The art of combining simultaneous melodies, the hallmark of Western music (excluding the non-melodic drones of some Byzantine chant and Hindu music). It is believed that polyphony originated as an improvisation technique, a means of solemnizing a traditional monophonic liturgical chant for great feasts. The earliest written evidence of such improvisations, called organum, dates from the ninth century. The earliest practical source is the later of the Winchester tropers (c. 1050).
   For medieval theory, the principal technical problem of polyphony was the syntax of acoustic consonances and dissonances. The perfect octaves, fifths, and fourths were the preferred harmonic intervals; all others were restricted to occasional moments, and cadences were unison.
   Such ideals were easily accomplished as long as the simultaneous melodies always moved together, with the added vox organalis shad-owing the original vox principalis. Melodic independence such as contrary motion, whereby the melodies may move in opposite directions at the same time, complicated the matter and likely encouraged writing down the compositions. Some such appear in the second Winchester Troper. The St. Martial repertory, from 12th-century southern France, introduces a much greater complication, rhythmic independence. When the simultaneous melodies move at different speeds, the singers must know how long to hold pitches in order to coordinate the harmonic syntax.
   Thus polyphony seems to have driven the invention of the rhythmic modes, the first system of rhythmic notation, based on grouping the notes and associated with the cathedral of Notre Dame and the composers Leoninus and Perotinus in Paris in the late 12th century. Rhythmic modes were replaced at the turn of the 14th century, as composers desired even greater melodic-rhythmic independence, by a system called Ars Nova ("the new art") based on the shapes of the notes, in essence the concept behind modern notation.
   As centuries passed, polyphonic composition occupied more and more of the attention of the most talented Christian composers, who had comparatively few opportunities to create in the medium of monophonic chant. Roman Catholic authorities generally did not discourage new polyphonic masses, motets, and other settings of traditional liturgical texts. The more radical of the Protestant reformers, especially Jean Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli, condemned polphony as a distracting artifice and insisted on a return to monophonic psalmody in the early 16th century. Nevertheless, simple kinds of polyphony had been restored to many reformed congregations by the century’s end. Jewish music began to incorporate polyphony in the 17th century, as did the Russian Orthodox Church. In modern times, all serious composers of Western sacred music compose polyphony.
   See also Znamennīy Raspev.

Historical dictionary of sacred music. . 2006.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Polyphony — Po*lyph o*ny, n. [Gr. ?.] 1. Multiplicity of sounds, as in the reverberations of an echo. [1913 Webster] 2. Plurality of sounds and articulations expressed by the same vocal sign. [1913 Webster] 3. (Mus.) Composition in mutually related, equally… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • polyphony — (n.) 1828, multiplicity of sounde, from Gk. polyphonia variety of sounds, from polys many (see POLY (Cf. poly )) + phone voice, sound (see FAME (Cf. fame)). The meaning counterpoint (1864) is perhaps a back formation from the adjective …   Etymology dictionary

  • polyphony — [pə lif′ə nē] n. [Gr polyphōnia: see POLY & PHONY] 1. multiplicity of sounds, as in an echo 2. Music a combining of a number of independent but harmonizing melodies, as in a fugue or canon; counterpoint 3. Phonet. the representation of two or… …   English World dictionary

  • Polyphony — This article is about the musical texture. For the feature of electronic instruments, see Polyphony (instrument). For the feature of texts, see Polyphony (literature). For the choir, see Polyphony (choir). For the company, see Polyphony Digital.… …   Wikipedia

  • polyphony — polyphonous, adj. polyphonously, adv. /peuh lif euh nee/, n. 1. Music. polyphonic composition; counterpoint. 2. Phonet. representation of different sounds by the same letter or symbol. [1820 30; < Gk polyphonía variety of tones. See POLY , PHONY] …   Universalium

  • polyphony — polyphonie фр., нем. [полифони/] polyphonia англ. [полифо/ниа] polyphony [поли/фэни] полифония …   Словарь иностранных музыкальных терминов

  • polyphony —   n. Music, composition in separate, but simultaneous and harmonizing, parts; counterpoint; Phonetics, use of one symbol for several sounds.    ♦ polyphonic, a.    ♦ polyphonist, n. composer of polyphony …   Dictionary of difficult words

  • polyphony — polyphonic ► ADJECTIVE 1) having many sounds or voices. 2) Music (especially of vocal music) in two or more parts each having a melody of its own; contrapuntal. DERIVATIVES polyphony noun (pl. polyphonies) . ORIGIN from Greek polu many + ph n …   English terms dictionary

  • polyphony — noun Etymology: Greek polyphōnia variety of tones, from polyphōnos having many tones or voices, from poly + phōnē voice more at ban Date: circa 1864 a style of musical composition employing two or more simultaneous but relatively independent… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • polyphony — См. polifonìa …   Пятиязычный словарь лингвистических терминов

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