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Hello YC!


I have a very specific question that I wonder if any of the fabulous(!) vocal composers here could answer.

So, I'm writing an Agnus Dei setting for chorus and organ and I'm wondering about notating some of the lyrics.

The word "Dei" is two syllables (I think) so of course should therefore look something like:  De - i. 


My initial thought was to write something like this:



where the lyric goes across two notes. However, for me this suggests a harsher transition between the De and I syllables. I've looked at a couple of scores, and I've found, especially in Bach, something like this:



with the slur.


Is there a correct notation, is the second one entirely wrong for my purpose? I want to show that the movement between syllables is entirely smooth.



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Posted (edited)

Yes, Dei is disyllabic. I wouldn't suggest copying the notation of pre-1950s vocal scores, because this is one of the few fields where the notation standard nowadays has changed. In the case of Bach, this is even more so, because Urtext scores try to reproduce 18th century notations that were even a bit outdated even by the 19th.


Old notation was very difficult to read: you only beamed notes belonging to the same syllables (i.e. melismata), the rest of the notes, if belonging to different syllables, weren't beamed (even if they're 16th notes). Slurs were used very sparingly and in an unsystematic manner, they usually indicate some sort of legato or very "joined" singing (in your case, they seem to ask "Dei" to be pronounced almost like a diphthong), or to indicate breathings.


Modern notation beams according to the usual principles employed in instrumental music, and marks melismata with slurs. You might add additional slurs with the meaning of the old notation, but this is rarely necessary. With modern notation, if you really wanted some deliberate separation between the "e" and the "i", you could do it with explicit notation, i.e. with a rest or a staccato over the 1st note. You may also add breath marks sparingly if you really want some deliberate separation with an actual breath inbetween.


You can compare the scores of Bach and Rutter's Magnificats, each one uses one kind of notation, and the 2nd is way easier to read. Rutter's was printed in 1991.

Edited by Snake_Cake
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Hi @Snake_Cake

Thanks very much for your response! So, it would be better just to write it without the slur?

19 hours ago, Snake_Cake said:

You can compare the scores of Bach and Rutter's Magnificats, each one uses one kind of notation, and the 2nd is way easier to read. Rutter's was printed in 1991.

I took a little look at both scores, and I can definitely see that the Rutter is much clearer! I'll just leave them all without slurs and then when I do need melisma I can put them in over that as a standard notation.

Thanks again!


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