Before the phonograph allowed us to capture and reproduce actual music, people used sheet music to record songs. In Oxy’s special collections, there were a number of sheet music from different time periods and of different styles, like a leaf from an early 16thcentury manuscript of church music or the scores of the Don Quixote opera. The one that interested me the most was “Harmonia Sacra,” which is a collection of church music, written by Joseph Funk in around 1860. Its unique music notation system captured my attention, as the note head were written not all in round shapes, but varied for different pitches. In fact, as I observed more closely, the note head had distinct shapes for each pitch in the scale (seven in total). These specially shaped notes were used in order to make the hymns accessible to people who didn’t learn to read music, which reveals the Harmonia sacra’s educational purpose.
Compared to the 16thcentury manuscript which is written in four line staves and has no rhythmic specification, the music notation used in Harmonia sacra is rather simiarl to what’s used today. By comparing and analyzing these scores, one can observe the transformation of written music over time, including the evolution of the printing methods, music notations methods, etc., as well as how these aspects relate to the content and style of music under the particular contexts.