I'm counting measures and confirming measure numbers in an opera score, and I've come across a discrepancy. I wonder what this means about conventions for numbering measures in opera scores in general. Do some measures not get numbers, or did I uncover a mistake?

The situation: it's a piano-vocal opera score. Page 67 has three systems. The first system is measure 620, and is one measure long. The second system is not labelled with a measure number. But it has four measures, then a double-bar-line, then a new key signature and time signature at the end of the system. The third system has its first measure labelled as measure 624.

Since system 1 starts with measure 620, and is one measure long, then system 2 should start with measure 621. However, it is not labelled. Since system 2 has 4 complete measures, system 3 should start at measure 621 + 4 = 625. But the score says 624.

It looks like the notation at the end of system 2, introducing a new key signature and time signature, gets no measure number. I'm can understand that.

What's going on musically? Systems one and 2 are the end of a duet between Violetta and Alfredo. The singers end on the second-last measure of System 2. The music plays out through the last full measure of system 2. It is a 3/8 measure which ends a phrase. The first two pulses are a chord. The last pulse is a 1/8 rest with a fermata. This measure is a conclusion and a pause, before the music resumes with a new key and time signature and tempo too, as it turns out. In System 3, Gastone enters and starts a new bit of music.

Is there a convention that ending measures like this get no measure number? That would explain why the next measure is labelled 624 instead of 625. Or, is this likely an editorial mistake?

Similarly, if there is a pickup measure at the start of a piece, does that measure usually get a number?

The score, if you are wondering, is Verdi's La traviata, piano vocal score based on the critical edition, published by Ricordi and the University of Chicago Press, c2001. ISBN 8875926743. Since it's a critical edition, I think it's more likely that the numbering is as intended, and I don't understand the rules. But even Ricordi can make mistakes, I suppose.

It would be helpful if I could post a image. Unfortunately the score is under copyright, and I don't want to violate that. I could locate the corresponding measures in one of the public-domain editions at IMSLP. You can look in your own Traviata score: Act I, end of Violetta-Alfredo duet with, "ah! dimenticarmi allor" (system 2), followed by Gastone entering with, "Ebben? Che davo fate?" (system 3).

[Update 1: added more detail to "what's going on musically?" paragraph, and explanation for no image.]

[Update 2: on looking more closely at the end of system 1, I see there is no bar line at the end of the system. Instead there are pairs of turn symbols on each set of staff lines. Together with the absence of a measure number at the start of system 2, this support Pat Muchmore's interpretation that all of system 1 and the start of system 2 form a single measure, which has many more beats than the time signature calls for.]

  • Is this in any of this part of a recitative? Does the time signature change anywhere but at the beginning of system 3? Does system 1 end in a full measure? A photo of the passage could be very useful. Final measures are definitely supposed to be numbered. Pickup measures are more debatable. Sep 3, 2014 at 2:15
  • musical_coder, that sounds like an answer. Format it as such, and I can give you credit. Sep 3, 2014 at 5:45
  • Just did- glad it could help! Sep 4, 2014 at 4:40
  • 2
    I think copyright laws usually permit publishing small parts in cases like this (research, review, criticism, education, ...) so maybe you could re-consider posting an image?
    – nonpop
    Sep 4, 2014 at 7:35

2 Answers 2


OK, I think I've tracked this down. My college's library doesn't have the specific version of the score you're looking at, but I found the same passage in two different editions. Neither edition has measure numbers, and they deal with barlines very differently during this passage. In one edition, when Violetta starts the word "ah!" and sings the cascading 16th-note and 64th-note melisma all the way through "dimenticarmi al-" is a single measure and the next measure doesn't happen until "-lor" 3 bars before the double bar. Technically this bar has 19 eighth-notes in it, which exceeds the time signature substantially, but that's because it's a cadenza. This long measure actually is split across two systems, but there's no bar line at the end of the first system.

In the other edition, precisely the same music happens, but when the engraver hit the system split they added a barline that isn't in the other edition. However, this barline still doesn't turn either measure into a proper 3/8—this is still a cadenza measure.

Different publishing companies have different house rules about how to handle cadenza measures, but I think most would agree that it's only a single long cadenza measure in reality, and thus I think the decision not to give a new number to the "measure" created by the line break is the correct call. Personally, I wouldn't have put a barline at the end of the first system in order to make this situation clearer, and that's what I'd do if I were putting together a new edition.

Either way, I don't think this is an error, just a collision of two mildly contradictory editorial impulses; i.e. ends of systems should always have barlines vs. cadenzas count as a single mega-measure.

  • 1
    I think you have it! Based on your answer, I looked more closely at the score. I notice a notation, updated in the question above, which could mean "measure continues on to next system". Conclusion 1: system 1 and the start of system 2 are one big long measure, not two measures as I incorrectly counted. Conclusion 2: nothing in this discussion points to a rule where some measures get no numbers. Conclusion 3: I have not yet found a mistake in the Ricordi critical edition. Conclusion 4: Pat Muchmore is awesome. Sep 4, 2014 at 18:08
  • Ah yes, the edition I looked at that has no barline also uses the same symbol. I think you're right, that must be the meaning. Sep 4, 2014 at 18:21

It sounds like a mistake in the score. Just like you occasionally see typos in published books, "errata" can pop-up every now and then in a score. I'd recommend using the nearest measure numbers before and after this one to confirm if it's just one fluke, or the entire score is mislabeled.

  • I gave more detail in my answer below, but I'm pretty sure this isn't an error in this particular case. Sep 4, 2014 at 15:24

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