I'm looking at a modern edition (1984)1 of Van Eyck's Der Fluyten Lusthof (a XVI century collection of old songs with variations for recorder flute that's been and still is the bread and butter of countless recorder players), there are some interesting time signatures/bar values relationship. For instance, the very first piece (after the prelude), is notated in common time, yet every bar has two whole notes and 6 half notes. That's rather puzzling, and I wonder if the editor just stuck a time signature where none was given? It is a very well-known hymn: enter image description here

Edit: @Ramillies I think you are right, the C in the time signature is from the old mensural notation---which I am not familiar with, except to know that it was quite different from modern notation. The original edition looks like this: enter image description here

1 Link to UR-text, which is in the Public Domain outside of the USA: https://imslp.org/wiki/Special:ImagefromIndex/356761/hfgk

  • Is this hymn well-known in the Netherlands or somewhere like that? I sang the entire thing and did not find the tune familiar at all. Granted, I'm Canadian.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 18:50
  • I'm not an expert, but in the old music, the time signature symbols used to have a different meaning than they have today. For instance, the "C with strikethrough" that means 2/2 today, used to be 4/2 in the old times. Perhaps this could be something similar?
    – Ramillies
    Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 19:56
  • 1
    It is a Lutheran hymn, the original German title would be something like (I'm going from memory) Unserer Vater im Himmelreich, or Our Father In the Heavenly Kingdom. I'm sure there must be a proper English translation, but I don't know what it is.
    – stefano
    Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 21:46
  • In English the hymn is most commonly known by its German title, Vater unser im Himmelreich, which means "our father in heaven." It's a metrical setting of the Latin Pater noster.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 25, 2020 at 9:16

1 Answer 1


The edition in question is a faithful rendition of the original notation, but with the note shapes modified to their modern equivalents.

"Onse Vader in Hemelryck", as printed in the first edition of Jacob van Eyck's Der Fluyten Lusthof
"Onse Vader in Hemelryck", First edition

The original notation was typeset during the transition period between mensural notation and modern notation. At that time, the basic unit of counting was the semibreve (whole note), and the mensuration symbol C indicated a binary metrical pattern, but did not indicate the number of beats in a measure -- measures in the modern sense having not yet been established.1,2

The mapping from the mensural C to modern time signatures is open to a degree of interpretation, so can be 2/4, 2/2, or 2/1, depending on which modern notation is taken to represent the basic pulse.

In modern notation, the piece could be rendered this way:

X: 1
T: Onse Vader in Helemryck
M: 2/1
K: C
L: 1/2
A2 | A F | G A | G E | D2 || A2 | A G | c A | F G | A2 || A2 | c d | f e | d ^c | d2 ||
d2 | e d | c B | A ^G | A2 || D2 | c A | c A | A G | F2 || A2 | _B A | F G | F E | D2- | D2 |]

The problem that arises by notating the piece this way is that it suggests a regular metrical stress pattern. However, it should be played more like a chant, as can be heard in a variety of recordings. Here's one. Note there are not obvious stresses on the "downbeats".

1 Regarding the basic time unit, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mensural_notation#Mensurations.

2 "mensuration symbols" were a precursor to modern "time signatures". The symbols are explained at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mensural_notation#Mensurations.

  • C is more commonly rendered as 4/2 or 4/4 than a duple meter, which is only natural since this is the same C that nowadays usually means 4/4. That doesn't work here, though, because the bar lines in the source divide it into phrases that would be 2.5 measures each in 4/2. Also the composer of the tune is Martin Luther, not Van Eyck.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 25, 2020 at 9:24
  • Also the source here is not engraved but set in movable type. And to correct my previous comment, Wikipedia says that Luther didn't compose the tune but rather adapted an existing possibly secular tune: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vater_unser_im_Himmelreich
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 25, 2020 at 9:32
  • Sorry if I implied that Van Eyck was the composer--he is the "author" of the collection I mentioned (he was actually blind, so someone else actually transcribed what he played), which gathers his improvised (and often quite challenging) variations over very popular sacred and secular contemporary tunes. You're correct that Luther is usually considered the author of the original hymn.
    – stefano
    Commented Dec 31, 2020 at 7:02

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