I was reading a piece of music (a modern transcription of Begli Occhi by Barbara Strozzi, 1654), and came across a puzzling bit of notation: a pair of ceiling brackets (the upper halves of square brackets) above the staff around two pairs of notes. Here's a picture, with red arrows pointed at the puzzling notation) to illustrate: *Begli Occhi* excerpt

  • One possibility that comes to mind is that it might indicate that the minim and the semibreve together occupy half a measure, in contrast to some notational styles in which a semibreve can denote a whole measure in any time signature, or especially in unmetered music. Similarly, it might be merely a visual aid to help the performer parse the by now unusual note values.
    – Remy
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 6:51
  • I've never encountered this marking before and Dolmetsch also does not seem to list it. My guess is, that it should signal which notes to assign to the sung syllable: The placement of dashes in the text typically used seems too arbitrary to help in that respect. The typesetting is not convincing anyway, as can be seen at the dotted rest in bar 19.
    – guidot
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 8:04
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    The book I found the score in, The Norton Scores 9th edition, credits the sources Cantate, Ariete a una, due e tre voci, Opus 3 and the journal Recent Researches in Music of the Baroque Era. I left out the Continuo line to reduce the size of the picture, but I see that the same notation is present in the Continuo near the end of the piece.
    – Steve
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 7:33
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    The piece dates from the transition between Renaissance and Baroque Periods where a lot of what we write explicitly was then assumed to be common knowledge and not needing to be written down. When were slurs standardised? I think it might be early notation for a slur. I think it would sound right. Based on this small sample, the curved horizontal lines seem to be used solely to represent ties. Are there curved lines in the rest of the pieces by the same composer/book that are not ties?
    – Emma
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 18:02

1 Answer 1


I believe the brackets indicate where colouration (a kind of rhythmic notation) was used in the original. For more information, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mensural_notation#Proportions_and_colorations

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