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....

  • 2
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hauptstimme ?
    – nonpop
    Mar 8, 2016 at 23:34
  • @nonpop - Yes, Hauptstimme was it. It looks like at any one point, one instrument is marked "H" and then the other parts are marked C.H. or 2.V.H which presumably describe something else related to counterpoint. Mar 8, 2016 at 23:48
  • 1
    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
  • 1
    @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
  • If you are looking at the first violin part, I would guess that "C.H" or "Va.H" "2.V.H" means the cello, viola, or 2nd violin have the fugue subject at that point (though "Vc" would be more conventional than just "C".) Many works for string quartet are published as a set of parts only, without a full score, hence the practical need for such markings in the parts. Since all these markings are editorial, the musical terminology used by 18th century Germany is irrelevant to the discussion of what it might mean. This usage of "H" for "Hauptstimme" is a 20th century invention, not a Baroque term.
    – user19146
    Mar 9, 2016 at 15:37

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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