Alcuin, Remigius and Guido
In the following quote from his Carmina, Alcuin of York waxes lyrical on the teaching of
Gregorian chant in 8th century England, evidently indicating that the durations of musical
notes were divided into longs and shorts for chant generally.
Instituit pueros Idithun modulamine sacro
Utque sonos dulces decantent voce sonora
Quot pedibus, numeris, rhythmo stat musica discat
Iduthun trains the boys in sacred melody
So that they sing sweet sounds with sonorous voices
They learn how many feet, numbers, rhythms music rests on
Latin: Patrologia Latina, Vol 101, p781
In his Musica, Remigius of Auxerre (841-908) apparently mentions longs & shorts in ratios.
Latin: Patrologia cursus completus, series latina, Vol 131, p953
In his De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, he certainly describes longs & shorts in ratios.
Latin: De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii (1925), ed. Adolfus Dick, p521
In his Micrologus (c.1025), Guido of Arezzo also writes about how to compose the rhythms of
'metric chant' which he compares to the poetic metres (such as that found in St Ambrose's
Deus creator omnium) and which, by implication, he differentiates from a genre he describes
as 'quasi prosaic songs'.
Guido of Arezzo, Micrologus (1026-28), Caput XV.
Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, II 784, ff13r-14r.
By the time Guido is writing, use of patterns of long and short verbal syllables is not
commonly made in new styles of poetry and prose but knowledge of this classical technique
is clearly still maintained. Long and short values therefore now only pertain to melody notes.
Guido does not apparently equate 'metric songs' with the poetic metres here, and his words
about 'metric songs' - often sung 'as if scanning verses by feet' - would be apt for a hymn
such as O rex aeterne Domine where the poetic metre is not strictly found in the words but is
indeed found in the music. The word 'often' is noteworthy, perhaps implying that not all
'metric songs' were by now sung according to the rhythm of poetic metres.
By using the phrase 'more prosarum' (like proses), Guido is certainly referring to the fact
that the melodic 'distinctiones' (lines of verse) and 'partes' (metrical feet) of 'quasi prosaici
cantus' (as though prosaic songs) vary in overall size - 'maior, minor' - and apparently
regularity of occurrence (per loca sine discretione). These characteristics would certainly
apply to prose writing but, pertinently, also to any song which lacked formal regularity of line
length or rhythmic feet, as he implies, which could include genres such as mass antiphons or
'prose hymns' such as the Te Deum or Gloria. Thus there is no reason to assume here that
Guido considered the rhythmic rules of 'quasi prosaici cantus' (as though prosaic songs) as
contravening a general governing rule in chant of 2:1 ratio of longs and shorts.
Then in the dactylic sort, the signs (of
tempora, of course, that is, virgulas to which
shorts and longs correspond) are joined to
themselves, in equal binding of notes, of
The iambic sort follows ... in which the signs
of the feet, that is, virgulas in the same way
as above, keep by turns a double ratio, like
one to two, as in an iamb.
There are, certainly, as it were, prosaic
songs which observe these [principles] less,
in which it is of no concern if different
greater, different smaller parts and
distinctions are found in places, without
discrimination, after the manner of proses.
However, I speak about metric songs,
which we often sing in such a way that we
are seen as if scanning verses by feet, as is
done when we sing the metres themselves.
... However, there is not little similarity
between metres and songs, for there are
neumes in place of feet and distinctions in
place of lines; since this neume runs
through dactylically, that one though
spondaically, another in an iambic fashion;
and you may discern a distinction now a
tetrameter, now a pentameter, at another
time as it were a hexameter and many other
things in this manner.
Deinde in dactylico genere signa, scilicet
temporum, id est virgulae quibus
constant brevia et longa nectuntur sibi
aequali jure scilicet notarum.
Sequitur iambicum genus ... in quo
pedum signa, id est virgulae similiter ut
supra, duplicem rationem ad invicem
servant, sicut unum ad duo, ut in iambo.
Sunt uero quasi prosaici cantus. qui
haec minus obseruant. in quibus non est
curae. si aliae maiores aliae minores
partes et distinctiones per loca sine
discretione inueniantur more prosarum.
Metricos autem cantus dico. quia sepe
ita canimus. ut quasi uersus pedibus
scandere uideamur. sicut fit cum ipsa
metra canimus. ...
Non autem parua similitudo est metris
et cantibus. cum et neumae loco sint
pedum. et distinctiones loco
uersuum. utpote ista neuma dactilico.
illa uero spondaico. alia iambico more
discurrit. et distinctionem nunc
tetrametram. nunc pentametram
[pentemetram ante corr.]. alias quasi
exametram cernas. et multa alia ad hunc