Introducing “Möller” – A Music Font for German Organ Tablature

Download Möller v.1.2

In the course of typesetting the musical examples for my doctoral dissertation, it dawned on me that there is currently no straightforward way to digitally re-create the notation of German organ tablature. This is perhaps not surprising, given its esoteric nature. Nevertheless, organ tablature was the notational language of choice for many German keyboardists from the early days of keyboard history right up through the end of the 17th century. It seemed to me that a musical language that played such an important role in keyboard history ought to at least be represented in the world of digital music typesetting, even if it is relatively obscure. The lack of a German organ tablature music font was thus my initial motivation for creating Möller.

Another source of motivation came from the development of SMuFL, the Standard Music Font Layout specification, which aims to provide “a standard way of mapping the thousands of musical symbols required by conventional music notation into the Private Use Area in Unicode’s Basic Multilingual Plane for a single (format-independent) font”. Although German organ tablature is hardly a conventional notation, SMuFL goes far beyond this basic remit and provides encoding specifications for a staggering array of musical notations, including various Renaissance and Baroque lute tablatures. In light of their presence within the standard, the absence of German organ tablature represented a striking lacuna.

I designed and created Möller using Adobe Illustrator and FontForge. The tablature letters (Buchstaben), rhythmic stems/grids, and various other glyphs comprising Möller were modelled on those found in the two tablature-notated pieces present in the so-called Möller Manuscript—a collection of organ music by a variety of composers that was compiled c.1704–1707, primarily by Johann Christoph Bach, although several autograph manuscripts by his illustrious younger brother, Johann Sebastian Bach, are also present. There is speculation that the two pieces notated in German organ tablature are, in fact, in the hand of J. S. Bach himself.

Because this is uncharted territory, I am eager for feedback on Möller—particularly as regards the way I’ve anatomized German organ tablature notation for use in digital typography. Check out my proposed SMuFL German organ tablature range here. I would like to formally submit this proposal in the near future, so if you have thoughts, please let me know!

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©2017 by John McKean.

Professional photos by Amy Wilton.