Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Notation Question

I have a small notation question -- is there any reason, in a new piece of music, to use a "C" "common time" signature instead of a 4/4 or the slashed-C "cut time" signature instead of a 2/2? In the context of new music scores, in which a wide variety of metres are in play, keeping all of the signatures as numerical fractions seems to make sense. On the other hand, if a piece makes a reference to certain historical styles -- band music, for example -- then the historical notations might be useful contextual referents. Any ideas, opinions?

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can tell you that if you are using large groups in a recording session, where time is critical for both conductor oand or musicians $$$, you should use 4/4 instead of C

Moreoever, you should write within simple meters even though you may write complex rhythms. They will read it easier.

rbourland said...

I never use C and always prefer 4/4. Cut time is 2/2 or 2/4 whatever your context. Common time is 4/4 or 4/8 and if I wanna evoke old notation I'll use 4/2.
R

Matthew said...

I have a soft spot for C and slash-C, but I'd only use it for a piece that never changes meter, and honestly, I can't remember the last time I did that. The residual love is partially because I have to spend a half-hour every semester teaching my grade-school weekend solfégèrs what common time and cut time is, and partially because it references the far more entertainingly funky metrical indications of renaissance and medieval music. I'd second anonymous, though—if time and money are on the line, stick with big old numbers.

Scott Spiegelberg said...

Matthew's comment brings up an interesting possibility, using prolation and tempus indications for a contemporary piece. A perfect prolation indication would bring the performer to a whole new head space.

PWS said...

The best option is to give up the "C" AND the 4/4 time and quit music altogether for a lucrative job in real estate.

Christian Flury said...

Having read this post and comment thread with great interest, I have to say that I, too, have a soft spot for common time and alla breve notation; however, I agree that it breaks the parallelism/analogy/whatever you wanna call it when explicitly notated meter changes are involved and would rather use 4/4 or 2/2 in these cases.

However, this brings up a more general question that I would like to address using an example: The other day I was reading through a very dull (especially: rhythmically dull) contemporary score. However, whenever the rhythm was not exactly "oohm ta ta ta", lo and behold, there was a (imho useless and stupid) meter change. Then I read through the 4th by Brahms: every single phrase is rhythmically much more complex than any phrase in the previous example, but the meter - or rather "time grid" - stays the same.

Now, whenever in my notation I choose the "Brahmsian" approach, I prefer C notation, not only because it's prettier ;-), but also to emphasize that I am just providing a "common time grid" rather than imposing a "meter". There's also an intentional reference to old music where "meter" and "time grid" were less equivalent to each other than later on.

jason said...

Mr. christian flury is accurate in his assesment of "C" as simply indicating a background grid. Ligeti was doing it in the '60's. As a performer, changing meters are easier to follow with a 4/4 than with a C popping in time to time.

Daniel Wolf said...

Christian Flury --

You're right about Brahms. Paul Zukofsky has a nice article online - http://www.musicalobservations.com/publications/brahms.html - pointing out precisely this phenomenon, with a great example of Brahms composing in five against a duplenotational grid.