In American music a Semibreve is called a "whole note". Here it states that the name "whole note" comes from a German expression (ganze Note):

In the world of music, you may encounter different names for the many notes used. The U.S. and U.K. standard terms differ, but the U.S. names — which were originally translated from the German names for the notes because so many German composers immigrated to the United States in the 19th century — are more universally standard. The U.K. names are also used in medieval music and in some classical circles

Source: http://www.dummies.com/art-center/music/music-theory-for-dummies-cheat-sheet/

=> Is it a German invention that a Semibreve is taken as a reference value and called "whole note"? Who is the inventor of this terminology?

Also see


Stuff started rather with mensural notation where the principal "beat" tended to be a semibreve. When shorter notes had to be used, stems were used, then flags were invented. There was an increasing inflation of shorter notes and people became more comfortable with them and used to them. The original durations, clefs, and keys of pieces, typically from early Baroque and earlier, are sometimes indicated in "incipits" at the beginning of pieces. Sometimes even stuff as late as Baroque is retained in this notation, particularly meters like 3/1 (which usually is a fast triple meter).

So basically this is the outcome of subdivision inflation without people wanting to redefine terms at any particular point of time (somewhat like "permanent daylight saving time" adopted by some countries/states which makes less logical sense than just everybody agreeing to get up one hour earlier but is easier than to get everybody to agree).

  • 2
    Thanks for posting an answer! This is interesting, but I'm not sure you've answered the question that has been asked yet. I'm interested in your thoughts on it. The question is 'who invented the terminology' and 'is it a German construct.' I think you've answered a different question relating to why it developed. – jdjazz Jul 20 '18 at 21:00

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