6

I've been seeing this mark for years, usually in historical (e.g. Baroque) manuscripts, and it's meaning is clear to me. It's a sort of W-shaped squiggle with a tail that (usually) comes at the end of a line, and marks the pitch of the next note. In manuscripts, it is sometimes shortened to more of a "check mark" shape. As a performer, it a nice convenience to have, especially on the last line of a page, and I've even occasionally penciled the mark into scores that I'm playing or singing from, for my own benefit.

I like to think of it as a sort of musical "ellipses mark", but it recently occurred to me that I've never officially "learned" anything about this mark (i.e. from reading) -- I don't even know it's name! I don't see it in modern printed music (unless it's an edition that's trying to preserve the look of the original manuscript as much as possible), and I don't think I've seen it mentioned in any theory textbook. Has this mark become obsolete (and if so, when)? If it's not obsolete, why is it so hard to find information on? (e.g. is it's use restricted to some small subset of musicians?).

Granted, I'm having a hard time knowing what to google for, but it seems surprising that there's so little information on this mark, given it's apparent one-time ubiquity. I've selected a handful of examples below:

  • In Palestrina:

enter image description here

  • In Stradella (upper bass voice):

enter image description here

  • In Handel's Messiah:

enter image description here

  • 1
    Great! I have long wanted a sign for this use to notate when I need a reminder for what's coming on next line. I didn't know this existed...! – awe Mar 15 '16 at 12:32
7

This is a custos (from latin, plural custodes), see lilypond documentation. No match in English Wikipedia, however.

The German Wikipedia has it and adds the following translations (as its usage mostly dating from the 18th century):

  • Guidon (French)
  • Direct (English)
  • Mostra (Italian) and
  • Kustos, Weiser (German).

A German Encyclopedia of Church Composition (A. Weger, Lexikon der kirchlichen Tonkunst), from 1870 has this entry: [Custos article]

Summarized text: ... was in earlier times set to the end of a score line, to indicate, where the first note on the next line appears. Nowadays only used in choral music.

  • 1
    Dolmetsch has it as well, with pretty much the same names as the German Wikipedia: dolmetsch.com/musicalsymbols.htm. – user16935 Mar 14 '16 at 14:59
  • 1
    Yep, these are all custos. I'll just add that they go back to medieval music, where they are very usual. Here's an example, where every line (but the first, which is the end of the previous section) ends with a custos. bibleartists.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/… – Scott Wallace Mar 14 '16 at 18:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.