Vitrum Nostrum Gloriosum

Entry for the Arts Contest at West Kingdom March Crown, A.S. XXXII
by François Thibault
(notes added after the contest are in this typeface)


This is the tenor line of the song "Vitrum Nostrum Gloriosum" (which you may have heard before--Schola Cantorum Occidentalis performs it at the drop of a mug), a mid-16th-century parody of religious music; it is a song in praise of drink.  A loose translation (my Latin is rusty):


The only source I have for the song itself is the sheet music from which Schola Cantorum Occidentalis performs it (copy attached).

The sources used for the period music notation are: 
The Notation of Polyphonic Music, 900-1600, fourth edition 
Author: Willi Apel 
Published 1949 by The Mediaeval Academy of America, Cambridge, MA. 
Copyright 1942 by the publisher 
Mellange de Chansons 
Authors: Adrian le Roy & Robert Ballard, Imprimeurs du Roy (1572) 
Editor: Charles Jacobs (1982) 
Published 1982 by The Pennsylvania State University Press as LeRoy & Ballard's 1572 Mellange de Chansons 
Copyright 1982 by the publisher 
ISBN 0-271-00295-6
The actual research on the notation was done mostly by Lord Alessandro chi Maresrale, who pulled the books off his shelf, dug up the right notation, and wrote out the tricky parts for me.  The notation is white mensural notation, a close ancestor to modern musical notation.

The hand used is Gothic Littera Bastarda (the source, not surprisingly, is Drogin).  I cannot be certain that this hand was used in 16th-century music--Apel's printings of period pieces are difficult to make out; and le Roy & Ballard was apparently printed, not handwritten--but it was used in the 16th century, and it is easy to read, an important consideration for music.

The use of red lines for the musical staves is in imitation of a 13th century sheet of music which my lady inherited from her grandfather.  I don't know that this practice continued to the 16th century; but I don't know that it didn't, either, since the sources I have are printed in black and white.  I suspect that the black lines of modern notation may be a concession to black and white printing; I find the red lines make the music easier to read, since the notes stand out in higher contrast.

Notes on the notation

For the most part, white mensural notation is comprehensible to people familiar with modern musical notation.  The most obvious difference is the least difficult: note heads were diamonds and squares instead of ovals--diamonds are, of course, easier to draw with a calligraphy pen.  Also, the ligatures (notes combined into one symbol) are strange to us; they indicate what modern notation would depict with a slur (a curved line stretching across one or more notes): that these notes should not be separated as sharply as normal.

The lack of measures is a bit inconvenient, but it doesn't keep us from understanding the music.

The time signatures were substantially different; the C used here is the only one that looks the same as today, and the meaning has changed--it meant what we would notate as ("cut time").

The clefs have changed, as well; the clefs here (the  marks at the start of each line) mean "the space (or line) between the two squares is C".  I have placed them to correspond with the modern treble clef (partly for ease of transliteration, partly so that we can sing from this music if we want to); but, in period, they were placed wherever convenient for the composer.

There is a tiny note at the end of each line which indicates the pitch of the note at the start of the next line; this is a convenience which was probably useful for people who had to read the music from a distance (and who may not have been that comfortable with reading in general, so that they would have had to hunt for the start of the next line).

Educational mistakes

Some notes on things I learned from mistakes I made along the way:

Non-corrected mistakes

In the interests of intellectual honesty, I'll point out a few mistakes that remain in the piece (of course, I don't claim that these are the only ones):