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Etymology of “hocket”

Thomas Schmidt has recently published an article entitled “Singing the hiccup – on texting the hocket” Early Music History 32 (2013):225-275. One of the principal aims is to show that text underlay in hockets should split words within syllables; this argument proceeds from  a construction of the etymology of “hocket” as meaning “hiccup.”
This is a brief discourse on the etymologies of three separate terms used to refer to hockets in the sources which Schmidt cites: hoquet/oketusupatura, singultus. I will show in turn that none of these must mean “hiccup,” and, particularly, that hoquet and upatura are very unlikely to have meant “hiccup” in the fourteenth century.
The principal OF meaning of hocton/hoqueton/hoquet/hoquerel (n.) is “snare, trap” (Ste-Maure, Chronique, 1150). This is still a possible (the primary?) meaning in the fourteenth cen. (as in Guiard, Royaulx lignages, 1306) but by this time it can also have the more general meaning of “jerk, jolt” (this too in Guiard). Hoqueter (v.i.) in standard francien dialect means “to cast, to shake,” but usage allies still it closely with traps (the context is fishing in Mont Cassin, Ystoire de li Normant, 1308). Thus it appears that the meaning of the nominal form is metynymic; that is, the name of the trap is taken from the action of springing it. Most interesting is that hoquerel is a glossed as piedge (MF piège, “snare”) < L pedica “fetter” (lit. “that which holds the foot” ) in the Roman de Brut (1155), which is corroborated by looking at the analogous passages in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia (1130s?). Hochier (v.t.), “to shake,” is a related term as Schmidt points out; it derives from picardien ho(c)t(t)is(s)ôn, “a jolt, a shake” as a horseman may feel on a rough ride. It seems reasonable to suppose that they both derive from some common root given the morphological and semantic overlap; the fact that their usage distributions (i.e. salient contexts) do not overlap is no cause for worry, since they represent separate dialect traditions. It seems therefore that the most natural understanding of the term hocket is that it refers to the jerking or casting back and forth between two voices; it could refer to a sudden jerking away from the normal texture of the surrounding music to the special texture of the hocket; perhaps the semantics of the snare refers to the enmeshing of the lines participating in the hocket. Whatever the case may be, it is clear that the sixteenth-century connotation of “hiccup” (itself semantically related, to be sure, as a kind of jolting breath) is unattested in any of the sources from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. There is a significant difference between “jerking, casting” in general (which might only refer to the notes to the exclusion of text, as is argued in a forthcoming article by Anna Zayaruznaya) and “hiccupping,” which implies a connection to the breath and perhaps therefore the text.
The other term in play is the enigmatic upatura from the fourteenth cen. Carmelite constitution. I’m sceptical whether this can be so neatly identified with hiccups or hockets. (Schmidt baldly translates it as “hiccup,” which assumes a fact not in evidence.) It’s worth noting that it is Ferrara from which this document originates (it’s even in Lockwood’s book, but he tacitly skips upatura in his translation); an Italian hiccup is a singotta/singhiozza < L singultus (~ MF sanglot). Ostensibly, then, upatura belongs to neither of these lexical families (that is, neither the “hocket” nor “hiccup” family). What might it mean instead? A quick scan through the corpus suggests that it might be related to *hip(p)ar “to pant, to sigh, to yearn.” Perhaps upatura refers to songs of an overtly vulgar or lewd character? The 1581 Carmelite constitution glosses upatura — this odd word was apparently a problem for them too — as “cantigas nefarias” which can only mean something like “vulgar songs” rather than “hocket” or “hiccup.” (Cards on the table, however, it must be mentioned that hipar, coincidentally means hiccup in modern Spanish. This is a red herring: it probably arises as an instance of semantic narrowing from the general sense of “to pant.” Thus it is completely unrelated to the meaning of hoquet in MF as “hiccup,” since the latter derives from a verb meaning “to jerk.”)
As Schmidt writes, it is true that singultus is glossed as oketus in Boen, Musica, 1355. But this is insufficient demonstration that they both mean “hiccup” in this context. To be sure, singultus is the normal Latin word for “hiccup”; but it does not always mean “hiccup.” Singultus < singula “unit”; thus singultus is that which is characterized as being “of units” or possibly “unitary.” This is the feature shared by all its meanings in Latin: sob, death rattle, hiccup, etc. all comprise many single gasps or breaths. The point here is that if this were the primary semantic domain that the writer is thinking, then there would have been a more obvious French translation of this word than oketus: this word is sangleut/sanglot. In other words, the fact that it is glossed as oketus rather than sangleut, taken together with the semantic context, seems to me to indicate that Boen is thinking of singultus in a rather more abstract sense: “that which is comprised of singularities/units”; and in this sense it is a quite apt Latinization of oketus “hocket.” An appeal to the semantics of “hiccup” is not at all necessary to rationalize this move.

Categories: Early Music, History, Language, Music, Semantics.


substitute X for Y = substitute Y with X

Go figure.

Categories: Language, Pedantry, Pragmatics, Semantics, Usage.

(Re)finishing hardwood

Some thoughts on what I’ve learned finishing a cherry clavichord, refinishing a maple desk, and fixing scratches in hardwood oak floors.


Linseed oil: Make sure it is boiled linseed oil, which will dry and will not go rancid as it cures. Raw linseed oil is used as an ingredient in some “cooked” varnish preparations, and should not be applied directly to wood because it will never dry and will give off an odor as it oxidizes. Other oils, such as walnut oil or tung oil are also useable. Boiled linseed oil is readily available, inexpensive, and easy to work with. The oil is the part of the mix that seeps into the wood fiber and makes it waterproof.
Varnish: Use a natural resin varnish. Dammar varnish is best; it is a sweet-smelling, food-safe, a natural byproduct of turpentine production, and easy to work with. Get the artists’ grade stuff at the art supply store. It comes as dry granules in a paint can; you pop the can and add turpentine to a fill line and then mix. Prepare the varnish according to the package directions; never mix dry varnish in with your mix, as it will not dissolve properly. Only mix prepared varnish with the oil. The varnish is the part of the mix that adds hardness and durability to the finish.
Turpentine: Use natural gum turpentine (aka spirit of turpentine). It has a strong smell of spirits, but it is unbeatable as a solvent for resins and oils. If you’re feeling luxurious, you can use pure orange oil (aka terpene of orange, essential oil of orange, etc.). It is massively expensive, but works just like turpentine and makes everything everywhere smell like citrus. However, it should still be used in a ventilated area, because of the volatile aroma. Though the aroma is pleasant, orange oil is still not safe to huff in large quantities. If you go with a citrus oil, make sure you buy a solvent-grade turpentine substitute (aka a terpene), not a mild cleanser-grade product. The art supply store is the place to go. The solvent, whether turpentine or citrus oil, thins the mix and helps you spread it around.
Mix 1:
equal parts boiled linseed oil, prepared varnish, and solvent
Mix 2:
equal parts Mix 1, prepared varnish, and solvent (“soft mix,” for a softer, warmer finish)
OR equal parts Mix 1 and prepared varnish (“hard mix” for a harder-wearing finish)
Prepare your mixes in metal or glass containers that can be covered. Avoid plastics, as these can degrade with extended contact with turpentine. Mason jars with their covers are cheap and effective.
  1. For very grimy furniture, use double-strength Pinesol (1 cup of Pinesol per gallon of very hot water). Apply this mix liberally to the surface; scrub to float the grime. Rinse and wipe with plain water and a clean towel quickly before the dingy water seeps back in. Skip Step 0 except for especially dirty furniture.
  2. Clean with diluted Murphy’s Oil Soap (1/4 – 1/2 cup of Murphy’s per gallon of warm to hot water). Scrub hard with a wrung cloth (i.e. not the swishy puddly method of Step 0). Rinsing should not be necessary if the cloth is correctly wrung.
  3. Sand, always with the grain, with coarse sand paper, 80-grit. Change the paper frequently (every 30-50 strokes) to maintain good abrasion. Sand deeply enough to remove any varnish or staining which may appear on the surface.
    • To guide yourself, imagine a cross section of naturally finished wood: it will be raw wood on the very bottom, oiled wood in the middle, and a hard varnish protective layer at the top. You want to remove the top hard layer only; the middle layer, though it contains the bottom of the old finish, need not be removed. Thus you’re done sanding when the surface is completely dull, but it need not look like raw wood.
  4. Repeat Step 1.
Sand the entire surface through a graduated series of grits: 120, 220, 400.
  • Sand with one hand and use the other hand to wipe the dust with the grain as you sand. This coaxes the dust into the cracks in the wood grain (a good thing) and helps you find the areas which need more sanding (you will readily feel what is impossible to see).
  • Spend most time on 120 and 400. Wipe with a tack cloth between each sanding.
  • Change the sand paper frequently to maintain good abrasion. Coarser sandpapers need more frequent changing than finer papers.
You can use as many or as few of these steps as you wish, so long as you keep them in order. Steps 3 and/or 4 may be skipped. The more steps you do, the finer the finish. Begin with Mix 1, then switch to Mix 2 for all steps until the last step or two of your chosen course. If you use the “soft” Mix 2, it might be a good idea to make the last two steps of your process Mix 2; the “hard” Mix 2 recipe need only be applied on your last step; or apply it on your last two steps and buff for a slightly shinier finish. Or use Mix 1 throughout.
  1. Using a lint-free linen or cotten cloth, apply mixed oil to the whole surface very liberally. Keep applying the mixed oil until no more will seep in, even allowing it to pool slightly. Make sure end grain receives extra oil. When the furniture seems saturated, let it sit for 10 minutes. Then wipe away any excess with a clean cloth. Wait 24 hours.
  2. Repeat Step 1.
  3. For an extra fine finish, use 600-grit wet-sandpaper to sand in a third application. Soak the sandpaper in the oil, apply the oil liberally with a cloth so that it pools and then sand the oil in. This is to encourage absorption and also to force very fine wood dust into the pores of the wood, making a glass-smooth finish. Let it sit for 10 minutes, then wipe away any excess. Rub hard and vigorously with an oiled, lint-free cloth to shine. Wait 24 hours.
  4. Repeat Step 3.
  5. Apply mixed oil sparingly until the surface looks wet. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Rub hard and vigorously to shine. Wait 24 hours.

Categories: DIY, Harpsichord.

Musical Centuries

We often refer to whole centuries as a shorthand for the predominant culture of a period.  We do this usually to distinguish the culture of a given age from that of earlier or later ages.  This usage makes immediately obvious and meaningful distinctions—even if the distinctions so made are, necessarily, extremely general in character.  Importantly, by referring to “eighteenth-century music,” we may implicitly include aspects of musical culture (events, ideas, developments) which are located outside the chronological eighteenth century.  In other words, a “cultural century” is a shorthand only for the large-scale cultural epoch which the corresponding chronological century (mostly, but never precisely) contains, not the chronological century itself which shares its name.

Below is a quick attempt to specify what I think we mean when we refer to musical culture by century.  (Let’s assume all years are “circa.“)  I’m basing this scheme on developments in the history of composition and musical style, rather than any other musical-historical indicator way may wish to choose.  I’d be interested to hear other views as to when the “cultural centuries” begin and end, especially if you think of a scheme based on some other cultural indicator (instrument technology? musical notation?).

“Century” Years Length Rationale for endpoints
12th 1150–1250 100 Notre Dame School
13th 1250–1310 60 Roman de Fauvel
14th 1310–1377 67 death of Machaut
15th 1377–1486 109 retirement of Ockeghem; 1480s: Josquin’s career is taking off
16th 1486–1595 109 1594: death of Palestrina; 1597: Dafne
17th 1595–1715 120 1713: Handel goes to London and Couperin publishes Book 1; 1717: Bach goes to Anhalt-Cöthen and Couperin publishes L’art de toucher
18th 1715–1830 115 Chopin goes to Vienna; Mendelssohn goes to Italy; Symphonie fantastique; 1833: Brahms is born
19th 1830–1913 83 1912: Pierrot lunaire; 1913: Le sacre du printemps; 1914: WWI
20th 1913–???
21st ???

Categories: History, Music.

Modern usage

An interesting datum.

[Transcript of an excerpt from an actual report by NECN reporter Josh Brogadir. Punctuation is conjectural.]

And so, Latoya [Latoya Edwards, NECN anchor], the death of a twelve-year-old girl, while of course the school will have counselors on hand tomorrow to help out any students. And by the way this girl may have had this for a little while; we’re told the incubation time for this type of meningitis anywhere from one to ten days, but potentially up to fourteen days. Latoya—


Watch the video. (Relevant excerpt begins at about the 2:00 minute mark.)

Categories: Language, Pedantry, Pragmatics, Semantics.

Piano {fortepiano, pianoforte, piano}

When is a piano not a piano?

1. When it’s a harpsichord

A harpsichord is a keyboard instrument with one or more (usually not more than two) keyboards, having two or more sets of strings per note (usually not more than three). The action of a key controls a jack, which moves vertically in close proximity to a string. A jack is fitted with a plectrum the plucks the string when the key is depressed, and a small nubbin of felt which dampens the string when the key is released. A sprung tongue mechanism holds the plectrum in the jack, and is contrived to allow the plectrum to pluck the string on the way up, but not the way down; thus a single depression of a key produces one pluck, not two. “Harpsichord” is the name of a specific instrument as well as the name given to a largish family of instruments including spinets, clavicytheria, harpsichords, and others.

2. When it’s a fortepiano

Likewise “piano” is both a genus and a species; the genus includes fortepianos, pianofortes, and pianos. Loosely speaking, a fortepiano refers to the earliest type of piano, namely that which came into common use in the late eighteenth century. In this form, it has one keyboard and two strings per note. The keys control leather-covered hammers which strike the paired strings. Morphologically, they look like harpsichords: these early pianos were conceived as special kinds of harpsichords. Their historical name was “cembalo col forte e piano” (harpsichord with loud and soft) which was shortened to “fortepiano” (metonymy?). This style of piano building initially flourished in Vienna. A Mozart piano is most precisely called a fortepiano. [It is worth mentioning that this archetypal Viennese fortepiano, c. 1790–1810, is but one configuration of the instrument, whose history spans the period c. 1710–1850.]

3. When it’s a pianoforte

It must be said, first of all, that many people would argue that the class “pianoforte” is not fully distinct from the class “modern piano”: that is, some would say alta voce, “A pianoforte is a piano!” What they mean is that these classes are not actually disjunct from each other in the way each of them is completely disjunct with “fortepiano.” This is nuance of organology which seems pointless to expand further here. In practice, the word “pianoforte” refers to something quite different than the instruments to which “piano” refers, in practice. “Pianoforte” instruments represent the next phase, after the “fortepiano,” of piano technology. We see the term often in regency novels; this is because it was the word for “piano” before it was shortened to “piano.”

3′. What is a nineteenth-century piano?

The nineteenth century was a period of great diversity and innovation, so many different designs exist. The most important ones are the following. The Broadwood grand is an English pianoforte which is similar to the fortepiano, but louder and heavier. These are most prized. The Streicher (German) and Pleyel (French) pianofortes experimented with new designs including the use of metal bracing, cross-stringing (stringing of fortepianos and  harpsichord had always been in  parallel) enabling higher string tensions, and felt-covered hammers—features which would ultimately be adopted in the modern piano. In a regency novel “pianoforte” probably refers to a Broadwood grand in a large house, or a small “square piano” (actually, rectangular) in a smaller house. The square pianos were small and of very simple construction, and were therefore cheap and quite popular. They are in many ways musically deficient instruments (like a modern upright, perhaps?) but they show the increasing prevalence and cultural importance of musical amateurism.

4. When it’s (not) a Steinway

The modern piano is the large cast-iron-framed, cross-strung-in-steel machine with felt hammers, of which the archetypical example is the Steinway grand. Amongst early music specialists, one will often hear the word “Steinway” to mean “modern piano, as distinguished from some historical fortepiano”: “Steinway” in this usage might in fact ultimately mean “Bösendorfer” or “Fazioli.” Or, a concert pianist may refer to a “Steinway” to mean not a “Bösendorfer” or “Fazioli” or any other make of piano: many pianists prefer a specific make of piano, preferences which are often enshrined in exclusive endorsement contracts.

Therefore, be careful when you say “piano”

Really, there have been so many different designs in so many periods that in the biz labels like fortepiano or piano or pianoforte are hopelessly vague. We usually refer to them all as “pianos,” (that is, in professional usage “piano” is a genus not a species) but specify the builder or, for a modern replica, the historical model. Thus we speak of Silbermanns, Steins, Walthers, Broadwoods, Grafs, Erards, Pleyels, Bösendorfers, Steinways, and many, many others. Note, however, that saying “Steinway” when you really just mean “modern piano” in the generic sense (that is, “Steinway” as a synecdoche) could be seen as fatuous or pretentious, or (worse) could even be confusing.

In sum, very generally speaking it is possible to say that fortepiano refers to eighteenth-century examples (very often Viennese), pianoforte refers to middle or late nineteenth-century examples (often English), and piano in the narrow sense of its common usage is the twentieth-century modern machine.

Categories: Early Music, Harpsichord, History, Language, Pedantry, Semantics.

Gymnastics Terminology

Semantics and discourse pragmatics at work.

It strikes me that the Uneven Bars are no less parallel than the Parallel Bars—they are just parallel in a different plane.  The Parallel Bars might be more completely characterized as:

the Horizontally Coplanar and Parallel Bars;

and the Uneven Bars more accurately as:

the Non-horizontally Coplanar but Parallel Bars.

These more specific names assume no prior frame of reference, but declare the relevant frame explicitly in the name itself.  The conventional terms for the apparatuses are only meaningful if we assume they describe some property of the bars from a horizontal frame of reference.  That assumption is induced by the names themselves: the Parallel Bars are only parallel in the horizontal plane.  The Uneven Bars, by contrast, do not share a horizontal plane.  It is interesting to note that the Uneven Bars do not share a vertical plane either (they are spaced some distance apart, laterally), and in this sense the Parallel Bars are just as uneven as the Uneven Bars.  However, we assume that uneven must describe some property of the apparatus not shared by the Parallel Bars.  Thus the names of the apparatuses both independently make reference to an implicit horizontal, and so mutually reinforce this implicature.

The above is an explanation of the linguistic semantics of these names—what must be true, or assumed true, for the names to have interpretable meaning; it does not, however, explain why the horizontal should be a salient frame in reference to which the names should distinguish the apparatuses.  It would be possible, for example, to contrive names which distinguish them with respect to a vertical frame of reference:

the Colinear-in-the-Vertical-Projection Bars (Parallel Bars)

the Non-Colinear-in-the-Vertical-Projection Bars (Uneven Bars)

We could even stipulate a reference plane that is at a 45° angle to the standard frame in which case we might aptly name the equipment:

the Uneven Bars (Parallel Bars)

the Parallel Bars (Uneven Bars)

Why in fact is the horizontal frame of reference used?  This is the domain of pragmatics—the context which conditions the linguistic usage.  Here are some hypotheses as to why horizontalness may be more salient than any other frame of reference:

  1. The horizontal is defined as the plane orthogonal to the gradient of the gravity field.  Gravity may be a particularly salient concept in the gymnastics context because of the importance of coordination and balance, and because of the vaults and other maneuvers in which the human form overcomes gravity and passes through unusual orientations.  In other words, an appreciation of the sport is dependent on an awareness of a horizontal frame of reference and of gravity’s downward gradient through that frame of reference.
  2. The horizontal is the usual frame of reference in most situations, perhaps because human movement is usually significantly freer in the horizontal plane than it is in most others.
  3. It is arbitrary (but necessary and identifiable because of the semantics, discussed above).

Categories: Language, Pedantry, Pragmatics, Semantics.

The Trema

The “trema” (as the “¨” is called, pl. “tremata”) is used in native English spelling—that is to say, in English words which are not foreign borrowings—to indicate diaeresis: vowels which are not pronounced as a single sound (diphthong) but separately (“in hiatus”, e.g. coöperate, archaic seeër).  This is also the significance of the trema in French spelling (cf. naïf).  The English trema does not indicate umlaut (vowel mutation), as it does in German; the usual German umlaut is fronting (cf. konnte/könnte), but other types exist in various languages.

Often, the diacritic will be referenced as “the diaeresis” or “the umlaut” depending on its particular function; this distinction based on the diacritic’s (or diacritics’?) significance raises the question, Are there two or one diacritics?  The diaeresis-indicating trema derives from the Greek upsilon (υ), and dates from antiquity; the umlaut-indicating trema derives from the German Kurrentschrift hand “e,” and dates from the nineteenth century.  Thus they are distinct in orthographic function and graphical origin, yet they represent the very same development—the use of a front vowel as a diacritic to indicate some kind of vowel assimilation—in disparate languages in disparate periods.  (It is likely that the ultimate two-dots form of the German umlaut was influenced by an awareness of the classical diaeresis.)

“Trema” is a generic term which refers to the diacritic’s form irrespective of function (from the Greek τρῆμα, meaning “dot,” as on dice).  The terms “diaeresis” and “umlaut” further specify the diacritic by association with specific functions; yet this is inconsistent with the naming conventions of other diacritics.  For example, there is but one acute diacritic (´), notwithstanding its varying functions in the various languages in which it is used.  It would be inelegant to postulate the existence of n acute-looking-diacritics, where n is the number of distinct functions it may have.  The use of the terms “diaeresis” and “umlaut” to refer to the diacritic itself (rather than the underlying phonological phenomena) is similarly inelegant, as it implies a distinction between two diacritics, where in fact there is but one.

Categories: Language, Pedantry, Semantics, Spelling.

Landowska / “historical” style

The video cannot be shown at the moment. Please try again later.

Consider how radically different Landowska’s performance style is to our modern, “historically-informed” style. If this difference represents the extent to which style can evolve in living memory—in just 70 years or so—then we are indulging a silly fantasy if we suppose our playing will not necessarily differ in substantive ways from the 17th- and 18th-century styles we claim as our models. At the same time, Landowska’s playing is not wholly foreign. It sounds like a kind of harpsichord playing; and it sounds like Bach. So it would be equally silly to suppose that what she was doing, and what many of us are trying to do now, is completely unrelated to what music was like in the 17th and 18th centuries. It seems to me that early modern musical culture, if we could observe it directly, would resemble our modern revival of it (pace, all you post-post-modern nihilists). The uncertainty lies only in the extent of the resemblance.

All this to say nothing of Landowska’s (fantastically grotesque) technique, our modern harpsichord technique, and what we suppose the technique(s) of the great virtuosi from the period might have been like.

Categories: Early Music, Harpsichord, History.