The maxima lasts 8 whole notes. Is there any note that lasts longer?

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    No, (hence the name). Why would you even want such a long note? – Elements in Space Dec 7 '19 at 7:07
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    @tim But how long is it? It seems to me that the length depends more on the tempo than the note values. – JimM Dec 7 '19 at 12:46
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    @Tim: I've seen modern transcriptions of renaissance notation given in equivalents to historical note values that are notated in a 2/1 time signature, where the whole note gets a beat with a duration of maybe 80-100 bpm. And I've seen such transcriptions where a 3/1 meter is felt "in one" and the dotted breve is maybe at 60 bpm. In such situations, a maxima makes more sense. In even earlier historical notation, the beat was often felt on the "longa level," making the maxima just a normal slightly longer note. – Athanasius Dec 7 '19 at 13:36
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    Hey guys, :-) , on an organ you can play a note longer than that. Even longer than that . Also universes.art/en/specials/john-cage-organ-project-halberstadt – Carl Witthoft Dec 7 '19 at 15:49
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    A dotted maxima. – marcellothearcane Dec 7 '19 at 16:09

First, the maxima is extinct and hasn't been part of standard music notation for close to five hundred years.

Second, if you go back to the time that the maxima actually was used, you encounter a completely different system of rhythmic notation. Your "whole note" was then referred to as a semibreve, and there could be 2 or 3 semibreves contained in one breve (the name still frequently used for what is today also called a "double whole note," though centuries ago, it could also be a triple whole note in duration), depending on what was called the tempus of the meter.

Breves were then formed into a longa, where again a longa could be divided into 2 or 3 breves, depending on the modus of the meter. And then, the longae were combined into a maxima, where again there could be 2 or 3 longae (at least in the 13th and 14th centuries), depending on the maximodus of the meter.

Thus, a maxima could be equal to 8 semibreves (sort of like "whole notes") or equal to 12 semibreves or equal to 18 semibreves or equal to 27 semibreves, depending on the particular piece.

Hence, when the maxima was actually in use, it could represent a duration up to 27 semibreves (or "whole notes," I suppose, in modern parlance).

But that rhythmic system died out around the year 1600. There's no standard time signature used today in which it even makes sense to use a maxima. The longest standard note in modern notation is the dotted breve (or dotted "double whole note").

As to whether there is "any note that lasts longer"? Sure. Tie a bunch of whole notes together for a chain as long as you want. I've seen scores that have notes that last at least 30 or 40 bars all on one note tied together. Of course, few instruments can actually do a continuous pitch that long, so most of the time you need to breathe/change bowing/whatever as needed.

  • As a matter of interest, about how long, in seconds, might a maxima be at that time? I know life was slower then, but... And I guess that's where our 'minim(a) came from. – Tim Dec 7 '19 at 14:40
  • @Tim: Well, it would vary significantly depending on the time period. In the earliest rhythmic notation, a maxima might only be held for a second or two. As more divisions of notes arose, it became a longer note. Also, both the longa and maxima in early notation can stand in for a generic "long note" in chant held by a cantus firmus. So, if you want examples of really long notes, I'd suggest looking at Perotin's Viderunt omnes and Sederunt principes, where some of the chant notes are held for a minute or more. (We don't really know tempi; even at a fast clip they'd be 30 sec. or more.) – Athanasius Dec 7 '19 at 19:07
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    @Tim in the renaissance the maxima is frequently seen as the last note of a polyphonic piece, with the meaning "hold this until all the other parts stop moving around." In that context, the part that gets to its last note first can hold a maxima for several seconds. – phoog Jan 28 at 4:17

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