The Interpretation of Unusual Mensuration Signs in the Ars subtilior

Publication Type:

Book Chapter


A Late Medieval Songbook and its Context: New Perspectives on the Chantilly Codex (Bibliothèque du Château de Chantilly, Ms. 564) , Brepols, Turnhout, p.179–202 (2009)


978-2-503-51598-4 (Print) 978-2-503-53762-7 (Online)



23: Historical musicology {(Western} music) – To ca. 1400 {(Middle} Ages), Johannes Ciconia, Matheus de Sancte Johanne, mensuration signs, Philipoctus de Caserta


Departing from Anne Stone's recent reading of intertextual processes in the Paduan transmission of Johannes Ciconia's Sus une fontayne, the meaning of unusual mensuration signs in Ciconia's virelai and several other compositions from ca. 1400 is reconsidered. At the end of the 14th c. music scribes sometimes used a type of "tempus-only" mensuration sign in which prolation (the division of the semibreve) was indicated not by the sign itself--as was commonly the case with more widely used mensuration signs--but by the appearance of the notes following it. Also examined for their use of these unusual signs are Matheus de Sancto Johannes's Inclite flos orti gebennensis and Philipoctus de Caserta's Par le grant senz d'Adriane le sage. A close historical reading of these works' texts provides the basis for dating both to the period 1378–80. The presence of these unusual signs in notated compositions associated with the Avignon papacy, the houses of Berry, Foix, and Aragón, as well as their presence in Italian sources, suggests a wider currency for these signs than has hitherto been understood.