Editing early 17th-century music

• Aug 6, 2023 - 12:21

I received an email a few days ago notifying me that MuseScore version 4 was now available so decided to see whether the program could be used to edit late 16th- and early 17th-century music and, most important, how easily. As the example shows, the program can certainly be used for this purpose.

Most of what is needed is covered in MuseScore’s admirable online handbook. There are very few features missing, but perhaps these could be implemented in an update. They are:
1. Ligature brackets. At the moment Jon Arnold‘s plugin for ligature brackets (https://musescore.org/en/project/ligaturebracket) has not yet been updated for MuseScore version 4.
2. A keyboard shortcut for the elision sign in Lyrics.
3. Inserting unusual mensuration/proportion signs in a prefatory stave (see 2, below).
4. Deleting initial brackets from incipit without also deleting them from the edited version.
5. See also problems in 1a, 1h and 4, below.

What follows are reminders to myself of how to implement some features of an edition of early 17th-century music that are not covered in the online handbook, but I hope that this might be helpful to other users wanting to edit music of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Equally, if my approach can be improved by other, more experienced, users, I should be grateful for their comments. I am working on a Mac.

  1. Preparing an incipit (prefatory stave).
    a. First, input into the first bar the rests and notes that you wish to see in the incipit, using a modern time signature. Delete the brackets at the beginning of the bar. As things stand these will be repeated in the incipit and cannot be deleted from that without also deleting brackets in the edited version.
    b. Either retain the time signature 3/2 or, as I have done, substitute it by the mensural signature.
    c. Select the first measure and insert a horizontal frame (from Add – Frames -insert horizontal frame). This may now either be left immediately before the first measure if the voice/instrument names are present in the source or moved before the voice/instrument names if they have been added by the editor.
    d. Select the frame. Open the Layout palette and click on the final icon (‘insert one bar before selection’). The incipit will appear. Its contents then need to be adjusted to represent those of the source. You will need to re-enter and, if required, adjust the time signature for the ‘edited’ bar 1.
    e. Adjust the clefs to those of the source. Change the ‘edited’ version to modern clef and make invisible the cautionary clef sthat have been added to the incipit.
    f. Add the time signature 3/2 and then, if desired, change this to a mensural signature by right clicking on the time signature and creating the new signature from the ‘time signature properties’ menu.
    g. Select the incipit and Right-click to open ‘Bar properties’. Click on ‘Exclude from the bar count’.
    h. In the case of the Rovetta example, the composer (or printer) used the signature dotted C3 for Tenor 1 and plain C3 for the other two parts. So far as I can see, the only way round this problem is to right click on the signature in the Tenor 1 incipit and select the appropriate signature from the ‘other’ drop down menu in the ‘Time signature properties’ menu. Tenor 2 and Bc. signatures can be created as for the ‘edited’ version, though this means that they are in a different font from Tenor 1.. This still leaves the 3 to be added to the Tenor 1 signature. Select a rest or note in its incipt and Add – text – staff text’ and the number 3 and position it against the mensural sign, adjusting its size under its ‘properties.

  2. Adding coloration brackets (see bar 9, for example). Select the note on which the bracket is to be place. Open ‘View – Master palette’ and select ‘Symbols’. In the search box type ‘tuplet’ and select the relevant bracket. (Tip: leave adding these brackets until all the music is entered since the Master palette can then be left open at the relevant page.

  3. Figured bass. NB On the Mac, sharp is opt-3. Hard space is opt-space.
  4. Adding editorial accidentals. This is easy for sharps, slightly more difficult for a naturals, but flats have to be added using ‘Add text – staff text’, inserting a flat (I do this from PopChar and resizing it. For sharps and naturals, select the note to which the accidental is to be applied and insert a guitar tablature (CMD-K). `Opt-3 (on the Mac) will then insert a sharp (in a different font from the figured bass sharps). I can enter a natural sign from PopChar using the freely available Bravura font. However, if a flat sign is entered, the program changes this to an upper case B, so enter the flat sign using ‘Add text – staff text’ and adjust size.


In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

I have now downloaded both from the official plugins page, and understand how the Musica ficta plugin works, but the ligature bracket appears between the two notes rather than above them and has to be selected and raised using the mouse. Nevertheless, many thanks indeed for responding so quickly to my wish list. I have added instructions on how to use the plugins to my guidelines for students.

In reply to by graffesmusic

Your comment in a mail that I cannot find here -- i.e. "Strange. Here the ligature plugin works just fine.
So: select notes, add a line from the Lines palettes, select the line and run plugin
NOT FOUND: ligature.png" -- is absolutely clear, and, yes, the plugin works when I follow these instructions. The instructions that go with the plugin might be a little clearer for novices in MuseScore.

Many thanks for clarifying this.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

I would be happy to write something, but “fools rush in…” as they say. I assume that the original instructions were correct for MuseScore 3, so perhaps they should be left for that version. GraffesMusic has done all the hard work and understands the position better than I, so I will wait on his/her comments.

Best wishes.

In reply to by EJW1

Here are the instructions from my guidelines to students for inserting a ligature bracket, together with an example. Please feel free to use them.

To insert a ligature bracket SHIFT click on the two or more notes that the bracket should span to select them. From the ‘Lines’ palette, open ‘More’ and select ‘Line’. This will place a single line above the range of notes. Click on the line to select it. Open the Plugins menu, and under ‘Composing/arranging tools’ select ‘Ligatura bracket’. To adjust the placement of the end of the bracket, click on the line and then click on the right-hand box and adjust the length using the arrow keys.

Attachment Size
Ligatures.pdf 9.09 KB

I'm working on 17C music using MS4 on a Mac, and have been playing around with incipits. It's starting to look acceptable.
With a bit of judicious 'invisible' and cutting and pasting, here's what I've ended up with...
It still needs tweaking/kerning to make the look of the incipts more natural.
Unresolved problems:
1. I have problems with replacing clefs with older versions (they are in the master palette as 'Petrucci' clefs but I can't seem to select them in the normal way at the front of the line after moving them to a working palette.
2. Old style rests seem hard to substitute too. It would be good to make these rests cue-sized like the notes.
Ligature signs for coloration would be very welcome. At the moment I'm drawing them freehand with limited success.
Comments welcome!

Attachment Size
Screenshot 2024-02-28 at 15.24.18.png 1.02 MB

In reply to by EJW1

Using MS3.6.2:
The way I use the 'Petrucci' clefs is to first use normal clefs, make them invisible, then select a note or a rest and drag the clef from the Symbols palette to where I want. You need to turn off 'Automatic placement'. I use the same method for old style rests.

I presume you can do something similar in MS4.

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