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I think that the most LIKELY significance of the quilisma (= tremula) is a vibrato, probably connected with a portamento. I think it is rather unlikely that it signifies some sort of trill or tremolo, as the abundance of quilismas in manuscripts would make these ornaments too obtrusive, whereas a soft portamento+vibrato would have a rather "mellow" and pleasing effect. It seems clear that it signifies some sort of "ornamental"

neume where the voice is somehow "shaking". So please, chant singers, do NOT skip this ornament where it is notated and try out the solution of a soft vibrato (with or without portamento, where appropriate). All these recordings of Hildegard of Bingen's music etc. where the singers simply do NOTHING where a quilisma is notated - that really should belong to the past.

Thank you!

Christoph Dohrmann

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Replies to This Discussion

Dear Luca, I was just waiting for an answer like yours. But what makes you so sure?

This proper form of the salicus derived from two possible forms used for the oriscus, for a closer look I recommend Christian-Jacques Demollière's "La notation du chant romano-franc dans le graduel Laon 239" (p. 7):

Hardly enough to convince me about the "coincidence" with quilismata of the St Gall school and so many scholars feel quite sure about it. There are different ways to look at the same manuscripts and their schools, we just believe we know them well. It would not be an isolated case, where a simple sign becomes a composer or an inventor of a new ornament or even a founder of a new school based on a productive misunderstanding of a notator at the Abbey Saint Gall. I could tell you about many similar cases. The point is that we as readers today are not competent enough to decide the question. Nevertheless, it was Christoph's idea not mine, but this looks fishy...

With the 12th century we definitely leave the horizon of our discussion of Saint Gall habits. The 11th century was still a period of founding activities and notation played an important role for reading cantors to memorise the repertoire and to establish a basic knowledge within a young community. This explains certain diastematic experiments with St Gall notation in some parts of Germany, but they are far from the traditionalist habits of the Lake Constance district.

The 12th century was definitely a period of becoming "over-ornamented," which finally culminated in polyphonic experiments of the 13th century and an extremely ornamental way to sing simple descending ligatures in square notation. It was as well a period to respond to these trends with reforms. They were supposed to restore corrupted melodies, but in fact it was rather an innovative concept of simplicity whose repetitions could become quite unbearable—sometimes even artificial, sterile, and full of mannerism. Thus, it provoked polyphonic ways of performance, despite certain reservations around Bernard against certain Cistercian tendencies to sing organum. I am curious, where you would like to locate Hildegard's extravagant liturgy and the conventional way of later notators who codified Hildegard's compositions in a rather Cistercian way. Comparisons are not easy (what can really be compared with Hildegard's unique liturgy?), but not impossible.

Hildegard's mysticism was inspired by the Latin reception of Pseudo-Dionysius, and she even created an own version of the Western cherubikon with the antiphon "O virtus sapientiae," her seraphim chant, if you like, but composed in the same melos. Concerning the difference between Parisian and German habits of chant performance during the 11th century, you might argue that cantors at Saint Denis did not even use one quilisma, while the notator of Harley 3095, probably at Cologne, used central French neumes with ornamental and rhythmical forms borrowed from St Gall notation (more than 15 quilismata!, oriscus several times), when he or she added notation on two pages of the anthology dedicated to the "religious" martyr Boethius. The scribe of the Riesencodex used a horizontal shaped quilisma with two hooks preceded by a punctum about 5 times, still moderate in comparison to the cherubikon of Cologne. It seems that this obsession for quilismata was rather a German or Swiss aesthetic, but I would not argue that Parisian cantors used less ornaments (as it might seem on a first sight), their school just preferred stratus forms as ornaments.

"but composed in the same melos." how can you tell is a mystery

There is no mystery! Please read my doctoral thesis, where I compared the Western with the Byzantine sources and discussed my reconstruction of Harley. I can send you my thesis as CD, you just need to order it.

The fact that so many ornaments in Messine notation derived from oricus (see also Eugène Cardine's table) is not only a good example to mock about philologists, who only believe in the existence of modal chant, its microtones and its ornaments, as long as there is a notational sign, it hints to another interesting question, what exactly is the articulation of sound.

When we recorded Otec Stiliyan at Bačkovo, we found that he had a basic ornament which was nothing else than his way to articulate the final note, how to open it to silence.

If you play it in half the tempo, it sounds like this:

If you listen to this little extract taken from the koinonikon:

you realise how this articulation is permanently used for any ornament like klasma, antikenoma, vareia, eteron etc. 

Click here for a discussion of Stiliyan's whole performance

Their careful articulation is only possible, because Stiliyan breaths through this basic ornament, so that there is always enough breath for their articulation.

This example shows, how precious is a living tradition of modal chant. If you understand, that certain basic ornaments are individual, you also understand the impact of language and its liquida (liquiscentes) on vocal articulation and its technique. But the way of breathing and cutting notes is not necessarily always dependend on the question, if this is the ornamentation of a local school at Bačkovo or of the lost tradition of Laon. You need enough breath to articulate properly in Eastern as well as in Western chant. A singer who understands this, can sing plenty of ornaments, even in long compositions, without getting tired.

Concerning a comparison of manuscripts of the Cluniac reformers like William of Volpiano and the scribe Adémar de Chabannes at Limoges whose uncle educated him a cantor at St Martial Abbey, I came to the conclusion that Adémar often used an oriscus or salicus, where William used a diesis in his letter notation (see my discussion of Rebecca Maloy's comparison of offertories).  But this is just one possible way of using ornaments to mark a microtonal shift.

Thanks for bringing this up Christoph! Performance practice is really considered too little by too few.. Hildegard's notations have a form of quilisma that is rather special. In the Vieux-Fond manuscripts, a quilisma is believed to be always preceded by a lower note. In the Dendermonde and Wiesbaden hss many quilismas are preceded by a dot at the same tone. This would then indicate against the idea that the qulisma is a quick passing note. The idea of a controlled, light and swift oscillation between two pitches which ends in a light pes seems to jump off the page. But in order to be able to do it justice, many who study these hss have far too little musical experience outside their known comfort zones, and this may be a severe handicap. On a same level, there is much more to what 'melodic, modal music' entails than seeing it only as permutations of a scale. In Europe, some interesting conceptions of modal singing in local folk-lore. I separate those two words in order to give it proper credit, as do the French who speak of 'musiques savantes' Some more distant traditions exist, which have been passed on from generation to generation, as in India, the Mediterranean, Persia, North Africa, Asia.

A great variety of (un)acompanied singing, developed, ornamented chant, in which an instrument either plays 'colla parte' , or provides drones,  give as many insights to unused possiblities, ideas about singing and music, the particular qualities of this mode or another, how this influences intonation and vocal ornaments. I'm quite fond of the analogy that would apply here: too often our 'gregorian chant' is sung as by typewriters, whereas the clarity and variety of the hss of the Vieux Fond ask for skilled calligraphers.

having only just now read the discussion above, I can personally avow that the times I have sang the verysame O virtus sapientiae to my Indian music friends and teachers, they all agreed it was a beautiful composition in raga Bhairavi. I often sing it for my own practice with my big tanpura, the tonic harmonic drone instrument, tuned 5881 (or for specific modes in 4881 or 7881) and it is completely convincing to my Indian friends. When confronted by the older Solesmes chant, some of my teachers were respectful, but made no comment at all about whether it appealed to them.  

Dear Martin

How nice to read some lines of yours! I missed you during the last years in this network.

The continuation on the same note exists for quilisma as well as for oriscus, but how can you tell what it means? I inserted here the example of one traditional singer (of course, you might also use other traditions like Persian dastgah or Indian dhrupad or kayal), just to make others understand how weird it is that Western singers do not understand the ornaments of the tradition they believe it is theirs.

Since we do not know what a quilisma means, how can you tell who is wrong and who is right? You can also make an oscillation about a microtone and there is no need to continue one step higher... Just make the whole scale and use the same microtonal ornament on each note, and there is already something to learn.

For me, it is enough to encourage singers to risk something, because most of them simply do not make any ornaments at all and abuse the well-known ignorance as a pretext for a lack of phantasy or talent.

Hello Oliver, I do not pretend to know what it means, but at least I'm trying to find a coherent and convincing interpretation, rather than stay safe and sorry. By the way, did yoy evef receive that cd I prepared for you and sent over?

No, actually I did not.

I'm a bit late to the conversation, but isn't it also possible that the quilisma is not the same in all places or all times? So sometimes it's a vibrato, but other places/times it may be a trill, or even varying the volume instead of pitch! How come I don't hear any recordings trying these various techniques out? It's like none of the professional early musicians have read Tim McGee's The Sound of Medieval Song

Thanks, Emilysue, for your suggestion!

I fear I do not need to read McGee's book to understand that discussing on the base of the currrent ignorance concerning a lost tradition is pointless (even if Leech-Wilkinson's discussion of the problem with re-invented traditions was "published" in a rather clandestine way!), especially when I have to judge medieval authors who were quite likely less ignorant!

My argumentation was entirely based on the manuscript evidence: what was the use to notate quilismata between various scriptoria and why does the ornament not exist in all of the schools?

I think that is the real mystery of this particular ornament, not the dull fact that you can do whatever you like, since the tradition is lost!

In this particular case it is even more clever to (ab)use another living tradition to compensate the own ignorance than to create nothing out of nothing!



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