Polyphony

Polyphony

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In music
Music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

, polyphony is a texture
Texture (music)
In music, texture is the way the melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic materials are combined in a composition , thus determining the overall quality of sound of a piece...

 consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice (monophony
Monophony
In music, monophony is the simplest of textures, consisting of melody without accompanying harmony. This may be realized as just one note at a time, or with the same note duplicated at the octave . If the entire melody is sung by two voices or a choir with an interval between the notes or in...

) or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chord
Chord (music)
A chord in music is any harmonic set of two–three or more notes that is heard as if sounding simultaneously. These need not actually be played together: arpeggios and broken chords may for many practical and theoretical purposes be understood as chords...

s (homophony
Homophony
In music, homophony is a texture in which two or more parts move together in harmony, the relationship between them creating chords. This is distinct from polyphony, in which parts move with rhythmic independence, and monophony, in which all parts move in parallel rhythm and pitch. A homophonic...

).

Within the context of the Western musical tradition, the term is usually used to refer to music of the late Middle Ages
Medieval music
Medieval music is Western music written during the Middle Ages. This era begins with the fall of the Roman Empire and ends sometime in the early fifteenth century...

 and Renaissance
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

. Baroque
Baroque music
Baroque music describes a style of Western Classical music approximately extending from 1600 to 1760. This era follows the Renaissance and was followed in turn by the Classical era...

 forms such as the fugue
Fugue
In music, a fugue is a compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject that is introduced at the beginning in imitation and recurs frequently in the course of the composition....

, which might be called polyphonic, are usually described instead as contrapuntal
Counterpoint
In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm and are harmonically interdependent . It has been most commonly identified in classical music, developing strongly during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period,...

. Also, as opposed to the species terminology of counterpoint, polyphony was generally either "pitch-against-pitch" / "point-against-point" or "sustained-pitch" in one part with melisma
Melisma
Melisma, in music, is the singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes in succession. Music sung in this style is referred to as melismatic, as opposed to syllabic, where each syllable of text is matched to a single note.-History:Music of ancient cultures used...

s of varying lengths in another (van der Werf, 1997). In all cases the conception was likely what Margaret Bent (1999) calls "dyadic counterpoint", with each part being written generally against one other part, with all parts modified if needed in the end. This point-against-point conception is opposed to "successive composition", where voices were written in an order with each new voice fitting into the whole so far constructed, which was previously assumed.

Origins


Although the exact origins of polyphony in the Western church traditions are unknown, the treatises Musica enchiriadis
Musica enchiriadis
Musica enchiriadis is an anonymous musical treatise from the 9th century. It is the first surviving attempt to establish a system of rules for polyphony in classical music. The treatise was once attributed to Hucbald, but this is no longer accepted. Some historians once attributed it to Odo of...

and Schola enchiriadis, both dating from c. 900, are usually considered the oldest extant written examples of polyphony. These treatises provided examples of two-voice note-against-note embellishments of chants using parallel octaves, fifths, and fourths. Rather than being fixed works, they indicated ways of improvising polyphony during performance. The Winchester Troper
Winchester troper
The Winchester Troper includes perhaps the oldest large collections of two-part music in Europe, along with the Chartres Manuscript which is approximately contemporaneous or a little later. It consists of two English manuscripts dated circa 1000...

, from c. 1000, is the oldest extant example of notated polyphony for chant performance, although the notation does not indicate precise pitch levels or durations.

Traditional (non-professional) polyphony has a wide, if uneven distribution among the peoples of the world. Most polyphonic regions of the world are sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and Oceania. It is believed that origins of polyphony in traditional music vastly predates the emergence of polyphony in European professional music. Currently there are two contradicting approaches to the problem of the origins of vocal polyphony: Cultural Model, and Evolutionary Model. According to the Cultural Model, origins of polyphony are connected to the development of human musical culture; polyphony came as the natural development of the primordial monophonic singing; therefore polyphonic traditions are bound to replace gradually monophonic traditions. According to the Evolutionary Model, origins of polyphonic singing are much deeper, and are connected to the earlier stages of human evolution; polyphony was an important part of a defence system of the hominids, and traditions of polyphony are gradually disappearing all over the world.

Historical context


European polyphony rose out of melismatic organum
Organum
Organum is, in general, a plainchant melody with at least one added voice to enhance the harmony, developed in the Middle Ages. Depending on the mode and form of the chant, a supporting bass line may be sung on the same text, the melody may be followed in parallel motion , or a combination of...

, the earliest harmonization of the chant. Twelfth century composers, such as Léonin
Léonin
Léonin is the first known significant composer of polyphonic organum. He was probably French, probably lived and worked in Paris at the Notre Dame Cathedral and was the earliest member of the Notre Dame school of polyphony and the ars antiqua style who is known by name...

 and Pérotin
Pérotin
Pérotin , also called Perotin the Great, was a European composer, believed to be French, who lived around the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th century. He was the most famous member of the Notre Dame school of polyphony and the ars antiqua style...

 developed the organum that was introduced centuries earlier, and also added a third and fourth voice to the now homophonic chant. In the thirteenth century, the chant-based tenor was becoming altered, fragmented, and hidden beneath secular tunes, obscuring the sacred texts as composers continued to play with this new invention called polyphony. The lyrics of love poems might be sung above sacred texts in the form of a trope
Trope (music)
A trope or tropus may be a variety of different things in medieval and modern music.The term trope derives from the Greek τρόπος , "a turn, a change" , related to the root of the verb τρέπειν , "to turn, to direct, to alter, to change"...

, or the sacred text might be placed within a familiar secular melody.

These musical innovations appeared in a greater context of societal change. After the first millennium, European monks decided to start translating the works of Greek philosophers into the vernacular. Western Europeans were aware of Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

, Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

, and Hippocrates
Hippocrates
Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles , and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine...

 during the Middle Ages. However they had largely lost touch with the content of their surviving works because the use of Greek as a living language was restricted to the lands of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

). The ancient works started then being translated. Once they were accessible, the philosophies had a great impact on the mind of Western Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

.

This sparked a number of innovations in medicine, science, art, and music.

The oldest surviving piece of six-part music is the English rota
Rota (music)
A rota is a type of vocal round of the 13th and 14th centuries, probably only in England.In the rota, as opposed to the rondellus, the voices entered one at a time, each singing precisely what the previous voice sang, exactly as in the modern round...

 Sumer is icumen in
Sumer Is Icumen In
"Sumer Is Icumen In" is a traditional English round, and possibly the oldest such example of counterpoint in existence. The title might be translated as "Summer has come in" or "Summer has arrived"....

(c. 1240). (Albright, 2004)

Catholic Church



European polyphony rose prior to, and during the period of the Western Schism
Western Schism
The Western Schism or Papal Schism was a split within the Catholic Church from 1378 to 1417. Two men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope. Driven by politics rather than any theological disagreement, the schism was ended by the Council of Constance . The simultaneous claims to the papal chair...

. Avignon
Avignon
Avignon is a French commune in southeastern France in the départment of the Vaucluse bordered by the left bank of the Rhône river. Of the 94,787 inhabitants of the city on 1 January 2010, 12 000 live in the ancient town centre surrounded by its medieval ramparts.Often referred to as the...

, the seat of the antipope
Antipope
An antipope is a person who opposes a legitimately elected or sitting Pope and makes a significantly accepted competing claim to be the Pope, the Bishop of Rome and leader of the Roman Catholic Church. At times between the 3rd and mid-15th century, antipopes were typically those supported by a...

s, was a vigorous center of secular music-making, much of which influenced sacred polyphony.

It was not merely polyphony that offended the medieval ears, but the notion of secular music merging with the sacred and making its way into the papal court. It gave church music more of a jocular performance quality removing the solemn worship they were accustomed to. The use of and attitude toward polyphony varied widely in the Avignon court from the beginning to the end of its religious importance in the fourteenth century. Harmony was not only considered frivolous, impious, and lascivious, but an obstruction to the audibility of the words. Instruments, as well as certain modes, were actually forbidden in the church because of their association with secular music and pagan rites. Dissonant clashes of notes give a creepy feeling that was labeled as evil, fueling their argument against polyphony as being the devil’s music. After banishing polyphony from the Liturgy in 1322, Pope John XXII
Pope John XXII
Pope John XXII , born Jacques Duèze , was pope from 1316 to 1334. He was the second Pope of the Avignon Papacy , elected by a conclave in Lyon assembled by Philip V of France...

 spoke in his 1324 Bull Docta Sanctorum Patrum warning against the unbecoming elements of this musical innovation. Pope Clement VI
Pope Clement VI
Pope Clement VI , bornPierre Roger, the fourth of the Avignon Popes, was pope from May 1342 until his death in December of 1352...

, however, indulged in it.

It was in 1364, during the pontificate of Pope Urban V
Pope Urban V
Pope Urban V , born Guillaume Grimoard, was Pope from 1362 to 1370.-Biography:Grimoard was a native of Grizac in Languedoc . He became a Benedictine and a doctor in Canon Law, teaching at Montpellier and Avignon...

, that composer and priest Guillaume de Machaut
Guillaume de Machaut
Guillaume de Machaut was a Medieval French poet and composer. He is one of the earliest composers on whom significant biographical information is available....

 composed the first polyphonic setting of the mass called La Messe de Nostre Dame
Messe de Nostre Dame
Messe de Nostre Dame is a polyphonic mass composed before 1365 by the French poet, composer and cleric Guillaume de Machaut...

.

Notable works and artists

  • Johann Sebastian Bach
    Johann Sebastian Bach
    Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

    , List of famous compositions
  • Tomas Luis de Victoria
    Tomás Luis de Victoria
    Tomás Luis de Victoria, sometimes Italianised as da Vittoria , was the most famous composer of the 16th century in Spain, and one of the most important composers of the Counter-Reformation, along with Giovanni da Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso. Victoria was not only a composer, but also an...

  • William Byrd
    William Byrd
    William Byrd was an English composer of the Renaissance. He wrote in many of the forms current in England at the time, including various types of sacred and secular polyphony, keyboard and consort music.-Provenance:Knowledge of Byrd's biography expanded in the late 20th century, thanks largely...

    , Mass for Five Voices
  • Thomas Tallis
    Thomas Tallis
    Thomas Tallis was an English composer. Tallis flourished as a church musician in 16th century Tudor England. He occupies a primary place in anthologies of English church music, and is considered among the best of England's early composers. He is honoured for his original voice in English...

  • Orlandus Lassus, Missa super Bella'Amfitrit'altera
  • Guillaume de Machaut
    Guillaume de Machaut
    Guillaume de Machaut was a Medieval French poet and composer. He is one of the earliest composers on whom significant biographical information is available....

    , Messe de Nostre Dame
    Messe de Nostre Dame
    Messe de Nostre Dame is a polyphonic mass composed before 1365 by the French poet, composer and cleric Guillaume de Machaut...

  • Jacob Obrecht
    Jacob Obrecht
    Jacob Obrecht was a Flemish composer of the Renaissance. He was the most famous composer of masses in Europe in the late 15th century, being eclipsed by only Josquin des Prez after his death.-Life:...

  • Palestrina
    Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
    Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was an Italian Renaissance composer of sacred music and the best-known 16th-century representative of the Roman School of musical composition...

    , Missa Papae Marcelli
    Missa Papae Marcelli
    Missa Papae Marcelli, or Pope Marcellus Mass, is a mass by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. It is his most well-known and most often-performed mass, and is frequently taught in university courses on music...

  • Josquin des Prez
    Josquin Des Prez
    Josquin des Prez [Josquin Lebloitte dit Desprez] , often referred to simply as Josquin, was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance...

    , Missa Pange Lingua
    Missa Pange lingua
    The Missa Pange lingua is a musical setting of the Ordinary of the Mass by Franco-Flemish composer Josquin des Prez, probably dating from around 1515, near the end of his life...

  • Gregorio Allegri
    Gregorio Allegri
    Gregorio Allegri was an Italian composer of the Roman School and brother of Domenico Allegri; he was also a priest and a singer. He lived mainly in Rome, where he would later die.-Life:...

    , Miserere
    Miserere (Allegri)
    Miserere, full name "Miserere mei, Deus" by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri, is a setting of Psalm 51 composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII, probably during the 1630s, for use in the Sistine Chapel during matins, as part of the exclusive Tenebrae service on Wednesday and Friday of Holy...


Balkan region


Polyphonic singing in the Balkans is traditional folk singing of this part of southern Europe. It is also called ancient, archaic or old -style singing.
  • Byzantine chant
    Ison (music)
    Ison is a drone note, or a slow-moving lower vocal part, used in Byzantine chant and some related musical traditions to accompany the melody, thus enriching the singing, at the same time not transforming it into a harmonized or polyphonic piece.- History :...

  • Ojkanje singing
    Ojkanje singing
    Ojkanje singing, or just ojkanje, is a tradition of polyphonic folk singing from the Dalmatian hinterland region in Croatia, marked by a distinctive voice-shaking technique. In 2010 it has been inscribed in UNESCOs List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.-External links:*...

    , in Croatia
    Croatia
    Croatia , officially the Republic of Croatia , is a unitary democratic parliamentary republic in Europe at the crossroads of the Mitteleuropa, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean. Its capital and largest city is Zagreb. The country is divided into 20 counties and the city of Zagreb. Croatia covers ...

  • Ganga singing
    Ganga (music)
    Ganga is a type of singing from rural Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is characterized by a lone singer singing one line of lyrics and then others joining in for what can be best described as a wail. It is a very passionate form of singing, which is one of the reasons it has been limited in...

    , in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina
    Bosnia and Herzegovina
    Bosnia and Herzegovina , sometimes called Bosnia-Herzegovina or simply Bosnia, is a country in Southern Europe, on the Balkan Peninsula. Bordered by Croatia to the north, west and south, Serbia to the east, and Montenegro to the southeast, Bosnia and Herzegovina is almost landlocked, except for the...

  • Epirote singing
    Polyphonic song of Epirus
    The Polyphonic song of Epirus is a form of traditional folk polyphony practiced among Greeks, Albanians, Aromanians and Macedonian Slavs in southern Albania and northwestern Greece....

    , in northern Greece
    Greece
    Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

     and southern Albania (see below)
  • Iso-polyphony in southern Albania (see below)
  • Gusle
    Gusle
    The Gusle is a single-stringed musical instrument traditionally used in the Dinarides region of the Balkans ....

     singing, in Serbia
    Serbia
    Serbia , officially the Republic of Serbia , is a landlocked country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe, covering the southern part of the Carpathian basin and the central part of the Balkans...

    , Montenegro
    Montenegro
    Montenegro Montenegrin: Crna Gora Црна Гора , meaning "Black Mountain") is a country located in Southeastern Europe. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the south-west and is bordered by Croatia to the west, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast and Albania to the...

    , Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Albania
  • Lazarice
    Lazarice
    Lazarice is a Serbian tradition of procession during the Serbian Orthodox feast of Lazareva Subota the parade consists of six maids....

     singing, in Serbia
  • Woman choirs of Shopi
    Shopi
    Shopi is a regional term referring to people that speak a transitional dialect group of South Slavic, self-identifying as Bulgarians, Macedonians and Serbs. The areas traditionally inhabited by the Shopi is called Shopluk Shopi (scientific transliteration of Bulgarian, Macedonian, ; Serbian latin...

     and Pirin
    Pirin
    The Pirin Mountains are a mountain range in southwestern Bulgaria, with Vihren the highest peak, situated at . The range extends about 40 km northwest-southeast, and about 25 km wide. Most of the range is protected in the Pirin National Park...

    , in Bulgaria
    Bulgaria
    Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...



Incipient polyphony (previously primitive polyphony) includes antiphony and call and response
Call and response (music)
In music, a call and response is a succession of two distinct phrases usually played by different musicians, where the second phrase is heard as a direct commentary on or response to the first...

, drones
Drone (music)
In music, a drone is a harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment where a note or chord is continuously sounded throughout most or all of a piece. The word drone is also used to refer to any part of a musical instrument that is just used to produce such an effect.-A musical effect:A drone...

, and parallel intervals.

The polyphonic singing tradition of Epirus
Polyphonic song of Epirus
The Polyphonic song of Epirus is a form of traditional folk polyphony practiced among Greeks, Albanians, Aromanians and Macedonian Slavs in southern Albania and northwestern Greece....

 is a form of traditional folk polyphony practiced among Albanians, Greeks, Aromanians and Macedonian Slavs in southern Albania and northwestern Greece. This type of folk vocal tradition is also found in the Republic of Macedonia
Republic of Macedonia
Macedonia , officially the Republic of Macedonia , is a country located in the central Balkan peninsula in Southeast Europe. It is one of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, from which it declared independence in 1991...

 and Bulgaria
Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

.
Albanian polyphonic singing can be divided into two major stylistic groups as performed by the Tosks and Labs of southern Albania. The drone is performed in two ways: among the Tosks, it is always continuous and sung on the syllable ‘e’, using staggered breathing; while among the Labs, the drone is sometimes sung as a rhythmic tone, performed to the text of the song. It can be differentiated between two-, three- and four-voice polyphony.

The phenomenon of Albanian folk iso-polyphony has been proclaimed by UNESCO a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity". The term "iso" refers to the drone, which accompanies the iso-polyphonic singing and is related to the ison of Byzantine
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 church music, where the drone group accompanies the song.

Caucasus region


Polyphonic singing is also found in Georgia
Georgia (country)
Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital of...

, though it is believed to be under threat.

See also

  • Counterpoint
    Counterpoint
    In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm and are harmonically interdependent . It has been most commonly identified in classical music, developing strongly during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period,...

  • Micropolyphony
    Micropolyphony
    Micropolyphony is a type of 20th century musical texture involving the use of sustained dissonant chords that shift slowly over time. According to David Cope, "a simultaneity of different lines, rhythms, and timbres"...

  • 3rd Bridge
    3rd Bridge
    The 3rd bridge is an extended playing technique used on some string instruments , that allows a musician to produce distinctive timbres and overtones that are unavailable on a conventional string instrument with two bridges...

    , a multiphonic string division sound

External links