I found this typesetting of a Late Renaissance cornetto piece, and I was instantly perplexed when I tried to hear it in my head when I noticed that there were 8 beats per measure. Is this something that was common back then, or is it an error of the program used to typeset the sheet music? Link to the sheet music: http://conquest.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/8/8c/IMSLP163227-WIMA.bc80-47_Cima_a2_Sonata_cor_trb_Cornetto.pdf

IMSLP Listing with all parts and score: http://imslp.org/wiki/Sonata_for_Cornetto_and_Trombone_(Cima,_Giovanni_Paolo)


It appears as though that piece has been recently typeset (along with quite a lot of Cima's other work) by a contributor to IMSLP. It is not a professional publication, but I believe it is meant to be as accurate to the composer's original work as possible (hence the listing of "Urtext" at the bottom of each page.)

The rhythm and meter would be odd in present-day context, but while I am not an expert on renaissance notational style, there are various things being done in the typesetting that appear to be consistent, and don't seem out of place in renaissance-era music. For example, see the full score posted with this same typesetting. The cornetto part is completely consistent with the score, and the quality of typesetting appears quite good. You will also note the use of breve rests and the longa (i.e. quadruple whole note) placed at the very end of the piece. We don't see these symbols at all in present-day music, but I believe they are being used correctly here.

If I recall correctly from the very minimal amount of renaissance music theory I did learn in college a number of years ago, the actual metering does not have to be consistent with the time signature. Throughout this piece, the meter changes from 4 to 8 to 16 without a "time signature change" as we know it, and that's okay. The "c" - common time mark listed at the top of the piece is not meant to denote 4/4 time, but a type of tempo or pacing.

Another point I'll make in favor of the quality of this typesetting is to use another of this composer's works uploaded to IMSLP that is in a professionally published format as an example: http://javanese.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/5/56/IMSLP28238-PMLP62029-Cima_Ricercare_Organo.pdf

Many of those "oddities" are here as well, and used consistently. The "time signature" is not used to denote meter, we see usage of breve rests and 8-beat measures, and later breve notes.

And lastly, the typesetter/editor himself does appear to have some legit credentials.

  • Thank you for this. Do you know where I might be able to find more information about renaissance music theory? – PixelArtDragon Jul 23 '13 at 20:43
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    Mensural notation might be a good place to start! Mensural notation evolved into modern-day notation over that time period -- this music is somewhere in the middle. – NReilingh Jul 23 '13 at 20:59
  • I never suggested that person wasn't qualified - merely that they uploaded a substandard part; notwithstanding differences in engraving standards between the US and Europe. Without more information about the composer or in the score, it is to determine if it was a stylistic trait specific to the composer. To my knowledge, I disagree with NReilingh about wanton meter changes - sometimes there are implied hypermeters with inflections in triple time, but for the most part it is unheard of for a measure to spontaneously double in size. – jjmusicnotes Jul 23 '13 at 22:39
  • That said, if you're referring to the last measure of the piece, then it doesn't really apply as performers would like ritard the last measure through anyway, so there would be no sense in "keeping time." I deleted my post below because I had a weird day and I commented without thinking. – jjmusicnotes Jul 23 '13 at 22:43

At the time, 8 beats per bar were commonplace, particularly amongst hymns.Since the breve is worth 8 beats, it can't fit into more modern music bars.Therefore we use semibreves to fill bars of 4/4.Also quite common was 6/4, not much seen now. Maybe writing in this way obviated the need for anything shorter than semiquavers in the main, probably easier to write - and read. So possibly the C at the start is for common time, as it was at that time.Another factor, particularly with hymns, is that they are sung with only a nod towards time keeping, not strictly in rhythm.

  • Mind providing some examples or sources? This sounds good but would like a reference to where I can read more about this. – PixelArtDragon Jul 24 '13 at 14:21
  • Hymns Ancient and Modern, printed by Clowes, is the book I dug out, from when I was in the choir in 1962 !!Maybe not so modern now !! Interesting - no time sigs to be seen, and often changes bar by bar, with no indications. – Tim Jul 24 '13 at 14:54
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    Incidentally, the 'C' doesn't mean 'common' time. It apparently represents a broken circle, meaning 'not perfect' time. Perfect time was somehow born out of the Holy Trinity, so was 3 time.Thus any not 3 time was marked with a broken circle, looking remarkably like a C....... – Tim Jul 24 '13 at 15:07
  • It might not be obvious to English-speakers that breve is Italian (and other Romance languages) for half. So the word itself implies two per measure. – luser droog Jul 27 '13 at 8:14
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    @luserdroog : breve is actually 'short' in Italian. Ironic for an 8 beat note ! Half is actually 'mezza' or 'mezzo'. Think mezzo-soprano. In French it's 'double-ronde' meaning two round bits, as in two semibreves. – Tim Jul 27 '13 at 10:34

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