Musical Notation

Before our current way to denote music was introduced many different forms did exist. Music in Europe before the 9th century was not even written down at all. The notation used in these manuscripts is largely like the notation used for Gregorian music. There are however some interesting differences.

Both documents use a square notation on 5-line red staves. Conventional Gregorian music uses 4-line staves. A search for 5-line staves in the Digital Scriptorum database delivers 16 references, mostly from Spain, some from Italy and Portugal, dating from 16th and 17th century.

Notes are written in ink. Staves in red paint.

At the end of each line you can see a small note called 'Custos' indicating the first note of the next line.

The line with 'c' is indicated with : The line with 'F' is indicated with :

In these documents both are used together. This is unconventional. There are not that many documents using this double clef notation, one is the first page of a 13th century Italian Antiphonal kept in the State Library of South Australia, and it is supprizing to have here two documents using this notation. This may be a clue to link the documents together although their styles differs substantially.

In many books on Gregorian music you will find an explanation on a system for classification of Gregorean music. A very good explanation can be found here.

The list of modes with their ending note in Italics and the reciting note in Bold is:

Mode 1 : DEFGabcd Mode 2 : ABCDEFGa
Mode 3 : EFGabcde Mode 4 : BCDEFGab
Mode 5 : FGabcdef Mode 6 : CDEFGabc
Mode 7 : Gabcdefg Mode 8 : DEFGabcd

Most of the music on the manuscript pages is in mode 1. This mode sounds equal to our current D-minor. The b requires a flat but this is not written down. In the transcription found on the music page a b-flat is used.

The Gradual page.

All parts of the music that have an ending note on the two sides end in "D". The reciting tone is "a".
The music can therefore be classified as mode 1.

Modern notation is in D-minor requiring one flat for the b-flat.



The Antiphonal page.

The first Antiphon ends in 'E', the reciting tone is yet unknown, the Psalm starts in 'c'
The mode could be mode 3 (reciting in 'b') or 4 (reciting in 'a'), but both are inconsistent with the Psalm tone.
When we assume a clef notation error (a downshift of one line) the Psalms starts in 'a' which would lead to mode 4.
The first Antiphone in the Poissy Antiphonal ends also in 'E'. The Psalm tone is 'c' suggesting there is no clef notation error.

The second Antiphon ends in 'D', the reciting tone is 'a', the Psalm starts also in 'a'
The mode is therefore mode 1.

The third Antiphon ends in 'G', the reciting tone is 'c' and the Psalm also starts in 'c'
The mode is therefore mode 8.

The ending note for the Responsory is unknown from this manuscript.
The Poissy Antiphonal has as ending note for the Responsory a 'G'. The psalm tone of the verse following the Reponsory is a 'c'.
It is therefore assumed the Responsory is in mode 8.

Modern notation for the mode 1 parts is in D-minor requiring one flat for the b-flat.
Modern notation for the modes 3,4 and 8 is yet unknown to me.

To summarize :


Reciting Tone

Ending note

Psalm note


Antiphone 1

Poissy : c

Poissy : E

Clef error? : a
Poissy : c

3 or 4?
3 or 4?

Antiphone 2





Antiphone 3







Poissy : G

Poissy : c


Last update : 11 jan 2001