Why is this

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transcribed like this

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It seems much more obvious to me to fit it into 3/2 time:

enter image description here

Maybe the clue is in the 'split common-time' symbol? But perhaps it didn't have the same meaning in those days?

  • Er, don't know, I thought I had one account under two different forums?
    – Tom Sharpe
    Dec 1 '17 at 12:44
  • I don't agree with the counter-proposal, since then the strong division after enstsprungen (in most verses even marked by a comma or colon) is no longer a remarkable position within the bar at all. It is surely not related to the alla breve time signature.
    – guidot
    Dec 1 '17 at 12:54
  • Still not convinced - why should a word like 'aus' or 'von' (falling on the first beat of the bar in the transcribed version) have a stress on it? There's nothing to stop a singer taking a short breath after 'entsprungen' in either version.
    – Tom Sharpe
    Dec 1 '17 at 13:12
  • The 3/2 timing doesn't scan the words well at all.
    – Tim
    Dec 1 '17 at 14:06
  • 1
    FWIW I agree, I've always heard that piece as if it was 3/2 rather than 4/4. But really, neither works very well in a modern interpretation; it's just an entirely different understanding of metre. The best fit in terms of a fixed metre might actually be 5/4, with the bars starting on 𝄽 , "Ros", "aus" and "Wur-" (the "-sprungen" would then only be dotted crotchets, rather than breves). Dec 2 '17 at 10:55

This is an example of mensural notation, common in the 14th and 15th centuries. You are correct that the clue is the split common-time symbol, which was one of the symbols (along with the common time symbol) that carried over into modern notation. (By the way, this wasn't a "c" for "common," rather it was an open circle for "imperfect" time, meaning a breve divided into two semibreves instead of three.)

Imperfect time is generally translated into 4/4 time, whether there's a line through the C or not. While this particular tune may work as a 3/2 melody, that isn't the intent given by the notation. If it were intended as 3/2, the time signature would be a circle, optionally with a line through it.

  • Nice answer, thank you. Also having looked at some versions of 'A great and mighty wonder' one here partially in 3/2 openhymnal.org/Pdf/… and another effectively in 5/2 I can see that I'm not alone in asking the question.
    – Tom Sharpe
    Dec 2 '17 at 11:06
  • I am far from expert on mensural notation, but it seems clear that it is far more ambiguous than modern notation. Probably the reason it got supplanted.
    – BobRodes
    Dec 2 '17 at 19:21

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