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    origins of hypermeter

    I have always heard and read, and passed along in my own writing and teaching,  that  the term "hypermeter" was an invention of  Edward Cone's. I just received a communication from Richard Gill, the distinguished Australian conductor and educator, that indicates that Cone may have appropriated the term from poetic scansion.  Gill found the term in a Liber Usualis from 1952, which on p. 127 has "According to a decree of the S[acrosanctum] C[onsilium], dated May 14, 1915, hypermetric or redundant syllables in the hymns may be elided..."  If so, Cone would have adapted the term's meaning, from "extraneous", to something like "above."

    This is news to me and I though might be of interest to others. 

    --Rick Cohn

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    • The term "hypermetric" is used in Rudolph Westphal's Allgemeine Theorie der musikalischen Rhythmik seit J. S. Bach (Leipzig, 1880), which Ed Cone may well have read. A metron that includes two or more cola is called a hypermetron. A period is hypermetric if it contains three or more cola rather than the usual two.

      Cone was a serial non-citer of sources. I'm reasonably convinced that his famous ball-catching paradigm for the musical phrase was inspired by Mathis Lussy's initial ictus and final ictus (the ball toss and ball catch, respectively), as described in Lussy's Le rythme musicale (1883) and L'anacrouse dans la musique moderne (1903). I don't have proof, but Cone did read multiple languages.

      William Rothstein

    • Puzzled by this, I checked my copy of the Antiphonale sacrosanctae Romanae ecclesiae (etc); I have the Vatican edition of 1912. On page 51*-52*, one reads in a section devoted to the singing of hymns a commentary titled De syllabis in hymnodia hypermetricis seu supervenientibus ["Of hypermetric or additional syllables in hymnody"]. It reads (in a fast translation from the Latin):

      "The question here concerns the syllable that exceeds the number of the regular metre, as in the following verses Cum Patre et almo Spiritu, O sola magnaram urbium, Speculator astat desuper. According to the received usage of the Ancients, such syllable should neither be indistinctly expressed nor elided in the song, but pronounced distinctly." [etc.]

      This obviously concerns the singing of hymns because they are based on metric poems and have a musical meter.

      In French, the term hypermètre is attested as early as 1573, in Jacques de la Taille, La Maniere de faire des vers en françois (f° 12 v°), to denote verses that apparently count a supplementary syllable.

      Hypermeter, defined as "anything greater than the standard requires", can be found in the 1828 edition of Johnson and Walker's Dictionary of the English Language (p. 358). [The history of English is apparently less well documented than that of French, or I don't know the good references.]

      I found neither "hypermetre" nor "hypermetric" in my Latin dictionaries, but ýpermetros can of course be found in Ancient Greek dictionaries, meaning "excessive", "disproportionate", etc., or "excessing the measure of a verse".




    • Very interesting! Thanks, Rick. But if I read this correctly the meaning is so different that the correspondance is purely accidental. Cone wouldn't necessarily have known of how the term is used in reference to poetic meter--if he had one imagines that it ought to have been a disincentive to use the same term in a completely different sense.

      Incidentally, Cone only invented the term. The concept is much older. I find it in Weber, but those more knowledgable on this topic I'm sure could locate in earlier treatises.

      --Jason Yust


    • Thanks, Rick, for posting the use of the term “hypermeter” referring to poetry prior to Ed Cone’s 1968 “Musical Form and Musical Performance.”  A Google search of “hypermeter,” “hypermetric,” and closely related terms comes up with a wide range of usages of the term, some of which seem to go back at least as far as the 17th century (according to online dictionaries).  They include not only poetry (where it refers to syllables added to those required by a given poetic meter), but also disorders in animals (such as horses or cats that lift their front legs more than required for a given gait or leap), and more.  In all those types of meanings I checked, the term refers to something that is “extraneous” to a more normal structure or behavior.  That is quite different from Cone’s meaning:  a regular meter above the level of the notated measures.  

      I was in the fall 1966 seminar at Princeton taught by Cone (acknowledged in his 1968 book), in which he read early drafts of the some of the lectures (delivered at Oberlin in January 1967) that became part of that book.  I have a memory of Cone explaining his use of the new music-theoretic term when he first used it, wondering aloud why no one before him had coined a term for a phenomenon that was so ubiquitous in the common-practice-period repertoire (e.g., in Beethoven scherzos).  Indeed, its rapid incorporation into music-theoretical jargon confirms that there was a common phenomenon for which there had been no technical term.  But I have no memory of him relating it to poetry, animal disorders, or anything non-musical. 

      A fair number of students who were in that seminar went on to have careers in music (as theorists, composers, performers, etc.).  They include Joel Gressel, John Heiss, Paul Lansky, Fred Lehrdahl, Victor Rosenbaum, Samuel Rhodes, and Peter Winkler (with apologies for any omissions;  that seminar took place 50 years ago this fall).  Perhaps some of them have other memories of Cone explaining his use of the term. 

      Cone was very erudite (he was Latin salutatorian in his graduating class at Princeton in 1939).  He might well have known of the use of the term outside music.  And he could just as well have thought that he coined the term from its two Latin roots. 

      Joel Lester