If the G clef ends up overriding the C Clef, why include the C clef in the first place? Questionable image quality, but I couldn't find a legible example. I'm aware that it's a dumb question, but I can't help but wonder. The sample image is from the very first exercise in First Species counterpoint, but the same thing occurs throughout the whole book.

fux gradus ad parnassum sample

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    I wonder if the C clefs are there merely to indicate what voice is to sing the line in question. – Todd Wilcox Jan 6 '18 at 21:23
  • After reading a bit more I noticed that the text mentions switching to the tenor. When this hxppens, the C clef moves accordingly. It appears that your comment is correct, though it could also mean that both answers apply. – Ars Jan 8 '18 at 2:24

That's a so-called "incipit" indicating the original clef that a piece has been written in as opposed to the publication you now have in hand. Fux lived in 17th and 18th century, so the clefs used in his life time were different from what one would now consider appropriate.

The incipit usually also contains the original key signature (apparently the original key was C major as well, so there is not a lot to be seen) since often a current version is also transposed from the original notation (which might have assumed a different tuning anyway).

It's not unusual to also add a time signature since modern notation tends to prefer working with shorter nominal durations than older music.

So in this particular case, the "incipit" is rather minimal, but I am pretty sure that this is what it is.

  • Your explanation makes sense, though it is confusing that when I look for the definition I find it as "the initial fragment of a piece of music". That said, I'm also finding example images and discussions in musescore.org that match what you describe. I also found it as "Mensurstrich". – Ars Jan 7 '18 at 1:18
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    @Ars this is known as an "incipit" because it commonly shows not only the original clef but also the original time signature or mensuration sign along with the first few notes of the part, to indicate whether the note values have been modified from the original. (Renaissance music tends to be scored with note values that are unusually long compared to modern conventions, so some editors choose to reduce them by a factor of two or four.) The inclusion of the first few notes led to the name "incipit." – phoog Dec 20 '20 at 21:38

I was struggling to understand how to read the clefs in this edition of Gradus Ad Parnassum (translated and edited by Alfred Mann).

After reading Figures 5 and 6 and the surrounding text, here is my working understanding.

Two things are happening here:

  • The music has been translated into and printed in the modern treble or bass clefs -- for easier reading (as discussed in this reddit post).
  • The original clefs used by Fux are printed in the "incipit" (so-called, according to the other answer to this question).

The original clefs contain additional information.

  • In Fig. 5, the Cantus Firmus (cf) is in the alto clef, and the Counterpoint (cp) is in the soprano clef. The cp is printed higher than the cf and in this case it is performed exactly as printed; however the reason is that the soprano voice is higher than the alto voice.
  • In Fig. 6, the cf is in the alto clef, but the cp is in the (lower) tenor clef. Although the cp is printed seemingly higher (in the treble clef), the notion is that because it was originally printed in the tenor clef, we need to also read it in a voice lower than the cf, as we can deduce from the text, as well as from the interval markings for the figure.
    • On closer inspection, I see that in Fig. 6, the cp is printed in the "suboctave treble clef", which expresses that it should be read an octave lower than it would be in the treble clef. As a counter example, in Fig. 13 cf -> tenor, cp -> alto; both are printed in treble clef (no indication that transposition is necessary), however interval markings and surrounding text indicate that the cf ought to be transposed an octave lower when reading.

TL;DR: my working notion is that the "incipit" clefs indicate which voice should perform this line (i.e. soprano, alto, tenor, bass); printed notes are transcribed into modern clefs; sometimes transposition by octave is necessary while reading.

I found a good explanation of C-clefs and octave clefs on Wikipedia.

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