Musicology: Polyphony and Early Organum

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Early Organum

  1. Earliest Theoretical Sources (9th century)
    1. Musica enchiriadis
      1. Anonymous treatise
      2. Makes mention of two types of diaphony (singing together), both are referred to as organum.
    2. Scolica enchiriadis
      1. Textbook in dialogue form that also describes polyphony
    3. No theorist mentions organum in the 10th century
    4. Only Guido d'Arezzo mentions organum in the 11th century
      1. It is believed however that polyphony existed long before it was written down
  2. Styles of early organum
    1. Plainsong melody in one voice (vox principalis) is duplicated a 5th or 4th below by a second voice (vox organalis)
    2. Either voice often duplicated above at the octave
    3. Early organum essentially embellishes and outlines a plainsong melody
      1. Consonant intervals: 4ths, 5ths and 8ves (all others require resolution)
    4. 11th Century developments
      1. Growing indepdence of melodic lines evidenced by increasing use of contrary and oblique motion (along with preexistant parallel motion).
      2. By 11th c. vox organalis is typically above the principalis voice.
      3. Parts frequently cross.
      4. Growing rhythmic diversity as vox organalis occasional receives 2 notes to every 1 in the principalis.
    5. Increasing melodic independence necessitates accurate pitch and rhythm notation.
  3. Musical Sources
    1. Winchester Troper
      1. Collection of two 11th c. mansucripts
      2. Includes repertory of troped chants used at Winchester Cathedral
      3. Notation
        1. 2 voices
        2. Heighted neumes without staff lines
      4. Polyphonic settings chiefly used in the troped sections (Kyrie, Gloria, Benedicamus Domino) and certain parts of the proper (Graduals, Alleluias, Tracts, Sequences) and Office responsories.
        1. Polyphonic sections limited to portions of the original chant sung by soloists.
        2. In performance, therefore, polyphonic sections alternated with sections of monophonic chant sung by the full choir in unison. Polyphony, more difficult, was sung by soloists.

Florid Organum

  1. New type of organum which appears early in the 12th c.
    1. Examples preserved in manuscript from monastery of Santiago de Compostela in Northwest Spain
    2. Also cultivated in south-central France, Abbey of St. Martial at Limoges.
    3. Variously labelled as florid, melismatic, Aquitanian or St.Martial organum.
  2. Style
    1. Original plainchant melody lies in the lower voice
    2. Note duration in the lower voice are quite long, like drones.
    3. Upper voice moves much more quickly as a melodic elaboration.
    4. May have been highly improvised style.
    5. Texts consist mainly of Benedicamus Domino tropes and rhyming, scanning, accentual Latin poems called versus (newly composed texts).
    6. St. Martial organum are written in score notation.
  3. Terminology
    1. Organum properly refers to the style in which lower voice holds long notes.
    2. When both parts move in similar rhythm (as in the 12th, early 13th c., the medieval term was discant.
    3. Florid organum was first applied to 2-voice texture, it was called organum duplum or organum purum.

The Rhythmic Modes

  1. Rhythmic system developed in the 11th and 12th century
    1. System indicates rhythmic patterns by means of combinations of single notes and note groups.
    2. System is codified by 1250 as 6 rhythmic modes.
      1. I. L S (trochee)
      2. II. S L (iamb)
      3. III. LS S L (dactyl)
      4. IV. S L LS (anapest)
      5. V. LS LS
      6. VI. S S S
    3. Patterns correspond to the metrical feet of Latin and French verse.
    4. Importance of the ternary division (perfectio) as a rhythmic guideline.

Notre Dame Organum

  1. Notre Dame School
    1. Group of polyphonic composers active in Paris, and North-Central France during the 12th and early 13th centuries.
    2. Most prominent exponents: Leonin (ca.1159-1201) who was canon of the Cathedral of Paris, Notre Dame and Perotin (ca. 1170-1236) who worked at the same church.
  2. Leonin
    1. Three principle styles represented by the Notre Dame school and 13th c.
      1. Organum
      2. Conductus
      3. Motet
    2. Magnus liber organi (The Great Book of Organum)
      1. Cycle of two-part Graduals, Alleluias and responsories for the entire church year written by Leonin.
      2. The original Magnus no longer exists, but its contents have survived in various manuscripts at Florence, Wolfenbuettel and Madrid.
      3. LeoninĀ¹s organa are set to the soloistic portions of the responsorial chants of the Mass and Office.
        1. Ex: Alleluia Pascha nostrum: Alleluia for the Easter Mass, set by Leonin (and many others).
    3. Stylistic features
      1. Juxtaposition of old and new elements:
        1. Passages of florid organum alternated with
        2. Passages of livelier discant clausulae (sections)
      2. Organum purum was gradually abandoned in favor of discant during 13th c.
      3. Clausulae become quasi-independent pieces and eventually evolve into the motet.
  3. Perotin
    1. Basic formal structure of organum: alternation of unison chant with polyphonic sections remained unchanged by Perotin.
    2. Within polyphonic sections, however, Perotin's continuing tendency is towards greater rhythmic precision.
    3. Older 'rhapsodic' portions of the florid organa were often replaced with discant clausulae. Older clausulae were replaced with substitue clausulae: movements in definite and stylized patterns.
    4. Tenor was characteristically laid out in a series of reiterated rhtymic motives (often corresponding to the 3rd or 5th rhtymic mode).
      1. Tenors typically consist of shorter note values than tenors in Leonin
      2. As a result, Perotin's tenor must often repeat itself in order to complete a section.
      3. Repetition of motive and melody become part of the structure of the 13th century motet and foreshadow the development of the 14th c. isorhythmic motet.
    5. Important innovation made by Perotin and his contemporaries was the expansion of 2 voices to 3 and 4 voices (triplum and quadruplum respectively).
      1. 3-voice organum becomes standard in Perotin period.
      2. Two basic styles of organum triplum
        1. Long-held notes in tenor over which upper voices move in measured phrases together (discant in the upper voices)
        2. Johannes de Garlandia who wrote a treatise on Notre Dame rhythm, De mensurabili musica, recognized this style as a distinct genre called copula: a genre resembling discant organized in modal rhythm in the upper parts but with organum purum style in the low part. Music also tends to be organized into antecedent/consequent phrases.

Polyphonic Conductus

  1. Characteristics of the Conductus
    1. 13th century sacred and secular genre.
    2. Developed from quasi-liturgical sources such as the hymn and sequence.
    3. Texts were like those of the 11-12th c. monophonic conductus and the St. Martial versus: metrical Latin poems, rarely liturgical, though often on sacred themes, if they were secular, they dealt seriously with moral or historical issues.
    4. Polyphonic conductus was written for 2,3,4 voices as in organum. Voice exchange frequent.
    5. Voices are largely homorhythmic, less rhythmic variety than in organum
      1. This manner is often referred to as conductus style
    6. Text was set syllabically
      1. Exception: some conductus introduce lengthy textless passaged called caudae at the beginning and the end.
    7. Tenor was often a newly composed melody serving as a cantus firmus.
    8. Conductus stands as the first expression of newly composed polyphonic music.
      1. Independent of borrowed material.
      2. Versus is textual equivalent.
    9. In manuscripts conductus are notated in score arrangement.
    10. Some scholars maintain that only bottom voice was sung, upper voices played by instruments.
    11. Genre along w/organum dropped out of favor after 1250, motet becomes the most important genre in second half of the 13th c.


  1. Origins and General Features
    1. Antecedents: Leonin had introduced into his organa distinct sections (clausulae) in discant style.
      1. This development fascinated composers in the suceeding generation
      2. Perotin and his contemporaries composed hundreds of discant clausulae
      3. Many of these clausulae were written as 'substitutes' for those of Leonin
      4. Substitute clausulae were interchangeable, choirmaster could select according to the occasion.
    2. Newly composed stand-alone substitute clausula with words were called motets
      1. Term was first applied to french texts added to the duplum of a clausula.
      2. Motetus typically designates second voice (duplum) of a motet.
    3. Thousands of motets written in 13th c., genre spread from Paris throughout France and Western Europe.
    4. 13th Century Motet Sources
      1. Montpellier Codex: 336 Polyphonic compositions, chiefly motets, majority of which date from mid-century.
      2. Bamberg Codex: 108 3-voice motets from late 13th c., also includes a conductus and 7 clausulae.
      3. Las Huelgas Codex: Spanish document from 14th c., but contains among its 141 polyphonic compositions many 13th c. motets.
    5. Earliest motet based on substitute clausula with Latin texts for the upper voices was soon modified in the following ways:
      1. Original upper voices were discarded, tenor was kept and new melodies were added.
      2. Allowed composers to choose new texts for the upper voices.
      3. Motets were also came to be sung outside church services, in secular settings. In such cases, the upper voices were given secular texts, usually in the vernacular. Motets w/French words in the upper voices still used plainsong melody as cantus firmus, but there was no liturgical function. The tenors in these pieces were likely played by musical instruments.
      4. Customary to use texts w/different words for upper voices but related in meaning. Polytextuality became standard feature in second half of 13th c. and sometimes carried over in the 14th c. ballade and virelai.
      5. From 1200-1250, motet tenors were almost exclusive based on clausula tenors from the Magnus liber. Since these clausulae had originally been written over melismatic portions of chant, their texts consisted at most of a few words, sometimes only a part of a word or a syllable. Incipit was usually all that was given under tenor part.
      6. After 1250 motet tenors were taken from other sources: Kyries, hymns and antiphons were used. Tenors were also taken from contemporary secular chansons and from instrumental estampies.
      7. Accompanying these changes was a relaxing of the rhythmic modal formulas and increasing rhythmic flexibility.
  2. Motet Texts
    1. Seldom any connection between upper voices and Gregorian tenor.
    2. French texts were almost always love songs.
      1. Triplum usually merry and the motetus (duplum) complaining.
      2. Both poems usually in the style of trouvere songs.
    3. A considerable number of French motets incorporate in one or more of the upper voices, usually at the end of the stanza, a refrain.
    4. Unity of voice parts manifested by musical and textual correspondence: simultaneous consonances, echoing of vowel sounds and symbolic relations of ideas.
  3. Franconian Motet
    1. This style developed from the desire to further distinguish the upper two motet parts.
    2. Franco of Cologne: composer and theorist active from 1250-1280.
    3. Stylistic features
      1. Triplum had a longer text than the motetus
      2. This allowed the triplum to move at a faster melodic rate, short notes, short phrases and narrower range
      3. Motetus had longer breathed, more lyrical melody
      4. Tenors less rigid than in the early 13th c.
    4. Two types of motets at the end of the 13th century
      1. One with a fast speechlike triplum, slower motetus and plainchant tenor (though instrumentally performed) in a strict rhythmic pattern.
      2. The other, usually with a French secular tenor, in which all voices proceeded in more nearly equal rhythm, though the triplum was usually the most important melodically.
    5. The first motet style (4a) is often called Petronian
      1. Petrus de Cruce: one of the few identifiable 13th c. composers, active from 1270-1300.
        1. Wrote motets in which triplum attained an unprecedented speed in comparison with the lower voices.
    6. Rhythmic developments of 13th c. more extensive than harmonic vocabulary.
      1. 5th and 8ve still the accepted consonances for strong beats.
      2. 4th increasingly treated as a dissonance.
      3. 3rds beginning to achieve practical status as consonances.
      4. Tenor supported above consances and determined rate of harmonic change.
      5. After 1250 cadences were increasingly standardized.
      6. Dissonances were fairly free.
        1. Franco's rule states that: 'he who shall wish to construct a quadruplum...ought to have in mind thge melodies already written, so that if it be discordant with one it will be in concord with the others.'
        2. Even in 3-part writing it was thought sufficient to make triplum consonant with either the motetus or the tenor on strong beats.
  4. Notation
    1. Motet necessitated new notation due to increased rhythmic complexity.
      1. This is because motet texts were set syllabically.
      2. Rhythmic modes utilized ligatures to impart rhythmic information.
        1. Only one syllable per ligature.
    2. Ars cantus mensurabilis (The Art of Mesurable Music)
      1. Written by Franco of Cologne ca.1250
      2. Establishes rules for values of single notes, ligatures and rests.
      3. The system remains in use through the early 14th c. (1325) and many features remain until 1550.
    3. Franconian Notation
      1. Based on ternary grouping
      2. Four single-note signs
        1. Double long
        2. Long
        3. Breve
        4. Semibreve
      3. Basic time unit, tempus, was the breve
    4. As upper voices acquired longer texts and as each syllable had to have a separate note sign, composers and scribes found that writing in score wasted paper (due to few notes in tenor). As a result, choirbook format became the norm.
      1. Parts written on various places on the same facing pages.
      2. Standard polyphonic procedure after 1230 to 1500.
  5. Hocket
    1. Properly describes a technique rather than a form
    2. Flow of the melody is interrupted by the insertion of rests
    3. Missing notes are supplied by another voice so that melody is divided between two voices
    4. Pieces in which hocketing is used extensively are called 'hockets'
  6. Ars Antiqua
    1. This period from the middle of the 12th c. to the end of the 13th (1150-1300) is regarded as the period of the 'ars antiqua' (old art)
    2. 1300-1400 is typically regarded as period of the ars nova (new art).
    3. Chief genres of the ars antiqua
      1. From the Notre Dame period (1150-1250):
        1. Organum
        2. Conductus
      2. Motet (1250-1300)
    4. Period is dominated by French composers an centered around Paris
    5. Principle achievements:
      1. Codification of the rhythmic modal system
      2. Invention of a new notation for measured rhythm
      3. Growth of secular genres

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