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I recently downloaded Camille Saint-Saëns' lovely Valse nonchalante—the Durand First Edition (1898)—from IMSLP. All the upper-staff reminder accidentals are placed above the staff. I don't remember seeing this style before.

I don't have that many Durand scores, so I don't know whether they've maintained this policy. On the one hand, I like it because it distinguishes reminders from true accidentals without the clutter of parentheses. On the other, placing them above perhaps makes them a bit too prominent. (I assume reminders in the lower staff would be placed below.)

I'm curious whether any other publishers adopt this style and what others think about it.

Illustration 1 _________________________ Illustration 2 _________________________ Illustration 3

Note that this placement is, of course, practical only when there is a single note. In his Valse canariote (also Durand) we have the usual parentheses (and smaller type) in m. 3 here:

Illustration 4

It may be for this reason that we rarely encounter this placement in modern music.

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  • The courtesy accidentals in bars 8, 17 and 20 seem superfluous - they're not reminding the reader of any previous changed notes. Only bar 10 seems to be useful. What have I missed? However, it's quite a nice way to remind (when appropriate).
    – Tim
    Jan 31, 2023 at 15:48
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    @Tim The c.a. in bar 8 is because of the LH in bar 7; bar 20 is due to the RH in bar 19. Bar 17 I can't explain, except that perhaps the editor felt the need to clarify the upcoming accidental in bar 18. Weird, but, you know, it the French.... :-)
    – Aaron
    Jan 31, 2023 at 16:04
  • @Aaron - it's all French to me... but, courtesy accidentals generally remind readers of a previously changed note in the same octave, surely?
    – Tim
    Jan 31, 2023 at 16:13
  • @Tim Well, that's the usual purpose, but it's note wholly uncommon to see them used otherwise. Durand is being very, very courteous.
    – Aaron
    Jan 31, 2023 at 16:27
  • Whenever I need to mark an accidental by hand, either because it was printed wrong or I need a reminder, I do this. I find it easier to notice than if I've tried to scribble over the staff lines and squeeze it between the notes. Jan 31, 2023 at 16:29

2 Answers 2

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I can't speak to Durand scores specifically, but I know many publishing houses use this notation to indicate editorial additions. In other words, the courtesy accidentals in the staff are shown in the original manuscript and are thus directly from the composer. The courtesy accidentals above the staff are not in the manuscript and thus are not from the composer, but they are friendly reminders from the editors of that particular score.

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This notation is commonly found for editorial accidentals in renaissance and late medieval music. Note that in that style of music there where common rules of unnotated accidentals, c.f. musica ficta. So in modern editions such unnotated accidentals are commonly played above the staff.

I have not seen this for more modern music and reminders before though.

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