2.9.4 Typesetting Gregorian chant

When typesetting a piece in Gregorian chant notation, the Vaticana_ligature_engraver automatically selects the proper note heads, so there is no need to explicitly set the note head style. Still, the note head style can be set, e.g., to vaticana_punctum to produce punctum neumes. Similarly, the Mensural_ligature_engraver automatically assembles mensural ligatures.

See also

Music Glossary: ligature.

Notation Reference: White mensural ligatures, Ligatures.

Gregorian chant contexts

The predefined contexts VaticanaVoice, VaticanaStaff, and VaticanaLyrics can be used to engrave a piece of Gregorian chant in the style of the Editio Vaticana. These contexts initialize all relevant context and grob properties to proper values; you can immediately go ahead entering the chant, as the following excerpt demonstrates.

\include "gregorian.ly"
\score {
    \new VaticanaVoice = "cantus" {
      \[ c'\melisma c' \flexa a \]
      \[ a \flexa \deminutum g\melismaEnd \]
      f \divisioMinima
      \[ f\melisma \pes a c' c' \pes d'\melismaEnd \]
      c' \divisioMinima \break
      \[ c'\melisma c' \flexa a \]
      \[ a \flexa \deminutum g\melismaEnd \] f \divisioMinima
    \new VaticanaLyrics \lyricsto "cantus" {
      San -- ctus, San -- ctus, San -- ctus

[image of music]

Gregorian clefs

The following table shows all Gregorian clefs that are supported via the \clef command. Some of the clefs use the same glyph, but differ only with respect to the line they are printed on. In such cases, a trailing number in the name is used to enumerate these clefs, numbered from the lowest to the highest line. Still, you can manually force a clef glyph to be typeset on an arbitrary line, as described in Clef. The note printed to the right side of each clef in the example column denotes the c' with respect to that clef.

DescriptionSupported ClefsExample
Editio Vaticana style do clefvaticana-do1, vaticana-do2,
[image of music]
Editio Vaticana style fa clefvaticana-fa1, vaticana-fa2 [image of music]
Editio Medicaea style do clefmedicaea-do1, medicaea-do2,
[image of music]
Editio Medicaea style fa clefmedicaea-fa1, medicaea-fa2 [image of music]
hufnagel style do clefhufnagel-do1, hufnagel-do2,
[image of music]
hufnagel style fa clefhufnagel-fa1, hufnagel-fa2 [image of music]
hufnagel style combined do/fa clefhufnagel-do-fa [image of music]

See also

Music Glossary: clef.

Notation Reference: Clef.

Gregorian accidentals and key signatures

Accidentals for the three different Gregorian styles are available:

[image of music]

As shown, not all accidentals are supported by each style. When trying to access an unsupported accidental, LilyPond will switch to a different style.

How to switch between styles is covered in Alternate accidental glyphs.

See also

Music Glossary: accidental, key signature.

Notation Reference: Pitches, Accidentals, Automatic accidentals, Alternate accidental glyphs, Key signature.

Internals Reference: KeySignature.


There are no rests in Gregorian chant notation; instead, it uses Divisiones.

A divisio (plural: divisiones; Latin word for ‘division’) is a staff-context symbol indicating the phrase and section structure of Gregorian music. The musical meaning of divisio minima, divisio maior, and divisio maxima can be characterized as short, medium, and long pause. The finalis sign not only marks the end of a chant, but is also frequently used within a single antiphonal/responsorial chant to mark the end of each section.

To use divisiones, include the file ‘gregorian.ly’. It contains definitions that you can apply by just inserting \divisioMinima, \divisioMaior, \divisioMaxima, and \finalis at proper places in the input. Some editions use virgula or caesura instead of divisio minima; therefore, ‘gregorian.ly’ also defines \virgula, and the predefined staff contexts for Gregorian chant configure \caesura to produce an ancient caesura mark.

[image of music]

Predefined commands

\virgula, \caesura, \divisioMinima, \divisioMaior, \divisioMaxima, \finalis.

See also

Music Glossary: caesura, divisio.

Notation Reference: Breath marks.

Installed Files: ‘ly/gregorian.ly’.

Gregorian articulation signs

In addition to the standard articulation signs described in section Articulations and ornamentations, articulation signs specifically designed for use with notation in Editio Vaticana style are provided.

\include "gregorian.ly"
\score {
  \new VaticanaVoice {
    \override Script.padding = #-0.1
    a\ictus_"ictus " \break
    a\circulus_"circulus " \break
    a\semicirculus_"semicirculus " \break
    a\accentus_"accentus " \break
    \[ a_"episema" \episemInitium \pes b
       \flexa a b \episemFinis \flexa a \]

[image of music]

See also

Notation Reference: Articulations and ornamentations.

Snippets: Ancient notation.

Internals Reference: Episema, EpisemaEvent, Episema_engraver, Script, ScriptEvent, Script_engraver.

Known issues and warnings

Some articulations are vertically placed too closely to the corresponding note heads.

Augmentum dots (morae)

Augmentum dots, also called morae, are added with the music function \augmentum. Note that \augmentum is implemented as a unary music function rather than as head prefix. It applies to the immediately following music expression only. That is, \augmentum \virga c will have no visible effect. Instead, say \virga \augmentum c or \augmentum {\virga c}. Also note that you can say \augmentum {a g} as a shortcut for \augmentum a \augmentum g.

\include "gregorian.ly"
\score {
  \new VaticanaVoice {
    \[ \augmentum a \flexa \augmentum g \]
    \augmentum g

[image of music]

See also

Notation Reference: Breath marks.

Internals Reference: Divisio.

Snippets: Ancient notation.

Gregorian square neume ligatures

There is limited support for Gregorian square neumes notation (following the style of the Editio Vaticana). Core ligatures can already be typeset, but essential issues for serious typesetting are still lacking, such as (among others) horizontal alignment of multiple ligatures, lyrics alignment, and proper handling of accidentals.

The support for Gregorian neumes is enabled by \includeing ‘gregorian.ly’ at the beginning of the file. This makes available a number of extra commands to produce the neume symbols used in plainchant notation.

Note heads can be modified and/or joined.

A note name without any qualifiers will produce a punctum. All other neumes, including the single-note neumes with a different shape such as the virga, are in principle considered as ligatures and should therefore be placed between \[…\].

Single-note neumes


Unlike most other neumes notation systems, the typographical appearance of ligatures is not directly dictated by the input commands, but follows certain conventions dependent on musical meaning. For example, a three-note ligature with the musical shape low-high-low, such as \[ a \pes b \flexa g \], produces a Torculus consisting of three Punctum heads, while the shape high-low-high, such as \[ a \flexa g \pes b \], produces a Porrectus with a curved flexa shape and only a single Punctum head. There is no command to explicitly typeset the curved flexa shape; the decision of when to typeset a curved flexa shape is based on the musical input. The idea of this approach is to separate the musical aspects of the input from the notation style of the output. This way, the same input can be reused to typeset the same music in a different style of Gregorian chant notation.

Liquescent neumes

Another main category of notes in Gregorian chant is the so-called liquescent neumes. They are used under certain circumstances at the end of a syllable which ends in a ‘liquescent’ letter, i.e., the sounding consonants that can hold a tone (the nasals, l, r, v, j, and their diphthong equivalents). Thus, the liquescent neumes are never used alone (although some of them can be produced), and they always fall at the end of a ligature.

Liquescent neumes are represented graphically in two different, more or less interchangeable ways: with a smaller note or by ‘twisting’ the main note upwards or downwards. The first is produced by making a regular pes or flexa and modifying the shape of the second note: \[ a \pes \deminutum b \] , the second by modifying the shape of a single-note neume with \auctum and one of the direction markers \descendens or \ascendens, e.g., \[ \auctum \descendens a \] .

Special signs

A third category of signs is made up of a small number of signs with a special meaning (which, incidentally, in most cases is only vaguely known): the quilisma, the oriscus, and the strophicus. These are all produced by prefixing a note name with the corresponding modifier, \quilisma, \oriscus, or \stropha.

Virtually, within the ligature delimiters \[ and \], any number of heads may be accumulated to form a single ligature, and head prefixes like \pes, \flexa, \virga, \inclinatum, etc., may be mixed in as desired. The use of the set of rules that underlies the construction of the ligatures in the above table is accordingly extrapolated. This way, infinitely many different ligatures can be created.

Note that the use of these signs in the music itself follows certain rules, which are not checked by LilyPond. E.g., the quilisma is always the middle note of an ascending ligature, and usually falls on a half-tone step, but it is perfectly possible, although incorrect, to make a single-note quilisma.

In addition to the note signs, ‘gregorian.ly’ also defines the commands \versus, \responsum, \ij, \iij, \IJ, and \IIJ, that will produce the corresponding characters, e.g., for use in lyrics, as section markers, etc. These commands use special Unicode characters and will only work if a font is used which supports them.

The following table shows a limited, but still representative pool of Gregorian ligatures, together with the code fragments that produce the ligatures. The table is based on the extended neumes table of the 2nd volume of the Antiphonale Romanum (Liber Hymnarius), published 1983 by the monks of Solesmes. The first column gives the name of the ligature, with the main form in boldface and the liquescent forms in italics. The third column shows the code fragment that produces this ligature, using g, a, and b as example pitches.

Single-note neumes

Basic and Liquescent formsOutputLilyPond code
Punctum [image of music]\[ b \]
[image of music]\[ \cavum b \]
[image of music]\[ \linea b \]
Punctum Auctum Ascendens [image of music]\[ \auctum \ascendens b \]
Punctum Auctum Descendens [image of music]\[ \auctum \descendens b \]
Punctum inclinatum [image of music]\[ \inclinatum b \]
Punctum Inclinatum Auctum [image of music]\[ \inclinatum \auctum b \]
Punctum Inclinatum Parvum [image of music]\[ \inclinatum \deminutum b \]
Virga [image of music]\[ \virga b' \]

Two-note ligatures

Clivis vel Flexa [image of music]\[ b \flexa g \]
Clivis Aucta Descendens [image of music]\[ b \flexa \auctum \descendens g \]
Clivis Aucta Ascendens [image of music]\[ b \flexa \auctum \ascendens g \]
Cephalicus [image of music]\[ b \flexa \deminutum g \]
Podatus/Pes [image of music]\[ g \pes b \]
Pes Auctus Descendens [image of music]\[ g \pes \auctum \descendens b \]
Pes Auctus Ascendens [image of music]\[ g \pes \auctum \ascendens b \]
Epiphonus [image of music]\[ g \pes \deminutum b \]
Pes Initio Debilis [image of music]\[ \deminutum g \pes b \]
Pes Auctus Descendens
Initio Debilis
[image of music]\[ \deminutum g \pes \auctum
\descendens b \]

Multi-note ligatures

Torculus [image of music]\[ a \pes b \flexa g \]
Torculus Auctus Descendens [image of music]\[ a \pes b \flexa \auctum
\descendens g \]
Torculus Deminutus [image of music]\[ a \pes b \flexa \deminutum g \]
Torculus Initio Debilis [image of music]\[ \deminutum a \pes b \flexa g \]
Torculus Auctus Descendens
Initio Debilis
[image of music]\[ \deminutum a \pes b \flexa \auctum
\descendens g \]
Torculus Deminutus
Initio Debilis
[image of music]\[ \deminutum a \pes b \flexa
\deminutum g \]
Porrectus [image of music]\[ a \flexa g \pes b \]
Porrectus Auctus Descendens [image of music]\[ a \flexa g \pes \auctum
\descendens b \]
Porrectus Deminutus [image of music]\[ a \flexa g \pes \deminutum b \]
Climacus [image of music]\[ \virga b \inclinatum a
\inclinatum g \]
Climacus Auctus [image of music]\[ \virga b \inclinatum a
\inclinatum \auctum g \]
Climacus Deminutus [image of music]\[ \virga b \inclinatum a
\inclinatum \deminutum g \]
Scandicus [image of music]\[ g \pes a \virga b \]
Scandicus Auctus Descendens [image of music]\[ g \pes a \pes
\auctum \descendens b \]
Scandicus Deminutus [image of music]\[ g \pes a \pes \deminutum b \]

Special signs

Quilisma [image of music]\[ g \pes \quilisma a \pes b \]
Quilisma Pes Auctus Descendens [image of music]\[ g \quilisma a \pes \auctum
\descendens b \]
Oriscus [image of music]\[ \oriscus b \]
Pes Quassus [image of music]\[ \oriscus g \pes \virga b \]
Pes Quassus Auctus Descendens [image of music]\[ \oriscus g \pes \auctum
\descendens b \]
Salicus [image of music]\[ g \oriscus a \pes \virga b \]
Salicus Auctus Descendens [image of music]\[ g \oriscus a \pes \auctum
\descendens b \]
(Apo)stropha [image of music]\[ \stropha b \]
Stropha Aucta [image of music]\[ \stropha \auctum b \]
Bistropha [image of music]\[ \stropha b \stropha b \]
Tristropha [image of music]\[ \stropha b \stropha b
\stropha b \]
Trigonus [image of music]\[ \stropha b \stropha b
\stropha a \]

Predefined commands

The following head prefixes are supported: \virga, \stropha, \inclinatum, \auctum, \descendens, \ascendens, \oriscus, \quilisma, \deminutum, \cavum, \linea.

Head prefixes can be accumulated, though restrictions apply. For example, either \descendens or \ascendens can be applied to a head, but not both to the same head.

Two adjacent heads can be tied together with the \pes and \flexa infix commands for a rising and falling line of melody, respectively.

Use the unary music function \augmentum to add augmentum dots.

See also

Music Glossary: ligature.

Notation Reference: Gregorian square neume ligatures, White mensural ligatures, Ligatures.

Known issues and warnings

When an \augmentum dot appears at the end of the last staff within a ligature, it is sometimes vertically placed wrong. As a workaround, add an additional skip note (e.g., s8) as last note of the staff.

\augmentum should be implemented as a head prefix rather than a unary music function, such that \augmentum can be intermixed with head prefixes in arbitrary order.

LilyPond — Notation Reference v2.23.82 (development-branch).