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MEDIEVAL POLYPHONIC MUSIC: an introduction
MEDIEVAL
POLYPHONIC MUSIC:
an introduction
BY SAGE HARRISON
BY SAGE HARRISON

Chapter 1

Chapter 1
Chapter 1

MELODY

Chapter 1 MELODY Melody has always existed in music. Early music from the Medieval period (approx
Chapter 1 MELODY Melody has always existed in music. Early music from the Medieval period (approx

Melody has always existed in music. Early music from the Medieval period (approx 400-1450 AD) usually consisted of a single melodic line, accompanied by a drone or pedal tone. This arrangement is referred to as a monophonic texture. The name “monophonic” comes from the latin root “mono,” meaning one.

But what if we wrote music with more than one melody? In the early 13th century, composers Leonin and Perotin did just that- and invented polyphonic music.

Polyphony vs. Monophony When we think about Medieval music, most of the time the music we
Polyphony vs.
Monophony
When we think about Medieval music, most of
the time the music we think of is “mono-
phonic.” Even if you’ve never heard this word
before, you’ll probably know it when you hear
it. Please listen to the audio example 1.1.
Monophonic music is characterized by a single
melody line, accompanied by a drone of pedal
tone. It is usually a capella, however, light in-
strumentation is sometimes present. In the ex -
ample you just listened to, chimes can occasion -
ally be heard.
Audio 1. 1 Leo - nin’s Liderunt Omnes This example uses a mono - phonic texture.
Audio 1. 1 Leo -
nin’s Liderunt
Omnes
This example
uses a mono -
phonic texture.
Gallery 1. 1 Early Notation Systems Unheightened Neumes- the lines and dashes above the lyrics indicate
Gallery 1. 1 Early Notation Systems
Unheightened Neumes- the lines and dashes above
the lyrics indicate the general shape of the melodic
line, but they are not precise.

The main focus of music from the era was to create beautiful, lyrical melody lines, and to bring out the overall tonality of the piece. The drone on ‘do’ helps listeners to identify the tonality of the piece because characteristic notes of each mode stand out from the major or minor tonality we might be expecting.

In the late 13th century, composers Leonin and Pero - tin introduced new structure of music. Instead of only one melody line, their music contained 2 or even as many as 4 parts, each of which was distinct and independent of the others. This genre of song was originally called “organum.” Leonin and Pero - tin were so adept at writing in this genre that they composed an entire book of organum, called “Mag - nus Liber Organi” or the Great Book of Organum. This book contained music for a complete annual cy- cle of mass. That means that music could be per - formed from this book for an entire year of masses, and never repeat a song.

Please listen to Audio Example 1.2

Audio 1. 2 Alleluia Nativitas The different parts inter- act in this song to create harmony.
Audio 1. 2 Alleluia
Nativitas
The different parts inter-
act in this song to create
harmony.
Review 1. 1 Section 1- Multiple Choice What is an Organum? A. A song composed for
Review 1. 1 Section 1- Multiple Choice
What is an Organum?
A.
A song composed for mass
B.
A 2-part song consisting of a drone
and melody
C.
A Medieval chant
D.
An early type of polyphonic music
based on chant
Check Answer

Chapter 2

Chapter 2
Chapter 2

HARMONY

Chapter 2 HARMONY When a song consists only of a melody and a drone, there is
Chapter 2 HARMONY When a song consists only of a melody and a drone, there is

When a song consists only of a melody and a drone, there is very little room for harmony. Chords can be difficult to form, and are often missing important notes, such as the root or third.

However, when we are writing polyphonic music, harmony is an important consideration. There are many components to writing polyphonic music, and harmony can sometimes be the most difficult to master. This chapter will explore one of the key element to harmony in polyphonic music- contrapuntal motion.

CONTRAPUNTAL MOTION ❖ There are 4 types of contrapuntal motion which we will explore in this
CONTRAPUNTAL MOTION
❖ There are 4 types of contrapuntal motion
which we will explore in this chapter.
❖ In music theory- contrapuntal motion is the
general movement of two melodic lines in
relation to each other.
❖ If you’re trying to determine the type of
motion you’re looking at, ask yourself “what
direction are the notes moving in?” and “how
do they get there?”

SECTION 1

CONTRAPUNTAL MOTION ❖ There are 4 types of contrapuntal motion which we will explore in this

Contrapuntal Motion

So, what is contrapuntal motion? If you’ve never heard this work before, it can look a little bit scary. But don’t worry, it will all be clear soon. Contrapuntal motion is a word we use to describe the general movement of two melodic lines.

In traditional 2 or 4-part harmony, it is important to re - member that lines should maintain their independ - ence. This is easy to achieve through judicial use of the 4 types of contrapuntal motion: Parallel Motion, Simi - lar Motion, Contrary Motion and Oblique Motion.

Now, let’s take a look at each of these types of motion:

The first and most simple type of contrapuntal mo - tion in Parallel Motion. When two voices move us - ing parallel motion, they move in the same direc - tion, and exactly the same distance. Please take a look at the following example:

The first and most simple type of contrapuntal mo - tion in Parallel Motion. When two

In this example, both the alto and soprano voice move upwards exactly one perfect 4th.

Next, let’s take a look at Similar Motion. Like in Parallel Motion, both voices will move in the same direction, but they move in different intervals. See the following example:

The first and most simple type of contrapuntal mo - tion in Parallel Motion. When two

In this example both voices are still moving up. How- ever, the soprano voice moves up by perfect 4th, and the alto voice moves up by a minor 3rd.

The use of Contrary Motion is a great way to get around some tricky voices or chord changes. You have a lot of freedom with this type of motion. In Contrary Motion, the two voices move in opposite directions, at any interval you choose. It look like this:

The first and most simple type of contrapuntal mo - tion in Parallel Motion. When two

The two voices move in opposite directions, both up and down. In this example, the voices move by step, but it is also acceptable to use leaps.

The last type of contrapuntal motion is called Oblique Motion. This type of motion can be used to create tensions and interesting chord voicings. In Oblique Motion, one voice remains the same, while the other moves around it.

It looks like this:

The first and most simple type of contrapuntal mo - tion in Parallel Motion. When two
Interactive 2. 1 Another Look at Contrary Motion Descending Ascending
Interactive 2. 1 Another Look at Contrary Motion
Descending
Ascending
Review 2. 1 Contrapuntal Motion Question 1 of 2 Which of the following is an example
Review 2. 1 Contrapuntal Motion
Question 1 of 2
Which of the following is an example of Oblique Mo -
tion?
Check Answer