precise information on dynamics, tempo and the direction of the melody, are used for this purpose. The most important collections of liturgical texts with neumes of this type include, for example, the St. Gallen Codex Sangallensis 359 and the Codex Laon 239, written in neumes from Lorraine . (See images in the synopsis on the right)

The diastematic neumes make the melodic movement visible at intervals. Interpretative questions can usually be answered less or not at all from the notation. Tempo and rhythm depend on the text and, like the absolute pitch, were not explicitly noted. This type includes all notations that are based on lines incised without color (a punta secca) or black or solid lines. (See images in the synopsis on the right)

Guido von Arezzo († 1050) put neumes on four lines spaced a third . The F line was initially colored red, the c line yellow. He thus created the basis for the horseshoe nail notation (also called horseshoe nail script) and the medieval square notation , which is also used in a similar way in modern editions such as the Graduale Romanum . (See images in the synopsis on the right)

In the Graduale Triplex of 1979, the diastematic square notation was supplemented by adiastematic neumes from old manuscripts, whereby both the pitches and the subtleties of dynamics, tempo and expression are recorded at the same time.

Accent or line neumes and dot neumes

With accent or line neumes , the melody is largely represented by special curves ( ligatures ) , usually inclined in italics . Each such ligature is assigned a characteristic short tone sequence. This practice is particularly mature in the St. Gallen Neumen. (See images in the synopsis on the right)

With the dot neumes, on the other hand, the melody progression is represented by dot-shaped symbols for individual tones, for example with the Aquitanian neumes , the Breton neumes and the Lorraine neumes . (See images in the synopsis on the right)

Most regional neumen families combine dot and accent neumes.

Adiastematic neumes with letter notation

fol. 25v of the tone from Saint-Bénigne de Dijon (BIU Montpellier, MS H 159)

The Codex H. 159 of Montpellier from the 11th century occupies a special position , as it combines adiastematic neumes with a letter notation for teaching purposes.

With the help of this manuscript, it was possible for the Benedictines from the Abbey of Saint Peter in Solesmes in France to restitute Gregorian chant fairly accurately and reliably with regard to the relative pitches of the melody . These findings led to the creation of the Liber Gradualis in 1883 , which was published by Dom Joseph Pothier .

Neumen designations and names

One of the oldest versions of the Tabula brevis , a table of neumes written in hexameters, 12th century

A distinction is made between single tonne , group neumen and multi-group neumen . All single tonum and almost all double and triple tonum have their own names. Longer group neumes and multi-group neumes are described.

The earliest mention of new names can be found around 1100 by Johannes Affligemensis . The first lists of names of neumes made for teaching purposes date from the second half of the 12th century. Others followed well into the 15th century. However, some of the new names common today were not coined until the 19th and 20th centuries.

Basic neumes

The names of the basic neumes were usually chosen to describe the shape of the neumes.

In the following table, one of several spellings of the St. Gallen neumes was used for each basic neum. The names in this table come from the oldest neumen lists. The tractulus , which occurs frequently but was named later, was not included in the illustration . The punctum - sometimes also called punctus - appears in all old tables. In St. Gallen it was very seldom used as a single barrel , but often in group neumes such as the Climacus and the Scandicus .


By adding attributes, alternative spellings or variants can be named, such as Porrectus flexus and Torculus resupinus .

Ornament neumes

Ornament neumes are neumes that capture special singing practices or melody formulas. These include Bi- and Tristropha , Bi- and Trivirga , Trigon , Oriscus , Virga strata , Pressus major , Pressus minor , Pes stratus , Pes quassus , Salicus and Quilisma .

The execution of the quilism is uncertain. Often it occurs in connection with Pes or Virga , as for example in the Cantatorium of St. Gallen (excerpt from the figure above right):Quilisma.png

The initial waveform is likely to denote a glissando or some kind of tremolo . It is apparently identical to the singing practice called tremula in old sources . Aribo wrote in De musica (between 1069 and 1078): “ Tremula est neuma quam gradatam vel quilisma dicimus […] ” (German: “Tremula is the neuma that we call graded or Quilisma […]”).

Liquescent neumes

The liquescent is used in certain sequences of letters of to be sung text. It is intended to ensure that the flow of melody is not interrupted with successive consonants or diphthongs and that the text is still clearly articulated. In the neumen manuscripts, the lines at the end of the group neumes concerned are usually shown shortened or curved. These include the cephalicus , epiphonus, and ancus .

Additional characters and neum separators

The episem indicates a stretching of the designated tone.

The Litterae significativae , also called "Romanus letters", are additional letters for the interpretation of the neumes. Notker Balbulus († 912) recorded and explained it for the first time in a teaching letter. They mostly relate to dynamics, tempo, vocal tone and melody direction. The St. Gallen examples in the figure above right and in the synopsis contain some frequently used Romanus letters, namely t for tenere 'hold', m for mediocriter 'a little', 'moderate', c for celeriter 'fast', 'quickly' and s for sursum 'up'.

In addition to the episem and some litterae significativae , the neum separation can also provide rhythmic differentiations. A multi-note neume that is actually to be expected is divided into smaller neumes in such a way that a rhythmic component that is not covered by these neumes can be written down. A three-tone torculus, for example, is separated into a monotonous virga - often with an episeme - and a two-tone clivis , which indicates a stretching of the first tone.

Neumes in polyphonic music

Sequence melodies Planctus Cigni , two-part organum with organal part (left) and cantus (right) from the Winchester tropar around 1050

In Winchester Abbey a tropar sequencing ( Winchester-Tropar ) was created around 1050 based on a model written around 980. It contains two-part organs notated with adiastematic neumes. The textless organal parts and the texted cantus parts were written down separately. There is not a cantus part for every organal part.

Both voices are present in the sequence Planctus Cigni 'Swan Lament ', which presumably originates from the non-church area . The scribe entered the structural letters d and x in the organal part for orientation for the singer. This organum could only be sung in two parts if the singers were already familiar with both parts. A reconstruction of the organum can therefore no longer succeed today.

The adiastematic neumes reached the limits of their practicality in polyphonic compositions. The step towards diastematic notations and further to lined modal notation , which not only recorded the pitch but also the duration of the tone, was an obvious step .


  • Eugène Cardine : Gregorian Semiology . La Froidfontaine, Solesmes 2003, ISBN 2-85274-049-4 .
  • Solange Corbin: The neumes . Palaeography of Music. Vol. 1, Fasz. 3. Volk, Cologne 1977, ISBN 3-87252-065-2 .
  • Stefan Engels: Neumes. In: Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon . Online edition, Vienna 2002 ff., ISBN 3-7001-3077-5 ; Print edition: Volume 3, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 2004, ISBN 3-7001-3045-7 .
  • Constantin Floros : Universale Neumenkunde , Volume 1 to 3. Bärenreiter, Kassel 1970.
  • Ewald Jammers: panels for Neumenschrift . Schneider, Tutzing 1965.
  • Nancy Phillips: Notations and theories of notation by Boethius up to the 12th century. In: Michel Huglo, Charles M. Atkinson, Christian Meyer, Karlheinz Schlager, Nancy Phillips: The doctrine of unanimous liturgical singing . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2000, ISBN 3-534-01204-6 .
  • Bruno Stäblein : Typeface of unanimous music . German publishing house for music, Leipzig 1975.

Web links

Commons : Neumes  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Neume  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

See also

Important codes on the Internet

Sources, references and comments

  1. Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, p. 349, neumes at the margin of the text in Bruno Stäblein, Leipzig 1975, fig. 60. see also file: Notker neumes.jpg
  2. Max Haas: IV. Neumen in The Music in Past and Present. Second, revised edition, part 7, Kassel et altera 1997, column 296
  3. ^ Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, p. 351
  4. Hugo von St. Viktor : " Pneuma, quod alias Jubilum dicitur [...] " (German: "Pneuma, for which one usually says Jubilum [...]"), quoted by Heinrich Bellermann: Der Kontrapunkt: With numerous sheet music examples and five panels , Reprint Olms 2001, footnotes p. 49; there also further definitions by Johannes Tinctoris and Franchinus Gaffurius
  5. ^ A b Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, pp. 506–509
  6. Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, Inv. No. M 12-1904 ( Memento of the original dated February 12, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  7. ^ Therese Bruggisser: Music in the liturgical book . In: Michael Scholz and Adrian Mettauer: Book culture in the Middle Ages . Berlin 2005, p. 19
  8. Cod. Lat. Palat. 235. See also Peter Wagner: Neumenkunde . 2nd edition, Leipzig 1912, p. 355
  9. Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, pp. 505-526, provides a very differentiated overview with a description of the theories and the pros and cons of the most important scientists
  10. Max Haas, Kassel et altera 1997, column 314
  11. Byzantine ekphonetische sign above the text, late 10th century
  12. ^ Codex of Aleppo and Codex of Aleppo
  13. Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, pp. 510-516
  14. Solange Corbin, Cologne 1977, pp. 3.12-3.16
  15. a b Max Haas, Kassel et altera 1997, column 311ff
  16. Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, pp. 516-522
  17. Solange Corbin, Cologne 1977, pp. 3.16-3.21
  18. Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, pp. 523-526
  19. ^ Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, p. 433
  20. ^ Tonar of the abbey in Saint-Riquier / Centula online
  21. James Grier Ademar de Chabannes, Carolingian Musical Practices, and "Nota Romana" , Journal of the American Musicological Society, 56.1 (2003), pp. 43-98; see. the discussions between Levy, Treitler and Hughes in: Oral and Written Transmission in Chant , ed. by Thomas Forest Kelly, Ashgate 2009.
  22. Kenneth Levy, Charlemagne's Archetype of Gregorian Chant, in: Journal of the American Musicological Society 40, [1987], p. 11, cf. Kenneth Levy, Zur Archäologie von Neumen (from the English by Margaret Hiley), in: Contributions to Gregorian chant 36 [2003], pp. 47–58; Leo Treitler, Reading and Singing: On the Genesis of Occidental Music-Writing, in: Leo Treitler, Early Music History , Vol. 4 (1984), p. 207 . see. on the other hand, the critical remarks by Helmut Hucke, Gregorianischefragen, in: Die Musikforschung 41 (1988), 304-330; s. a. Michael Glatthaar, Bernard von Réome and the dating of the Musica disciplina Aurelians, in: Revue bénédictine 121 (2011), pp. 357–381.
  23. ^ Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, p. 347 u. 431f
  24. Ewald Jammers, Tutzing 1965, p. 78f
  25. ^ Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, p. 348f
  26. Max Haas, Kassel et altera 1997, column 303
  27. Cod. Sang. 615, facsimile p. 141ff
  28. Eccardus (Sangallensis) . St. Gall Monastery stories / Ekkehard IV Translated by Hans F. Haefele, 3. unveränd. Aufl., Darmstadt 1991 ISBN 3-534-01417-0 Excerpt and German translation online
  29. Max Haas, Kassel et altera 1997, column 314f
  30. ^ Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, p. 353 u. 362-367
  31. Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, pp. 536-539
  32. Do it Deus from the 12th century, read Sommaire de la pièce and Commentaires , cf. with the notations on the synopsis at the top right
  33. ↑ Horse nail notation (15th century)
  34. ^ Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, pp. 425f
  35. Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, pp. 468ff, 565-572
  36. “Hic sit per virgas, clines, quilismata, puncta, podatos, caeterasque […]” in Johannes Aflligemensis: De musica cum tonario
  37. ^ A b Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, p. 369
  38. List of manuscripts that contain the memorandum Epiphonus ... (11th to 15th centuries) See also: Michael Bernhard: The tradition of new names in the Latin Middle Ages . In Michael Bernhard (Ed.): Sources and studies on music theory of the Middle Ages . Volume 2 Munich 1997, pp. 13-91
  39. ^ Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, p. 368
  40. Max Haas, Kassel et altera 1997, column 301f
  41. 1492 fol Neumentafel from the Leipzig Code of Berno / Paulin. 98b (12th century) from Hugo Riemann: Studies on the history of musical notation Leipzig 1878
  42. ^ Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, p. 352 u. 358
  43. All neumes of all neumen families are identified, named and discussed on facsimiles in Ewald Jammers: Neumentafeln . Tutzing 1965 - See also Bruno Stäblein: Typeface of unanimous music . Leipzig 1975
  44. Solange Corbin, Cologne 1977, p. 3.5f
  45. ^ Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, p. 377
  46. Solange Corbin, Cologne 1977, p. 3.8
  47. ^ Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, pp. 377f
  48. neuma here in the sense of melodic phrase
  49. Aribos De musica
  50. ^ Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, pp. 384f
  51. Solange Corbin, Cologne 1977, p. 3.183ff
  52. Solange Corbin, Cologne 1977, p. 3.6f
  53. ^ Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, p. 385ff
  54. ^ Notker's letter to Lantpertus
  55. Solange Corbin, Cologne 1977, pp. 3.205ff
  56. ^ Nancy Phillips, Darmstadt 2000, p. 365
  57. a b Hartmut Möller u. Rudolph Stephan (ed.): The music of the Middle Ages . Laaber 1991, pp. 84-86
  58. See file: Perotin - Alleluia nativitas.jpg