Question: What is this "H" symbol above the staff in my copy of the string quartet transcription of the Art of Fugue?

H Symbol

Background:I play guitar but recently realized that most string instrument parts are pretty easy to play on guitar and I'm learning to read so I bought a transcription of the Art of Fugue by Bach. I'm guessing that the "H" symbol might be bow-instrument related but I can't find anything on google or in lists of musical symbols....

  • Can you snap a photo of it and upload it for us to see?
    – user1044
    Mar 8, 2016 at 23:21
  • 2
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hauptstimme ?
    – nonpop
    Mar 8, 2016 at 23:34
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    If this is a condensed score, it's probably "Cello Hauptstimme" and "2nd Violin Hauptstimme" respectively. At m.40 in your example, it looks like "Viola Hauptstimme." (Why not "Bratsche Hauptstimme" is beyond me, unless this is an English score using the German term.)
    – user16935
    Mar 9, 2016 at 2:00
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    @Patrx2- no, "Viola" was very usual in German at the time, as was "Violin" instead of modern "Geige". In fact, there were many Latin-based words in the German of the Baroque which have since more or less disappeared. Btw- do you know why the viola is called "Bratsche" in modern German? Because that's the sound it makes when you sit on it. Mar 9, 2016 at 9:39
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    @nonpop since you answered first, you should post as an answer to get the credit :-) Mar 9, 2016 at 12:41

1 Answer 1


H is for Hauptstimme, a German term denoting the primary melodic line in a contrapuntal work. N for Nebenstimme denotes the secondary line. The notation was introduced by the composers Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. It may be an analytical note as much as a performance instruction.

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