In the liturgical manuscripts of the Low Countries several types of notation can be encountered. First there is the Low Countries notation, described in Duitse en Nederlandse muzieknotaties and in the facsimile edition of NL-Uu 406; this can be considered an intermediate form, combining French and German influences. Besides there are other notation types such as Lorraine (Messine).
The oldest specimen of the Low Countries notation, B-Br 14650-59, dating from the 10th century and originating from the southern part of our region, perhaps from Stavelot Abbey, displays more French influences than the younger and more northern manuscripts.
The oldest notations from the region north of the Rhine date from the 12th century. A remarkable detail is that some staffless neumes are provided with flats and naturals to indicate the difference between b and b flat, though no other intervals are notated accurately (e.g. NL-Uc BMH 7).
Staff notation reached the Low Countries from the south; the oldest reference is by Radulphus of St Truiden, ca 1100. The oldest staff notation north of the Rhine is a mid 12th century antiphoner fragment of the Utrecht Paulusabdij.
Besides Low Countries notation, German neumes, Lorraine neumes and
square notation occur. German neumes are found in the eastern part of the
region, and evolved, like the Low Countries notation, into
Hufnagelschrift. Lorraine neumes are found in Flanders and disappear
around the 13th century, partly superseded by square notation, and
perhaps partly dissolving into one of the local styles of Low Countries
notation. Square notation can be found in the south.
Except for the note forms, some visual differences can be observed between the notation types. Although in Hufnagelschrift and Lorraine staff notation the staves are drawn with ink, in square notation they are usually drawn with red paint. Besides, square notation is often provided with vertical lines, sometimes incorrectly called 'bar lines' (espec. in the Flemish region).
The notation types follow more or less the distribution of the East Frankish and West Frankish repertoire variants and their late medieval descendants. The Low Countries notations correspond to the East Frankish variant; the staff notations are clear in this respect, and there is no reason to assume that the staffless neumes are different. Square notation corresponds to the West Frankish variant. The manuscripts with Lorraine notation have not yet been studied.
From the 14th century onwards the frontier between the two dialect
variants and notation types seems to correspond roughly with the
Rhine. Apparently, in the southern part of the region a shift has
taken place towards square notation, combined with the western chant
After ca the 14th century almost exclusively two notation types survive: square notation and Hufnagelschrift as descendants of French and German/Low Countries notation.
Although both German notation and Low Counties notation developed into Hufnagelschrift, in some cases the Low Countries notation can be recognized until the 15th century (e.g. in mss NL-Uu 405 and 408, from the Mariakerk Utrecht).