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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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Would it not be useful to discuss all the ornamental signs together, also those which do appear only within certain local schools?

Merci pour ces liens du plus haut intérêt.

Il me semble que le Quilisma est la pierre d'achoppement pour beaucoup !

Ricossa said:

Dear Mr. Ricossa,

I think in the case of the quilisma there is no need to refer to Constaninopolitan chant tradition in order to solve the question how it might have been performed: It seems quite clear to me that the description in Western medieval sources only leaves the possibilities - trill, tremolo or vibrato. In view of the fact that the quilisma appears so often in many plainchants, an abundance of trills would be unlikely, because this simply sounds bad and over-ornamented, a tremolo is also unlikely for the same reason and because a tremolo would interrupt the flow of melody too much. So if we take the description as "tremula" seriously, the only possibility left is a (soft) vibrato - a question would then be if this might have been preceded and connected with a portamento and if so in which cases. Try it out with your ensemble: Slide into the note with a portamento, then make a (soft) vibrato. Perhaps the vibrato might even have been sung over a row 2 or three (ascending or descending) notes. All such things need to be tried out in performance in order to come close to the probable meaning. Doing NOTHING at at all, where such ornaments are notated, as many performers do today, certainly has NOTHING to do with "historically informed" performance practice.

Ricossa said:

" this simply sounds bad and over-ornamented" is not really an argument. I am not especially looking at the constantinopolitan tradition, but also to the analytical notations found in MIL and ROM

The main problem of your argumentation is, that it is not even based on a thorough study of Western sources. Your assumption that the quilisma is frequently used, might be true for some scribes of St Gall notation, it is definitely not true for other schools, neither for Messine nor for central French scribes. The local differences are at least something which can be studied with the manuscripts, also the local use of particular ornaments which cannot be found everywhere. Often this discussion of performing ornaments is even reduced on the level of pitch alteration, and there are plenty of musicologists who do not even understand that the use of microtones and ornaments might be related.

Now, if we have to face the fact that these traditions are definitely lost and have to be re-invented by singers taught in hysterical performance practice (whether they like the idea or not), it does not make any sense to treat them out of this profound ignorance as one. Your argument that a certain ornament has to be performed like this, because you got tired of a certain barock trill that some singers used to perform, while singing out of St Gall books, does not offer any further evidence that some might have found in the shape of a quilisma. It is pointless to argue here out of ignorance. It is enough to be honest about it, and it is the simplest and most natural explanation, why musicians do not agree in their performance of these ornaments. What makes us expect, that they should? Those Romans who once knew, but who could not even recognise their tradition?

There are singers who use their phantasy and others who either feel not allowed to use it, which is most regrettable, or who are simply not capable to master such a repertoire. Nobody should feel forced to perform such an ambitious and elitist tradition. There are so many other possible choices...

You are right, Oliver, although the sources of the Xth Century mostly agree at the place of the ornaments. The main difference I see between Laon and St Gallen is the quilisma with lower half-tone. It is almost absent in Laon. OTOH, many sources, especially french, notate also the quilisma descendens.

And no, we are not entirely left alone in the search for the quilisma

I never had any doubts in the strong will of my colleagues to find coincidences there, and I am sure that you will find some more examples among early scribes of Saint-Vaast à Arras (near Cambrai) or within William of Volpiano's school, which might serve to get some more evidence concerning your interest in the descending form of quilisma. Nevertheless, please keep in mind that also other ornaments could have been in the notator's mind.

I have to admit that there is something, which I like very much in Christoph's idea. The early datation by Marie-Noëlle Colette, that Laon 239 is a manuscript already written during the 9th century, was somehow confirmed by studies of other early manuscripts around Laon by Jacques Hourlier and Peter Jeffery, which hints to an early local school of notators between the second half of the century and the beginning of the 10th century (see also more recent studies by Sam Barrett and Giovanni Varelli). It is evident that the scribe of Albi 44 which has later additions with proto-Aquitanian notation, left many space for neumes, as if it was planned as a fully notated manuscript, so the concept must have already existed at that early time.

With respect to this early datation we have to regard 239 as earlier than those notated at St Gall, there is no doubt that a certain Messine neume was always "transcribed" in Lake Constance by a quilisma.  Hence, Solange Corbin classified the Messine neume as quilisma, but Saint Gall neumes are her first row and the main reference for many scholars interested in 10th-century notation, who had this habit from singing out of the Graduale triplex. I always wondered if I can trust this coincidence, because graphically it rather resembles the Messine oriscus, so it looks more like a salicus (the same might be true, if we regard Bretonic neumes).  Later diastematic Messine notation uses the same quilisma form like other scribes in Europe. I am curious about Marie-Reine Demollière's opinion on this matter.

Despite of this Graduale triplex view on 10th century notation, I am not sure that there are more coincidences between early manuscripts than between manuscripts of the 11th century. We often forget that scribes at St Gall Abbey continued throughout the 11th century to use the adiastematic notation of their scriptorium, but they later often replaced quilismata with other forms like a punctum with pes quassus (as if local cantors got bored by the excessive use of quilismata or acquainted with other local schools), while the scribes of Saint-Denis (the earliest fully notated books date to the 11th century and had been notated under influence of Cluny as a reform centre) use quilisma very rarely, Italian scribes do likewise, at least if we would like to follow Corbin's classification of Beneventana who regarded the ligature of three ascending notes as a simple scandicus, while certain scribes used an ascending fork for quilismata, not unlike the St Gall quilisma. There are only a very few pieces in the Gradual of Saint-Denis (Mazarine 384) which have often not more than just one quilisma.  An abundant use of quilismata like in St Gall seems rather a misunderstanding, often based on misleading priorities.

I have repeatedly stressed the importance of TRYING OUT different possibilities for the significance of performance signs in concerts and to discuss it afterwards with musicologists and the audience. Now, I don't see any LIKELY signification of the quilisma sign which would be in keeping with theoretical statements, with the musical correlation in which it mostly appears and with the seemingly obvious form of the ornament itself in notation - i. e. that the voice is somehow "shaking": The voice can only be "shaking" if it performs a tremolo, a trill or mordent or a vibrato. Try to sing a chant with as many trills, mordents or tremolos as indicated by many chant sources - that seems indeed over-ornamented, maneristic, interrupting the melodic flow too much to me. So the only possibility left is that the quilisma signifies a (soft) vibrato which does not disturb the melodic flow too much. How certain ornaments "sound", how the overall impression IN SOUND of such performance signs is, IS a STRONG argument for their LIKELY meaning: After all, we are discussing things which regard PERFORMANCE PRACTICE here, ACTUAL SOUND, not merely theoretical questions. I think it VERY unlikely that GOOD medieval chant singers would have regarded anything which sounds too disturbing, strange or weird as worthy to be notated in so many chant sources.

The quilisma appears quite frequently in various chant sources, not only in St. Gall notation. Compare the Hildegard sources for instance. You are of course right that local differences are important to consider. I am skeptical if the use of microtones would have been a regular part of Western performance practice. Your pun on "historical"/"hysterical" is amusing. But shouldn't we be very serious in the endeavour to at least TRY to come close to the PROBABLE significance of so many performance practical informations/signs which are often being entirely neglected by performers? The fact that we do not know EXACTLY what certain signs and other source informations really mean does not exclude the attempt of TRYING to come CLOSE to the PROBABLE meaning by TRYING OUT IN PERFORMANCE what seems most LIKELY. - The range of possibilities is NOT infinite - in fact often rather confined to some probable ones. I would really like to HEAR in a concert different "solutions" for the quilisma. By using my head and THINKING about the source information we have, the best offer for a "solution" for this sign is in my view: a VIBRATO - either with or without a preceding portamento - that seems smooth, supple, expressive and not over-ornamental to me. It enhances the expressiveness of chants by Hildegard and others instead of "disturbuing" the melodic flow of them. Perhaps Hildegard even adopted the quilisma by some affinity to St. Gall tradition? Perhaps the St. Gall tradition of using quilismas quite often might even hark back to older (Old Roman?) traditions which might have stayed especially alive in St. Gall: But that's of course all mere hypothesis.

I have heard the quilisma once in a Hildegard chant and it seemed very much in keeping with the musical context. So that's why I suggested to try it out and use it more often in this discussion. Discussing performance practice has two sides - a merely theoretical one and a PRACTICAl one: the first has to satisfy the head, the latter has to please the ear. The best case scenario in such questions is that BOTH are satisfied at least by high LIKELIHOOD.

"so it looks more like a salicus". Well tried, but false. Laon has a proper sign for the salicus.

on the other hand, no, St Gall doesn't use quilismata much more than most other sources. True : later sources (XII onwards) tend to discard ornaments from the notation, probably not from the performance.

I don't discuss here personal preferences for a more or less ornamented chant. Clearly the aesthetic of the IX-XIth Century is not the same of 1950



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