Typefaces in traditional music scores

I'd like to know the background from the typefaces used in (hand engraved) music scores. I have looked at the text faces for setting titles, lyrics, tempi and dynamics. Music symbols is another interesting subject, since there is a great decline in typographical standards when comparing computer scores to traditional scores. There is no digital music symbol font that I know of that has attention to all the details that you would find in an engraved score.

Fortunately I have a large library of musical scores, most of which are still hand engraved (from dover publications, many edition peters, etc...). Since music engraving had reached most of it's form in the 19th century, I found that the typefaces used were mostly modern (neo-classical). Titles are mostly modern (display) faces, but other faces, including slab serif are also used. For lyrics also the modern face was often used, but not exclusively. I've found that tempo markings are exclusively set in bold modern, and dynamics in italic modern.

When I looked through "typefaces for books", I found that the font the resembles these the most are modern scotch, rather than the bodoni and didot. The italics look rounder and also the roman t ends in an upwards shape. I have many books, reprinted from old editions that use this font (Forsyth Orchestration, Harry Olson music physics and engineering, Raleigh the theory of sound). Also Donald Knuth's Computer Modern Roman was based on this design.

I would like to know what is the history behind these faces. "Typefaces for books" describes the design as "late transitional", rather than modern, although they are mostly described as modern. They do not seem to be based on Didot or Bodoni.

Celeste's picture

Traditionally, the indications like "piano", "allegro", etc. use some kind of late neo-classical design in italics, like Monotype Modern for example. But, as you say, these were mostly engraved (or lithographed), so these are not typefaces per se.

J. Tillman's picture

related earlier discussion:

kristofbastiaensen's picture

If they are engraved, wouldn't they be called typefaces? Still I have found similar typefaces in many other books, they seem quite standard for the time. These italic typefaces very much resemble the early scotch modern type, for example the italic fonts made by William Miller (according to this article). Does that mean that these late neo-classical fonts are based on the english modern type? Also, has William Miller invented the fonts, or based the design on predecessors?

quadibloc's picture

In the 20th century, a lot of commercial scores of popular music simply had the lyrics typed in - using an IBM Executive typewriter, so that they would almost look printed - usually with the Documentary typestyle.

It was a cheap way to do what would have been very expensive to do with conventional typography, to align each syllable below the appropriate note, and it was well-suited to offset lithograpy.

I'm pretty sure somebody would also have used the Vari-Typer for this (although the chief musical use I remember is the round paper stickers in the middle of LPs) as well. And no doubt others splurged on a Selectric Composer. But the Executive was very widespread.

Celeste's picture

You can definitely call these engraved (or lithographed) lettering based on typefaces designs. Richard Austin cut the punches for the types sold by the Miller typefoundry in Glasgow — his designs owe something to those of Baskerville, and are typical of a very specific brand of British neo-classical type style, less severe than the continental one (Didot, Bodoni, Walbaum). See also related designs such as Bell or Bulmer.

kristofbastiaensen's picture

Thanks, I didn't know about the vari-typer! But since this is a 20th century invention, 19th century engravers still had to punch each letter, right? What about henle, who did metal plate engraving until the 90's?

Regarding Baskerville, Bell, etc, the italic does look mostly like the scotch modern italic, with exceptions: for example the lowercase p has a rounded tail in scotch modern. That's how it's in most scores, even early ones (from 1830).

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