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I use C clefs as tools for transposition, and while it's relatively easy to find music written in alto, tenor, and soprano clefs, I've never found a consistent source for music in baritone and mezzo-soprano clefs (which use the top and second-to-bottom line for middle C, respectively).

I'm looking for "real" music in these clefs, not just sight-singing books that incorporate them. What repertoire, if any, used these clefs? How might I find real musical examples more quickly?

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  • Oh, I thought you wanted to find those clefs in Musescore/Finale/Sibelius.
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 25, 2021 at 12:28
  • Well, apparently "baritone clef was used for the left hand of keyboard music (particularly in France; see Bauyn manuscript)..." Oct 25, 2021 at 12:37
  • And, if I understand this correctly (not a given), mezzo might be useful to a C trumpet playing an F trumpet part? Aside from that, I assume both are used in vocal music of a certain period, but can't point to when or where. Maybe part of the problem is that, before a certain point, clefs weren't terribly consistent to begin with (put it on whatever line fits the material well, etc.). Oct 25, 2021 at 12:41
  • (...I'm a bad user and moderator. I never even thought to check Wikipedia for this.)
    – Richard
    Oct 25, 2021 at 13:26
  • It's just not worth making singers (or instrumentalists) get used to YAC (yet another clef). We can all read ledger lines just fine. Oct 27, 2021 at 17:06

3 Answers 3

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Wikipedia indicates that the baritone clef was used in French harpsichord music, and points to the Bauyn manuscript. The image below is from the first piece in the manuscript, found at the linked example, "Allemande de M. Chambonnières" m. 1.

Chambonnières Allemande, m. 1, three staves

Regarding the mezzo-soprano clef, Wikipedia's commentary:

the mezzo-soprano clef, rarely used in modern Western classical music. It was used in 17th century French orchestral music for the second viola or first tenor part ('taille') by such composers as Lully, and for mezzo-soprano voices in operatic roles, notably by Claudio Monteverdi. Mezzo-soprano clef was also used for certain flute parts during renaissance, especially when doubling vocal lines.

The below image shows the first measure of the toccata opening Monteverdi's L'Orfeo and includes use of the mezzo-soprano clef for the "Alto e basso" part.

L'Orfeo m. 1

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  • Are you confusing soprano and mezzo-soprano clefs? The third staff in the first image uses the soprano clef, as does the first, as does the quinta part in the second image. The mezzo-soprano clef in the second image appears below the (somewhat puzzling) label Alto e basso.
    – phoog
    Oct 25, 2021 at 13:02
  • @phoog I think you're right that there is some confusion, but there is an (oddly written) baritone clef in the middle of the top example: since F is the middle line, middle C is the top line.
    – Richard
    Oct 25, 2021 at 13:25
  • @Richard F on the 3rd line was historically the more common form of the baritone clef. C on the top line was used rarely if ever (as noted in the Wikipedia article).
    – phoog
    Oct 25, 2021 at 13:34
  • @phoog Oh, interesting! This very well may one of the reasons I've had trouble finding examples, because I've been looking for the characteristic C clef.
    – Richard
    Oct 25, 2021 at 13:35
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    If you're willing to go back to the mensural notation era, esp. the 14th century, examples in every C clef and most F clefs (including "dual cleffing" where both are on the same staff) are quite common. Oct 26, 2021 at 11:52
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When we have understood what the C clef means - actually that it indicates where the middle c is placed - namely the ledger line between the treble staff and the bass staff - then we don't need to transpose anything: to practice reading in soprano clef you can take any piece in treble clef, ignoring the fifth line, adding the lowest line by filling the spaces of the ledger line of the treble clef an adding by imagining the new ledger lines for the notes a and f. When we have sheet music notated in soprano clef we can inverse the operation of our thinking process: the lowest line which is C we are imagining as a ledger line and the second line becomes the lowest line. All other processes of thinking like counting and transposing are only irritating and misleading.

Bass clef to baritone clef: For reading and practicing the baritone clef we make the analogous steps in the bass clef: the ledger line above the lower staff with the middle c has to be interpreted as an outdrawn line and is now the fifth line, (5=c 4=a 3=f 2=d 1=b) while we ignore the lowest line, respectively this one becomes a ledger line for the lower E. For reading the baritone clef we think backwards: the fifth line has to be interpreted as the ledger line of the middle c and we add a new lowest line for the note G.

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  • This approach works for me if the notes to be played are near middle C or at least on the staff. When ledger lines start to appear in C clefs I find it easier to think of transposition.
    – phoog
    Mar 10 at 10:26
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You might check music in the era of Palestrina, 16th Century masses and motets. In my experience these composers often matched the clef to the singers, so anything with a mezzo-soprano or a baritone would be likely to have the clefs you are seeking. Also, theoretical works on the topic of writing counterpoint from that time or even later are often printed with movable clefs.

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