Double whole note

Left: breve in modern notation. Centre: breve in mensural notation used in some modern scores as well. Right: less common stylistic variant of the first form.

In music, a double whole note (American), breve (international), or double note (Baker 1895, 133; Burrowes 1874, 41) is a note lasting two times as long as a whole note (or semibreve). In medieval mensural notation, the brevis (ancestor of the modern breve) was one of the shortest note lengths—hence its name, which is the Latin etymon of "brief" (Read 1969, 14). In "perfect" rhythmic mode, the brevis was a third of a longa, or in "imperfect" mode half a longa (for full details of the complications here, see for example Hoppin 1978). However, in modern music notation it is the longest note value still in common use (Gehrkens 1914, 106).

In modern notation, a breve is represented in two ways: by a hollow oval note head, like a whole note, with one or two vertical lines on either side, as on the left of the image, and as the rectangular shape also found in older notation, shown in the middle of the image (Jacob 1960, 21; Read 1969, 459; Gerou and Lusk 1996, 210).

Because it lasts longer than a bar in most modern time signatures, the breve is now rarely encountered except in English music, where the half-note is often used as the beat unit (Gherkens 1914, 11). However, in time signatures where the top number is exactly twice that of the bottom, such as 4/2 or 8/4, it lasts a whole bar and so may still be found.

Breve rest

Breve rest

A related symbol is the double whole rest (double rest or breve rest), which usually denotes a silence for the same duration (Burrowes 1874, 41; Read 1969, 93). Double whole rests are drawn as filled-in rectangles occupying the whole vertical space between the second and third lines from the top of the musical staff. They are often used in long silent passages which are not divided into separate bars to indicate a rest of two bars (Read 1969, 101). This and longer rests are collectively known as multiple rests (Read 1969, 99).

The names of this note and rest in different languages vary greatly:

Language note name rest name
Basque karratu / laburra
Catalan quadrada / breu silenci de quadrada / silenci de breu
Dutch brevis brevisrust
French carrée bâton de pause
Galician cadrada / breve silencio de cadrada / silencio de breve /
pausa de cadrada / pausa de breve
German Doppelganze / Doppelganzenote / Brevis doppelganze Pause
Italian breve pausa di breve
Portuguese breve pausa de breve
Spanish cuadrada / doble redonda silencio de cuadrada / silencio de breve
Swedish brevisnot brevispaus
Russian бревис / двойная целая бревис / двойная целая

The Basque karratu, Catalan quadrada, Galician cadrada, French carrée, and Spanish cuadrada (all meaning "square") derive from the fact that the brevis was distinguished by its square stemless shape, which is true as well of one of the two modern forms (in contrast to the whole note or longer and shorter values with stems). The Basque laburra (meaning "short" or "brief") is a translation of the Latin brevis.

Alla breve

Main article: Alla breve

Alla breve, the time signature 2/2, takes its name from the note value breve. In the mensural notation of the Renaissance, it was an alternative term for proportio dupla, which meant that the brevis was to be considered the unit of time (tactus), instead of the usual semibrevis. The old symbol , used as an alternative to the numerical proportion 2:1 in mensural notation, is carried over into modern notational practice to indicate a smaller relative value per note shape. It is normally used for music in a relatively quick tempo, where it indicates two minim (half note) beats in a bar of four crotchets, while is the equivalent of 4/4, with four crotchet beats (Wright 2001).


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