Parnassus, a classic music notation font

Parnassus is a music notation font I am working on, with the goal of capturing the style of old hand-engraved scores.  It is primarily inspired by scores from Edition Peters, Breitkopf & Hartel, Belaieff, etc..  While there are many computer music fonts, some of which claim to be based on old scores, I haven’t found one that really captures all the fine points I enjoy in old editions.  That’s why I started to work on Parnassus.  In fact, Parnassus was meant to be a complete haskell program for experimenting with music layout algrorithms.  There hasn’t been much progress though. The font is far from complete, but the basic glyphs are there: noteheads, accidentals, clefs, flags, numerals, and rests.

Here is an example of my font in action. The example was made using the opensource Musescore program.  A lot of thanks for the developers of Musescore for making my font work in their program! For comparison I added the version with the default font in Musescore (the emmentaler font from the lilypond project). The music is the beginning of the second piano concerto by Liszt (piano reduction):


Liszt concerto 2 – Parnassus font (with musescore)


Liszt concerto 2 – Emmentaler (lilypond) font (with musescore)


Liszt Concerto 2 – Edition Peters

As you can see, my version looks closer to the Peters Edition.


I have based my font on scans from several scores, but I tried not to follow them blindly.  There are a lot of choices to make, for example the width of thin and thick strokes, making sizes consistent accros glyphs, the precise form of a curve.  It’s hard to derive them from a scan, so I choose to make decisions based on how I thought the designer intended the glyphs to be.



There is a lot of contrast between the thick and thin elements.  For example the stem from the flat accidental above is thicker on top than on the bottom.  While it is not so obvious from the scan above, the flat looks that way in the edition Peters scores.  Also the bowl is much thicker, which accentuates the shape.  It gives a nice, calligraphic feel to a score.

Large noteheads

It’s a well know fenomenon in typography, that a round shape actually looks smaller than it is.  Because of this reason round letters, as the letter O are often made a bit bigger to compensate, which is called overshoot Most traditional scores use overshoot for noteheads and other elements.  This brings the notes to the forground.  On the other hand, in computer scores, the font is often too small, which gives an anemic feel to the page.


Blending of notes

One thing I like a lot in old scores, is how some noteheads appear to blend together.  If you looks at the  two half notes to the left, it looks as though they are one shape.  This not only looks very nice, it is also clearer and tidier, becouse it focuses the attention on the whitespace in between them.  Even if most old scores do this, I haven’t found it in any modern music font.

My font currently works only in Musescore. It is made using fontforge, an open source font design program.  [edit] The font will be available under the SIL open font licence.  You can find the files on  github.

11 responses to “Parnassus, a classic music notation font

  1. Abraham Lee says:


    It’s been some time since you worked on Parnassus (at least according to the Github commits). Do you intend to continue creating this font? As you know, I’ve got it working nicely with LilyPond (I call it “Paganini” to comply with SIL OFL), but many of the glyphs don’t change. I was just wondering if you had any updates for me.


  2. Noeck says:

    Dear Kristof,

    is it on purpose that the treble clef has a kink and a shift in the downward line? It is not present in the Peters Edition clef and it looks a bit odd to me. (At the upper intersection of lines.)


    • I am not quite satisfied with the treble clef yet. It is arguably the most difficult glyph to get right. I did create it like this on purpose, but I agree that it doesn’t look very nice on paper. My goal was not to copy the classical fonts literally, but to preserve the spirit. I don’t like when the treble clef is slanted to much, that’s why I had a kink there, but it is not an ideal solution.

    • Abraham says:

      I felt the same when I first saw it, but with everything I’ve seen, this clef design does exist in classical scores, though I can’t remember any specific instances at the moment.

      • Well, that would be rather a coincidence, because I didn’t really take it from an example. I thought it looked fine on screen, but at the right size, printed on paper I don’t like it. The G-clef is very hard, it’s probably going to take me some more tries to get it right.

      • I noticed you used my font as a basis for a lilypond font named Paganini! Please beware that my font isn’t in a finished state. When looking at that pdf, I still see many flaws in the font. The flat and natural accidentals should be more open. The example is also very small, my font should be used with larger staffs, but maybe a little tighter spacing. It is my personal opinion that scores these days are set in a too small size, but use to liberal spacing. Especially for piano score the staves in a system should be as close together as possible, without causing glyphs to overlap.

        Also the stems and the noteheads don’t allign very well. It would be nice if the example was a real vector pdf, rather than a bitmap. I am not doing any font design at the moment, since I am working on a font design program that will have features from metafont and interactive font editors. When I finish that, I hope I come up with a high quality set of text and music fonts for music engraving!

        • Abraham says:

          Well, I didn’t change ANY of your original glyph outlines. I only copied them over to the LilyPond code points.

          And which examples are you referring to that have stem/notehead misalignment? The one at the top of the web page? The font sampler? The example score (Nalada?)

          • I didn’t mean to imply that you did. The glyphs just need more work. But aligning the glyphs with the stem is tricky of course. I was referring to the example pdf score Nalada. Is there a reason you used an image pdf instead of a normal (vector) pdf?

  3. Jan says:


    thanks for creating the Parnassus font and making it available.
    I have included a Parnassus and Paganini setup in my online music font comparison.
    Currently both fonts still look a bit different as Parnassus has less symbols than Paganini and the missing symbols are filled by default with the Maestro font.
    Still I hope you like it.

    Best regards,

    • Nice! It’s interesting to see my font in use and in comparison with other fonts.
      I have stopped working on parnassus, since I am working on an ambitious parametric typography
      project (which may or may not come to conclusion). I hope I can finish parnassus and look
      at the other fine points of music engraving.

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