Alla breve

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Examples of time signatures for alla breve.
Examples of time signatures for common time.

In music, alla breve (Italian for: "at the breve"; also sometimes called cut time or cut common time) refers to a musical meter notated by the time signature symbol cut time (a C with a line through it), which is the equivalent of 2/2.[1] Alla breve is a "simple-duple meter with a half-note pulse".[2] Common time, notated with the time signature symbol common time, is the equivalent of 4/4.[3]

Modern usage[edit]

In contemporary usage alla breve suggests a fairly quick tempo. Thus, it is used frequently for military marches. From about 1600 to 1900 its usage with regard to tempo varied, so it cannot always be taken to mean a quick tempo.[3] The reason for the usage of "alla breve" is to allow the musician to read notes of short duration more cleanly with fewer beams.

Historical usage[edit]

Prior to 1600 the term alla breve derives from the system of mensural or proportional notation (also called proportio dupla) in which note values (and their graphical shapes) were related by the ratio 2:1. In this context it means that the tactus or metrical pulse (now commonly referred to as the "beat") is switched from its normal place on the whole note (semibreve) to the double whole note (breve).[3]

Modern notation           ModernBreveAndSemibreve.svg
White notation
(15th–16th cent.)          
MensuralBreveSemibreve.svg
Black notation
(13th–15th cent.)          
BlackMensuralBreveSemibreve.svg

The use of the vertical line or stroke in a musical graphical symbol, as practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and now referred to by the modern term of "cut time", did not always have the same meaning as alla breve. It sometimes had other functions, including non-mensural ones.[4]

Example[edit]

The following is an example with the same rhythm notated in 2/2 and in 4/4:

Rhythm in 2/2 followed by the same rhythm notated in 4/4. Note there are more eighth and sixteenth notes in the 4/4 version versus eighth and quarter notes in the 2/2 version, one of the reasons 2/2 is typically easier to read at faster tempos.[5]
Rhythm in 2/2 followed by the same rhythm notated in 4/4.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Randel (2003), pp.33, 241.
  2. ^ Duckworth, William (2009). A Creative Approach to Music Fundamentals, p.38. ISBN 0-495-57220-9.
  3. ^ a b c Randel (2003), p.33
  4. ^ "Cut time" in Sadie (2001).
  5. ^ Schonbrun , Marc (2005). The Everything Reading Music Book, p.56. ISBN 1-59337-324-4.

Sources[edit]

  • Randel, Don Michael (2003). Harvard dictionary of music, fourth edition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01163-5.
  • Sadie, Stanley; John Tyrrell, eds. (2001). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition. NewYork: Grove's Dictionaries. ISBN 1-56159-239-0.