I was wondering about triplets : when and where were they used for the first time in scores? More generally, when were triplets used significantly (i.e. not one single time on one particular score, but used several times by many composers)?

As an example for what I'm looking for, here is an appearance of a triplet in the Grande valse brillante in E-flat major, Op. 18, composed by Frédéric Chopin:


According to Oxford Music Online, « the slur and figure used in this way do occur in the 16th century, but were not common until the 19th ». I've never seen a baroque piece using triplets (I don't know many compositions from this epoque, though). On the contrary, tuplets are more frequet in Chopin's works, for instance.

I'm interested in any relevant piece of information. Thank you in advance!

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    Still not clear. Note that "musically triplets" are very often used in baroque music, they were just not indicated as triplets, because it was common sense which notes were triplets and which not. Maybe this helps you to understand my question to you. – tommsch May 4 '18 at 19:10
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    @tommsch : thank you for your clarification. I guess that I would like appearances of triplets as notation on scores. 1) Does this question makes sense to you? 2) However, would you have a precise example of a "musically triplet" which is not indicated on the score? Do you have a reference about this? I would be interested to learn more about that topic. – Watson May 4 '18 at 19:16
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    As a concrete example of triplets in the baroque period: the third movement (Tecum principium) of Händel's Dixit dominus (imslp) features triplets in its main melody. Because it also features duplets (e.g. in measure 8), it cannot simply be rewritten as 9/8 (not an uncommon time signature in the baroque period). – Remy May 4 '18 at 20:45
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    Regarding the above comment about 9/8, note that sometimes J. S. Bach combines it with 3/4 for notational convenience. For example, in the very well known last piece from the cantata BWV 147 the "triplets" are notated on a 9/8 staff and the other parts on 3/4 staves. – replete May 5 '18 at 1:19

Mensural music was ambiguous about whether there were two or three notes to one division. So triplets clearly were already part of the music then even though notation did not distinguish them. In Baroque music, the subdivisions were already smaller and triplets typically indicated by beaming (or brackets).

I think the italic 3 is a later convention.

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    The 3 is not a later than Baroque convention, it is used by Bach in his autographs. – replete May 5 '18 at 1:11
  • Mensural music was fairly clear about the number of notes in one division at the latest in the works of Dufay (ca 1400-1474). For instance, in Helas Mon Dueil, there's a prominent triplet at 0:45 in this recording (sorry, I couldn't find a score online). youtube.com/watch?v=6n5znNb3-Rc – Scott Wallace May 9 '18 at 7:59

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