Ziffersystem (Numerical Musical Notation)

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Example of cipher musical notation (ziffersystem) in Liederperlen published by Isaak Born, 1903.
Conrad Grebel University College Library

Thousands of friends of the chorale and the hymn today still read music from numerical notes, which are used to some extent in Germany, France, and Holland. The most loyal and most numerous adherents of this number system, however, were the Mennonites in Russia. From here the system was carried by the various migrations to the United States and Canada and as recently as the 1920s to Paraguay, Mexico, and Brazil.

According to The Story of Notation by C. Willems, Souhaitty, a Franciscan monk of Paris, suggested in 1677 that the figures 1 to 7 be used instead of ut, re, me, fa, sol, la, se and that points be added to locate their position on the staff.

In Rousseau's system and in Raymond's work of 1824 dots above and below the figures were to locate the note in the octave; but this was apparently found inadequate. Then Jacob, a French violinist, advised in 1769 that the staff without a signature should be used and numbers be used instead of notes. Other contributors to the method were Pierre Galin (1786-1821), Aimé Paris (1798-1866), and Emile Chevé. Of all these pioneers Rousseau was perhaps closest to the realization of this idea, a practical, easily learned system. It was developed in Germany by Bernhard Christian Ludwig Natorp (1772-1836), a theologian, who made it acceptable for singing. In 1813 Natorp used the figures 1 to 7 for the steps of the scale, indicating the location of the note on the staff by placing a single line under, on, or over it, and using a zero as a rest, and indicating length by adding dashes, dots, and commas. His work went through five editions in Germany. Of his works the following can be mentioned: Ueber den Zweck und die Einrichtungen des Melodienbuches für den Gemeindegesang (1822) and Ueber den Gesang in den Kirchen (1817).

The only Mennonite songbook using numerical notation is the one edited by Heinrich Franz for the Mennonite churches of South Russia, printed at Leipzig, Germany, 1860 and 1880. Five editions were printed in America: two at Elkhart, IN, 1878 and 1918, and three in Manitoba, the last in Altona in 1953.

Illustration of the Ziffersystem of notation of P. P. Bliss' song "Wuenschen, Hoffen, Wissen" as printed in Vol III (1897) of Liederperlen compared with the modern standard oval notation of the same song printed in Evangeliums Lieder (Biglow & Main, 1897).

The following Mennonite musical publications have been printed with numerical notation: Heinrich Franz, Choralbuch (four-part edition, Leipzig, 1860 and 1880) (one-part edition Leipzig, 1865); reprint of the 1865 edition, at Elkhart (1878 and 1918) at Steinbach, Manitoba (1902, printed at Elkhart), at Altona, Manitoba (n.d., and 1946); Choralbuch in vierstimmigem Tonsatz zum Gebrauch in Kirche, Schule and Haus der Mennoniten-Gemeinden, Zusammengestellt im Auftrage der Predigerkonferenz (n.p., Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1935); Joh. Enss, Schulchoralbuch (1886); Choralbuch (n.p., 1914); J. H. Janzen, Choralbuch (1930 in Canada); A. Sawatzky, Gesangschule in Noten and Ziffernoten (n.d., n.p.); G. J. Peters, title unknown (n.p., n.d.); in monthly periodical form, Isaak Born, Sängerfreund (1889-90, 18 months) and Is. Born, H. Braun, K. Neufeld, and J. Janzen, Liederperlen 1891-1914; songbooks as follows: Liedersammlung (von einigen Lehrern 1896); W. N. Russkije pessni (1896); W. N. and J. R., Festgesänge (Part II, 1897); J. and H. Braun, Kinder-Harfe (1902); I. S. Prochanov, Gusli (1911?); J. Froese, Sangesblüten (1914); J. Janzen, Liederalbum (Part I, 1914). A mimeographed edition of selections from the four-part edition of 1860 was published about 1943 in Chortitz, Manitoba.

Author(s) Johann Peter Klassen
Elizabeth Horsch Bender
Harold S. Bender
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Klassen, Johann Peter, Elizabeth Horsch Bender and Harold S. Bender. "Ziffersystem (Numerical Musical Notation)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 22 May 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ziffersystem_(Numerical_Musical_Notation)&oldid=177513.

APA style

Klassen, Johann Peter, Elizabeth Horsch Bender and Harold S. Bender. (1959). Ziffersystem (Numerical Musical Notation). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 May 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ziffersystem_(Numerical_Musical_Notation)&oldid=177513.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 1027-1028, 1139. All rights reserved.

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