Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 October 2020
THE TRAJECTORY of music notation's development is inextricably linked with the genre of the motet. The thirteenth-century motet made new demands upon the existing notation system, specifically with respect to the notation of rhythm. The syllabic settings of texts in the motet's upper voices required a notation that could distinguish durations between single notes drawn as individual note shapes. In polyphony, prior to the emergence of the motet, the grouping of notes in ligatures indicated specific rhythmic patterns, but when one pitch was associated with one syllable of text, these ligatures were broken apart. There were syllabic settings of texts that used single note shapes prior to the motet – the conductus, for example – but the coordination of one or more syllabically set upper voices that sang different texts accompanied by a slower-moving tenor led notators to seek a greater specificity with respect to the relationship between notational glyph and the duration it signified. This would eventually result in the oneto- one correspondence between graphic appearance and duration inherent in modern notation. The current chapter examines four specific moments along this trajectory, where notational ambiguities were resolved with codifications that in turn fostered further ambiguities. I focus first on a selection of motets transmitted in more than one manuscript that offer opportunities to examine how the same musical content was represented in older and newer notations, with the caveat that the timeline of notational developments is complex, and often cannot be represented in tidy chronologies. I close with an example that demonstrates how fourteenth-century motet composers experimented with the precision afforded by newly invented techniques of notation, a precision that had a direct impact on the stylistic development of fourteenth-century polyphony.
NOTATIONS CUM LITTERA
The cum littera notation of the first motet manuscripts – literally ‘with text’, that is, music settings that are syllabic rather than primarily melismatic – is often described as rhythmically ambiguous. While the patterning of ligature groups indicated specific rhythmic patterns in Notre-Dame discant, in motets, ligatures are used infrequently, especially in the texted upper parts, since single note shapes better accommodated motets’ predominantly syllabic text settings.