[SCA-Dance] Playford's black notes

Alex Clark alexbclark at pennswoods.net
Fri May 23 19:16:44 EDT 2008

Here's an interesting puzzle for anyone here who studies music history:

I've been taking a closer look at 1st edition Playford in facsimile, and I 
notice that he seems to like black notes. For the tunes with major 
prolation (each beat subdivided into three)--nearly two thirds of all the 
tunes in the book--he uses black notation instead of white notation. For 
the rest of the tunes, he always uses single-flagged notes (eighth notes, 
in modern American usage), with the result that Cast a Bell and Glory of 
the West apparently have a quarter note to the beat, and no actual white 
notes in what I expect is supposed to be "white notation".

But when he's using black notation, apparently one beat is always equal to 
a dotted stemless diagonal notehead (I prefer not to assume that I know 
what value he assigned thereto), and sometimes there are no flagged notes 
(as in Adson's Saraband, Boatman, Jack Pudding, and Lady Spellor). I have 
read that the stemless notes are supposed to have the same values according 
to their shapes in both black and white notation, but this would mean that 
he has a dotted whole note to a beat in black notation, where he uses a 
half or quarter note to a beat in white notation. Also, he sometimes uses 
an orthogonal rectangular notehead in black notation (as in The Fine 
Companion and A Health to Betty), which he never uses in the white notation.

There are two tunes where he uses both notation systems together. Gray's 
Inn Mask begins in white notation, and changes to black notation for the 
last strain. And in Jenny Pluck Pears he changes from major prolation to 
minor prolation with three notes to the measure (perfect time), and changes 
to white notation. In both of these cases the last strain, in a different 
time, is signed with a "3", which he does not otherwise use as a time 
signature. In the first example the rhythm of the last strain seems 
identical to what he usually signs with a "c".

So, can anyone tell me:
  - Why does he use black and white notations in this way?
  - Why does he prefer black notes? (I could guess that it's because the 
white notes are not always printed legibly, but I don't really know.)
  - What values does he consider the notes to have in black notation?
  - Does he consider notes in black and white notation to be in any way 
equivalent in Jenny Pluck Pears?
  - Why does he sign two different changes in rhythm with "3", even when 
one of them is a rhythm that he has a different signature for?

BTW, I see from my facsimiles of Sellengers Round that by the third edition 
he was using white notation for tunes with major prolation, with a dotted 
half note to a beat.

Henry of Maldon/Alex Clark

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