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Re: Alternative music font

From: Jan Nieuwenhuizen
Subject: Re: Alternative music font
Date: Mon, 19 Oct 2009 14:55:52 +0200

Op maandag 19-10-2009 om 08:15 uur [tijdzone +0000], schreef Simon Tatham:

Hi Simon,

I've recently drawn a new font of musical symbols for use with
> Lilypond, which look more like the ones I'm used to and hence
> distract me less. I put it up on the web this weekend at
Wow.  You created a full font?  That must have taken quite some time!
I think Feta took Han-Wen and me something between one and two
man-years of work.

Reading what you write on your site

    I designed it because Lilypond's standard font (Feta) was
    not to my taste: I found it to be (variously) over-ornate,
    strangely proportioned, and subtly not like the music I was
    used to reading.

    Music set in Feta looks to me like strangely stylised music;
    music set in Gonville just looks to me like music, so I can
    read it without being distracted so much.

I feel a bit disappointed because one of my goals was to create a font
that would look like the most beautiful music that I have seen.  As
one of our explicit goals for LilyPond is for the printed music /not/
to distract the player, we evidently failed to achieve this for you.

Looking at Gonville it's not so difficult to imagine for me how this
could be, as I cannot remember ever having seen music that looks much
like it.  For example, the up-flags are much fatter and
rounder/shorter than the down flags, is that intentional?

What is the status of the font, is it ready for general use, is it

Up till now we have been advertising Feta as being "the" lilypond font
and describing it mostly with general terms as "beautiful" and
"designed after the best typesetting traditions".  In some places,
possibly the essay and talks, we elaborated on the fatness, eg see the
short note of font design at

Now that you created a second working font for Lily, it would be
nice if both fonts were [more explicitly] advertised as to what
they were designed after.  The LilyPond font sources contain
quite a few citings of sources of inspiration, eg

  % Couldn't find many z examples.  This one is losely inspired
  % by a sfz from Mueller Etuden fuer Horn (Edition Hofmeister).

  % Inspired by Adobe Sonata and [Wanske].
  % For example, see POSTSCRIPT Language -- program design,
  % page 119, and [Wanske], p 41, 42.

  % [Wanske] says the bulbs should be positioned about 1/4 right of the
  % `arrow'.

  % [Wanske] and some Baerenreiter editions
  % suggest about 80 degrees instead of a half-circle

  % Inspired by a (by now) PD edition of Durand & C'ie edition of
  % Saint-Saens' Celloconcerto no. 1

  % For example, the 8th rest was vaguely based on a book with trumpet
  % studies by Duhem, and by Baerenreiters cello suites. I included my
  % findings in a comment in the mf file.  One of the things that I tried
  % to do was make the rest a little lighter and narrower than the black
  % note head. I think this looks better in polyphonic music, when the
  % rest is below a head from a different voice.

  % inspired by Bamberger Manuscript (15th century), in:
  % MGG, volume 2, table 59.

A somewhat better way than "beautiful" to describe Feta could be
something like

    the design is inspired by fonts used in traditional manual
    engravings publish by European music publishers in/towards the end
    of the first half of the 20th century [Baerenreiter, Duhem,
    Durand, Hofmeister, Peters, Schott].  This is sometimes regarded
    as the peak of traditional musical engraving practice [Hader,
    Wanske], [in
    we call it our Gold standard] [??]

    Annotations can be found in the font's source code.  Criteria for
    the choice of inspirational glyphs are blackness or boldness.  In
    contrast: computer-made often looks very "white".  Delicacy or
    roundness.  No outer corners of glyphs should have sharp edges, as
    the eye tends to "stick" to those points.  Finally commonness or
    familiarness.  A glyph should not look suprisingly unique.

    Further, common [text-]font considerations were taken into
    account.  For example, a glyph should look balanced out.  It
    should not lean backward of forward, inviting the reader to catch
    it before it falls over :-)  There should also be a black/white
    balance.  It should still look good printed in a long row.  It
    should look good on screen as well as on paper [quite different
    from a computer screen, sometimes].  Curves should be smooth, have
    no discontinuities.

What would a more explicit description of Gonville be?  It would be
nice if you could describe the criteria and sources of your
inspiration, as opposed to contrasting it to Feta's apparent failure
to meet those :-)

Do you intend to have Gonville included in LilyPond?

In that case it would be good if you had a [few] high resolution scans
of music that Gonville strives to mimic.  Is this perhaps a [step
toward a] jazz font that users have been asking for?

What bothers me a bit is the lightness of the font.  I consider this
to be an error frequently made by most post-manual/engraver [read:
computer/programmer] produced music.

Eg the 4/4 "C", the flat/neutral/sharp symbols [they have straight,
non-brushed] stems.  Also the note heads look a bit small, cat 3 or
even 4, is that right on this scale from blackest to whitest [1..4]

    1. Some traditional: slight overshoot, extending outside
       of staff line.  We did not dare to do this, but it is
       possible and there is a comment about this in the code.

        staff line -----/note\-----
                   ----/      \----
                      /  head  \

    2. Feta: maximum height, just-no-overshoot

        staffline -----+----+-----
                  ----/ note \----
                     /  head  \

    3. Some traditional: slight undershoot

         staffline   ---______---
                     --/ note \--
                      /  head  \

    4. Most pre-lilypond ;-) computer-made music: just barely 
       touching staff line

         staffline ------------
                     / head \

> Currently the only way I've found to use that font with LilyPond is
> to create a symlink mirror of the entire Lilypond data directory,
> replace the 'fonts' subdirectory, and point $LILYPOND_DATADIR at the
> altered copy. Would it be possible to introduce a command-line or
> configuration option of some sort, to make it easier to select an
> alternative font? (Or is there one I've missed?)

I think the glyph lookup and handling code is already parametrized.

Have a look at lily/, it gets the default
font from


  #(define font-defaults
     '((font-encoding . fetaMusic)))

It looks like you'd want to keep the fetaMusic encoding and add some
other characteristic, possibly -family, -shape, or -series.  So we
could have

  #(define font-defaults
     '((font-encoding . fetaMusic) (font-family . feta)))

which you can then override by using (font-family . gonville) in a
\paper {} block.  I'm sure if we set these for Feta already and if
the font selection mechanism look at these too.


Jan Nieuwenhuizen <address@hidden> | GNU LilyPond - The music typesetter
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