Chapter 5. Polyphony through the Thirteenth Century

Chapter Outline



During Europe뭩 economic growth between 1050 and 1300, the church prospered. Pious donors funded hundreds of new monasteries and convents, filled by rising numbers of men, women, and children seeking a religious life. St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Clare, and others founded new religious orders. In the eleventh and early twelfth centuries, builders erected large Romanesque churches that used the principles of the Roman basilica and the round arch, and artists decorated these buildings with frescoes and sculptures. Craftsmen in the mid-twelfth century created a new style of church architecture, later called Gothic, which emphasized height and spaciousness with soaring vaults, pointed arches, slender columns, large stained-glass windows, and intricate tracery. As scholars revived ancient learning, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, and others associated with the intellectual movement called Scholasticism sought to reconcile classical philosophy with Christian doctrine through commentary on authoritative texts. 

These developments found parallels in the art of polyphony, music in which voices sing together in independent parts. At first, polyphony was a style of performance, a manner of accompanying chant with one or more added voices. Those who sang and heard polyphony valued it as decoration, a concept central to medieval art. Polyphonic performance heightened the grandeur of chant and thus of the liturgy itself, just like art and architectural decoration ornamented the church and thus the service. The added voices elaborated the authorized chants through a musical gloss, resembling both the monophonic trope (see chapter 3) and Scholastic commentary on Scripture, and indeed polyphony was developed in the same regions and contexts as troping. Advances in theory and notation during the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries allowed musicians to write down polyphony and develop progressively more elaborate varieties, in genres such as organum, conductus, and motet

The rise of written polyphony is of particular interest because it inaugurated four precepts that have distinguished Western music ever since: (1) counterpoint, the combination of multiple independent lines; (2) harmony, the regulation of simultaneous sounds; (3) the centrality of notation; and (4) the idea of composition as distinct from performance. These concepts changed over time, but their presence in this music links it to all that followed. 

Chapter Outline: 

  1. The church prospered during this period of economic growth for Europe.
    1. Popes strengthened their control.
    2. Donors funded new monasteries and convents.
    3. New religious orders were founded by St. Francis (Franciscans), St. Dominic (Dominicans), St. Clare, and others.
    4. Large church buildings were erected.
      1. Romanesque style in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries
        1. Round arches in the style of the Roman basilica
        2. Frescoes and sculptures decorated the buildings.
      2. Gothic style from the mid-twelfth century onward
        1. Tall, spacious buildings with soaring vaults
        2. Slender columns
        3. Large stained-glass windows
    5. Scholasticism sought to reconcile classical (Greek) philosophy with Christian doctrine.
      1. St. Anselm
      2. St. Thomas Aquinas
    6. Polyphony, in which voices sing together in independent parts, flourished.
      1. At first, polyphony merely decorated chant in performance, much as medieval art decorated manuscripts and cathedrals.
      2. Polyphonic pieces added extra grandeur to chants.
      3. Its function as commentary on a chant resembled the process of troping.
      4. Advances in notation made more elaborate genres possible.
      5. Precepts of later Western music were established with medieval polyphony.
        1. Counterpoint, the combination of multiple independent lines
        2. Harmony, the regulation of simultaneous sounds
        3. Notation
        4. Composition, distinct from performance
  2. Early Organum
    1. Origins in performance
      1. Drone
        1. Singing or playing a melody against a sustained pitch
        2. The drone pitch may have been the modal final, and sometimes the fifth above as well, as they have been in European folk traditions.
      2. Doubling in parallel consonant intervals was probably common before it was explained in anonymous ninth-century treatises.
    2. Ninth-century organum (see HWM Example 5.1 and NAWM 14a-b)
      1. Described in Musica enchiriadis and Scolica enchiriadis
      2. The term organum
        1. Two or more voices singing different notes in agreeable combinations
        2. Used for several styles of polyphony from the ninth through the thirteenth centuries
      3. Parallel organum
        1. Duplication of a chant melody (principal voice)
        2. An organal voice duplicates the chant melody in parallel motion a fifth below.
        3. In medieval thought, fifths were considered perfect and beautiful consonances.
        4. Either voice could be doubled at the octave (e.g., HWM Example 5.1b).
      4. Mixed parallel and oblique organum
        1. Adjustments were necessary to avoid tritones.
        2. When the chant includes e, the organal voice may not move below c.
        3. When the chant includes b, the organal voice may not move below g.
        4. The organal voice instead remains on one note while the chant voice moves (oblique motion).
        5. HWM Example 5.2 and NAWM 14c combine oblique and parallel motion.
        6. Cadences converge on the unison.
        7. These adjustments to parallelism opened the door for more independent polyphony.
    3. Eleventh-century polyphony
      1. Guido of Arezzo described a range of choices in his Micrologus (ca. 1025-28), some of which could be written down instead of improvised.
      2. The Winchester Troper (early eleventh century)
        1. A manuscript from Winchester Cathedral in England
        2. Wulfstan of Winchester (fl. 992-996), cantor at the cathedral, was the likely composer.
        3. 174 organal voices for chant, composed rather than improvised
      3. Free Organum (late eleventh century), HWM Example 5.3, NAWM 15
        1. Ad organum faciendum (On Making Organum) is a set of instructions with examples.
        2. Organal voice is now usually above the chant rather than below.
        3. The two voices may cross.
        4. Parallel, oblique, and contrary motion are allowed.
        5. Consonances remain the unison, fourth, fifth, and octave.
        6. Cadences
          • Cadences on the unison (sometimes preceded by a third)
            • e.g., NAWM 15, system 4 on c-e
            • B-Flat-G to A unison
            • F-D to E unison
          • Cadences on the octave (sometimes preceded by a sixth)
            • C-E to unison D on florebit
            • C-E to unison D at final cadence
        7. Motion is note-against-note (one organal note for each chant note).
        8. Sung by soloists in solo portions of the Mass and Office
        9. Also sung in troped sections of the Mass Ordinary
  3. Aquitainian Polyphony: The Early Twelfth Century
    1. The main sources
    2. Some clay tablets written in cuneiform mention music.
      1. Three manuscripts once held in the Abbey of St. Martial in Limoges, in Aquitaine, and copied in Aquitainian notation.
      2. The Codex Calixtinus, prepared in central France and brought to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain in 1173 (see HWM Figure 5.2).
      3. The style is known as Aquitainian and sometimes St. Martial polyphony.
    3. The repertoire
      1. Settings of chant, including sequences, Benedicamus Domino melodies, and solo portions of responsorial chant
      2. Most of the works are versus (see HWM Chapter 4).
    4. Two styles coexisted (e.g., NAWM 16 and HWM Example 5.4).
      1. Discant
        1. Both parts move at about the same rate.
        2. One to three notes in the upper part for each note in the lower voice
      2. Florid organum
        1. The lower voice moves more slowly than the upper voice.
        2. For each note in the lower voice the upper voice sings note groups of varying lengths.
        3. The lower voice is now called tenor (from the Latin tenere, “to hold”) because it “holds” the principal melody.
      3. Both styles could be used in the same work
        1. HWM Example 5.4 Verse 2 is in florid organum.
          • Melismas of three to fifteen notes in the upper part
          • The penultimate syllable typically has a longer melisma.
        2. HWM Example 5.4 Verse 4 is in discant.
      4. Notation
        1. In score format (HWM Figure 5.2)
        2. Both voices are written above the text.
        3. Alignment of the voices suggests both voices sang the words.
      5. Durations are not indicated, leaving many possibilities open.
        1. The tenor proceeds at a steady pace, with the upper voice speeding up or slowing down depending on the number of notes in the organal style.
        2. The upper voice proceeds at a steady pace, with the tenor sustaining its pitches in drone-like fashion.
        3. The upper voice uses a type of metered rhythm that was never notated or discussed in a treatise, and has therefore been lost to history.
  4. Notre Dame Polyphony: Late Twelfth and Early Thirteenth Centuries
    1. Musicians associated with the Notre Dame (“Our Lady,” the Virgin Mary) Cathedral of Paris (see HWM Figure 5.3) developed a more ornate style of organum in the late twelfth century.
      1. The cathedral is one of the grandest cathedrals in the Gothic style and took almost a century to complete.
        1. Foundations for the cathedral were laid in 1160.
        2. The first Mass was celebrated in 1183.
        3. The façade was completed in 1250.
      2. The new repertory’s decoration of the authorized chant paralleled the intricate decoration of the cathedral.
    2. The new repertory was the first to be primarily composed and read from notation rather than improvised.
    3. The rhythmic modes
      1. Notation in notegroups indicates patterns of long and short notes.
      2. A thirteenth-century treatise attributed to Johannes de Garlandia describes the notation, though it was devised in the twelfth century.
      3. The six modes use only longs (long) and breves (short) notes in repeating patterns that can be expressed in 3/8 or 6/8 measures (though there were no measures).
        1. Longs could equal two or three breves.
        2. An altered breve equaled two breves.
        3. Mode 1: LB
        4. Mode 2: BL
        5. Mode 3: L (of three breves) B L
        6. Mode 4: B B (of two breves) L (of three breves)
        7. Mode 5: all three-breve longas
        8. Mode 6: all breves
      4. Ligatures, notegroups based on chant neumes, indicated which mode by the pattern of groupings (see HWM Example 5.5).
        1. A three-note ligature followed by a series of two-note ligatures signaled Mode 1.
        2. In modern transcriptions, ligatures are indicated by horizontal brackets over the notes.
      5. A piece could change modes, preventing monotony.
    4. Léonin (fl. 1150s-ca. 1201, see HWM biography, page 97)
      1. His compositional activity is known to us because of an anonymous treatise (the author is designated as Anonymous IV by scholars).
      2. He was a canon at Notre Dame and was affiliated with a nearby monastery (St. Victor).
      3. He was a poet, writing poetic paraphrases of several books of the Bible.
      4. Anonymous IV’s treatise credits Léonin with compiling a great book of polyphony (Magnus Liber Organi) for use at the Notre Dame Cathedral.
        1. The original “great book” no longer exists.
        2. The contents survive in several later manuscripts.
        3. Other composers added to the repertoire in the great book.
        4. For some chants, several polyphonic settings survive.
      5. Léonin’s organum (e.g. HWM Example 5.6)
        1. The tenor sustains a chant melody in long notes, like a series of drones.
        2. The upper voice sings expansive melismas, moving mostly stepwise.
        3. Cadences arrive on an octave, fifth, or unison, and are followed by a rest.
        4. Dissonances sometimes occur and are even prolonged by the organal voice.
        5. The notation doesn’t suggest any mode, but some performers and scholars have tried to apply the rhythmic modes to this style.
        6. Most of Léonin’s settings are in organum style.
      6. Léonin’s clausulae (e.g., HWM Example 5.7 and NAWM 18)
        1. Passages in discant style, in which both voices move in modal rhythm, are called clausulae (singular clausula, Latin for “phrase” or “sentence”)
        2. In Viderunt omnes, the syllable “Do-” has the longest clausula (HWM Example 5.7, NAWM 18a and 18b).
        3. Clausulae are settings of the melismatic portions of chant.
        4. Cadences end on a unison, fifth, or octave, and most longs are perfect consonances.
    5. Pérotin
      1. All that’s known is what Anonymous IV wrote about him (see HWM biography, page 97)
        1. He “edited [the Magnus Liber] and made very many better clausulae.”
        2. “He made excellent quadrupla” (four-voice organa, e.g., NAWM 19) and tripla.
        3. Anonymous IV names several specific works by Pérotin.
      2. Quadruplum, Viderunt omnes (NAWM 19 and HWM Example 5.9 and Figure 5.5)
        1. Sets the solo portion of the gradual
        2. Begins with organum style
          • The tenor sustains very long notes.
          • The upper voices move in modal rhythm.
        3. Passages in discant style alternate with sections of organal style.
        4. Compositional devices give sections in organum style coherence and variety.
          • Repeated phrases
          • Restated phrases at different pitch levels
          • Complementary phrases
          • Voice exchange (voices trading phrases)
          • Striking dissonances that precede consonances
          • Each section uses distinct techniques.
      3. The upper voices were sung by soloists, with about five singers on the tenor part.
  5. Polyphonic Conductus (e.g., Ave virgo virginum, NAWM 20 and HWM Example 5.10)
    1. Two- to four-voice settings of the Latin poetry
      1. Same type of text as the monophonic conductus and Aquitainian versus
      2. Rhymed, rhythmic, strophic Latin poems
      3. Usually sacred or serious topics
    2. Tenor was newly composed, not from chant.
    3. All voices sing in essentially the same rhythm, called the “conductus style” when used in other genres.
    4. Syllabic text-setting
      1. Simple style
      2. Strophic form
    5. Melismatic passages, called caudae (singular cauda, Latin for “tail”), in some conductus
      1. At the beginning and end
      2. Before important cadences
      3. Most conductus with caudae are through-composed.
      4. Sometimes caudae feature phrase repetitions and voice exchange as in Pérotin’s organum.
  6. Motet
    1. Motets are polyphonic works with one or more texted voice added to a pre-existing tenor, which is set in a modal rhythm.
      1. Motets originally consisted of newly written Latin words added to the upper voices of discant clausulae.
        1. The French word mot (“word”) inspired the name for the genre.
        2. The earliest texts were often a textual trope of the clausula.
      2. Later motet texts were written in French on secular topics.
      3. Motets are identified by a compound title comprising the first words of each voice from highest to lowest.
      4. The upper voice(s) were sung, but it is unclear whether the tenor was sung or played on an instrument.
      5. Refined and discerning listeners were the intended audience.
    2. Early motets (to ca. 1250) (e.g., NAWM and HWM Example 5.11)
      1. Based on the discant clausula in HWM Example 5.8a
      2. The text decorates or tropes the original chant text.
      3. Phrasing of the original clausula dictates phrasing of the added text.
      4. Sung during the Mass or as independent entertainment
    3. The motet as an independent genre
      1. Existing motets were reworked.
        1. New texts for the duplum, in Latin or French
        2. New texts were no longer linked to the original liturgical context.
        3. Additional voices were added, with texts of their own.
        4. Double motet: a motet with two added texts above the tenor
        5. Triple motet: a motet with three added texts above the tenor
        6. The original duplum was discarded and another one (or more) composed.
      2. Motets composed from scratch
        1. A tenor from a clausula was set to a different rhythm.
        2. New voice(s) above the tenor were added.
      3. Fole acostumance/Dominus (NAWM 21b)
        1. Features the same tenor as HWM Example 5.11
          • Same melody and rhythm
          • The tenor is repeated in this motet.
        2. Newly composed duplum in a faster rhythm.
        3. The text is in French, with a secular theme.
      4. Super te Ierusalem/Sed fulsit virginitas/Dominus
        1. The tenor has a different rhythmic pattern from that of HWM Example 5.11.
        2. The top two voices set the first and second halves of one Latin poem.
        3. The topic is the birth of Christ, making it suitable for Christmas (the season of the original chant).
        4. The upper parts rarely rest together or with the tenor, propelling the motet forward.
        5. Two other versions have added voices.
          • A version in the Montpellier Codex, a major source of motets, has a third texted voice.
          • An English source has an untexted fourth voice (NAWM 21c).
    4. Motets in the later thirteenth century
      1. By about 1250, three-voice motets were the rule.
        1. The two texts were usually on similar topics.
        2. The texts could be in Latin or French.
        3. Some motets had upper voices in both Latin and French.
      2. The tenor became a cantus firmus after ca. 1270.
        1. The term designates any pre-existing melody.
        2. The existing melody continued to be a plainchant.
    5. Franconian notation made it possible to signify more rhythms.
      1. by Franco of Cologne in his Ars cantus mensurabilis (ca. 1280).
      2. Noteshapes signified relative durations.
      3. Durations consisted of double long, long, breve, and semibreve.
      4. The tempus was the basic unit.
        1. Three tempora constitute a perfection (like a measure).
        2. A long could last two or three tempora.
        3. A breve could last one or two tempora.
      5. The system included signs for rests in specific durations as well.
      6. Layout of the parts could be separated (see HWM Figure 5.6).
        1. Each part would be in the same book but no longer in score format.
        2. The tenor extended across the bottom, with the other voice(s) above.
      7. Franconian motets
        1. Motets written in Franconian notation, in a style made possible by that notation
        2. Each upper voice had a distinctive rhythm.
        3. Upper voices no longer needed to conform to the rhythmic modes.
      8. NAWM 22, HWM Example 5.14, and HWM Figure 5.6: Adam de la Halle’s De ma dame vient/Dieus comment porroie/Omnes
        1. The triplum part concerns a man’s point of view.
        2. The duplum part voices the woman’s point of view.
        3. The tenor part repeats the “omnes” melisma from Viderunt omnes twelve times.
        4. The upper parts use a modified first mode rhythm, with many semibreves.
        5. The phrases are independent, with voices rarely cadencing together.
    6. Petrus de Cruce (Pierre de la Croix, fl. ca. 1270-1300)
      1. His motets take the Franconian motet one step further (e.g., HWM Example 5.15 Aucun ont trouvé/Lonctans/Annuntiantes).
      2. Each voice has its own pace.
        1. The tenor is very slow-moving.
        2. The duplum is slow-moving, but not as slow as the tenor.
        3. The triplum has as many as seven semibreves in a tempus.
      3. The tempo was probably even slower than in a Franconian motet.
    7. Harmonic vocabulary of motets allowed thirds and dissonances, but the perfect consonance was still expected at the beginning of each perfection.
      1. The perfect fourth was treated like a dissonance.
      2. Cadence patterns developed, as shown in HWM Example 5.16.
  7. English Polyphony
    1. English culture was tied to that of France after the Norman Conquest in 1066.
    2. One of the main sources of Notre Dame polyphony was made for a monastery in St. Andrews, Scotland.
    3. Although they adopted French culture, English musicians created a distinct style.
      1. Imperfect consonances were more prominent.
        1. Improvised partsinging in close harmony was documented as early as 1200.
        2. NAWM 21c shows many harmonic thirds and triads, including the final sonority.
      2. Voice-exchange evolved into elaborate techniques.
      3. The rondellus, in which two or three phrases are heard simultaneously, with each voice singing each one in turn
        1. Triplum: a b c
        2. Duplum: c a b
        3. Tenor: b c a
      4. The rota: Sumer is icumen in (NAWM 23, HWM Example 5.17, and Figure 5.7)
        1. A rota is a perpetual canon or round at the unison.
        2. Sumer is icumen in is the most famous.
        3. Two voices sing a pes (Latin for “foot” or “ground”).
        4. The canon produces alternating F-A-C-F and G-B-Flat-D sonorities.
      5. English melodies are relatively simple, syllabic, and periodic.
  8. A Polyphonic Tradition
    1. By 1300, “composition” meant creating polyphony, not monophony.
    2. Writing down music of multiple parts in coordinating vertical sonorities to create a sense of direction would be a hallmark of Western tradition and set it apart from almost all other musical traditions.
    3. Medieval music rarely outlived its composers, but in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, composers drew on medieval music as an exotic element, making it seem more familiar to listeners.

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