What does Polyphony mean
Polyphony is a concept that comes from the Greek language (πολύς [polis] = “many” and φονος [phonos] = “sounds, melodies”).
It refers to the “simultaneity of different sounds that form a harmony”. In this way, despite the independence of each of the sounds, the listener perceives them as a whole.
Polyphony in music is a type of musical texture in which are played simultaneously multiple melodic voices that are independent of each other, of similar relevance and different rhythms.
The musical texture is the way in which the melodic, rhythmic and harmonic materials are mixed in a composition, thus determining the overall sound quality of a piece.
What polyphony means, in its totality, is a certain kind of musical texture. This idea encompasses the harmonies, rhythms and melodies that are used when creating a composition, providing various qualities.
The musical texture is the result of the relations between these components: in the polyphony, the diversity of the melodies does not prevent to recognize the work as a whole.
That is why, it differs from music to a single voice, called Monophony, as well as music with a dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords, that is, homophony, with accompanied melody.
A polyphonic composition is composed of different basic melodies. Depending on the qualities of the people, each subject will be able to perceive more or less independent melodies within the framework of polyphonic creation.
Polyphonic textures may consist of several primary or basic melodies. If the voices imitate one another (that is, they sing or play similar melodies, but with some delay between them) it is an imitative polyphony. A strict case of imitative polyphony is the Canon.
Some recognized examples of polyphonic compositions are as follows:
- Guillaume de Machaut, Messe de Nostre Dame.
- Josquin des Prez, Misa Pange Lingua.
- Jacob Obrecht.
- Orlando di Lasso, Mass super Bella ‘Amfitrit’ alters.
- Johannes Ockeghem.
- Thomas Tallis.
- Alonso Lobo, motet Versa est in luctum.
- William Byrd, five-voice Mass.
- Palestrina, Misa Papae Marcelli.
- Tomas Luis de Victoria.
- Gregorio Allegri, Miserere.
- Johann Sebastian Bach, list of compositions by Bach
Polyphony is a typical texture of the music of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Although the exact origin of polyphony in the history of the Church of the West is unknown, two treatises that originated approximately in the year 900, that of Sholia Enchiriadis and Musica Enchiriadis, are often considered as the first examples of Polyphony modeled on paper.
These are two documents that collect works from the end of the 9th century and which present the basis for the composition of polyphonic works, with examples of octaves, fifths and quarters parallel in two-note notes.
The works found in such treatises are not fixed, but act as indications for the improvisation of a polyphony while being interpreted.
Unlike the Winchester Troparium, dating to a century later, it is a complete vocal polyphony (although it does not include the exact duration of each note or its height).
There are other examples of ancient works that struggle to occupy the position of the oldest, and this appreciation varies according to the specialist.
The method of polyphony known as the organum, which was based on parallel repetition of a melody, achieved fame in the Paris School of Notre Dame, mainly during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
The distance between the voices used to be from a just upright fifth. The organum is also known by the name of parallelism or crosstalk and is considered a primitive form of counterpoint.
The plural of organum, since it derives from the Latin, was denominated organa.
During the Middle Ages, this musical genre became an improvement of instrumental and vocal sacred music, as it became more diverse with the integration of a second voice.
Thanks to the legacy of several composers of the Flemish-Flemish school, which combined the Italian influence of the madrigalists of Florence and the French of Guillaume de Machaut, polyphony reached its peak in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Some of the main authors of this period are Josquin Desprez, Guillaume Dufay, Johannes Ockeghem and Orlando di Lasso.
The definition of polyphony also appears in the literature to refer to the multiplicity of voices within the same work.
The term was coined by Mikhail Bakhtin, who studied how, in different novels, each of the characters expressed his way of understanding reality, which allowed the reader to access different points of view.
The polyphony of the literary texts is a characteristic, in which these have plurality of voices that correspond with multiple independent and unmistakable consciences that cannot be reducible to each other.
Milan Kundera, in his treatises on literature, also emphasizes the presence of polyphony in the novel, although more relates it to modernist authors like Hermann Broch and himself.
It raises the tight relationship between the music and the structuring of the novel, so the polyphony would be the existence of several situations that mix with each other, without any of these being main.
It is in the Flemish region (in the Netherlands) where, due to its economic development, the polyphony received a greater boom and reached its maximum splendor between the XV and XVI centuries.
The musicians of Flanders were soon recognized by a technique of subtle counterpoint, and a quasi-divine inspiration. Soon, there was a greater influence on the part of the flamenco musicians in all or, almost all, the musical centers of Europe.
Where there was polyphony, a flamenco musician was to be found. This was also favored thanks to the construction of huge cathedrals where a large amount of schola cantorum was created.
Already by the end of the XV century, a great character appeared in the music scene, who is said to have saved polyphonic music from the designs of the holy father: Josquin Des Pres. Although he had French nationality, he lived from a very young age in Italy.
With his style of music, he impressed many, and showed great mastery in the handling of counterpoint as well as semitone.
It is said that Des Pres wrote only when he felt like it: something not very common in his time and the beginning of a great freedom for the composers.
Micropolyphony is a kind of twentieth-century musical texture, which uses sustained tune-ups that slowly change over time.
In the words of David Cope, it is “a simultaneity of different lines, rhythms and timbres”.
The technique was developed by György Ligeti. The first example of micropolifonía in the work of Ligeti is given in the second manifesto of his orchestral composition “Apparitions”.
They are also pioneers in the use of this technique, his next work for orchestra Atmosphères and the first movement of his Requiem, for soprano, mezzo-soprano, mixed choir and symphony orchestra.
The latter work became very popular because it was part of the soundtrack of the 2001 film: A Space Odyssey, directed, produced and written by Stanley Kubrick.
The micropolyphony technique is easier to apply with larger groupings or with polyphonic musical instruments such as the piano.
Although the Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes creates “micropolyphony of unparalleled complexity”.
Many of Ligeti’s piano pieces are examples of micropolyphony, applied to rhythmic schemes derived from Steve Reich’s “minimalism” complex and pygmy music.
Karlheinz Stockhausen also cultivated this technique in his musical production.
Micropolyphony is often used in concrete music and electronic music.
In electronic music
Polyphony is also used in electronic music. Also, the ability to play multiple notes at once remains.
In itself, it is alluded to the fact that the first chips of the synthesizers could not produce more than one note at the same time, so that it was impossible to reproduce two notes simultaneously.
Due to the technical difference between an acoustic instrument and an electronic music chip, polyphony in synthesizers FM or PCM is slightly different.
Technically, if a piano is polyphonic it is because the pianist possesses ten fingers, therefore, ten notes at the same time. But this is not necessarily the case with the synthesizer chips.
Synthesizer chips are considered polyphonic specifically when they are able to play more than two notes at a time, in an operator. The latter, also called “audio channel” is the unit that will process the sound.
An operator is polyphonic only if he is able to produce at least two notes of the same sound at the same time. A musical chip usually contains several to play several different instruments or sounds.
Polyphony in the so-called computer music is the ability of a synthesizer to produce various notes in a single operator or a single channel.
For example, a piano played on a synthesizer cannot be totally faithful to the original, if you cannot play more than one note at a time.
Ars antiqua or ars vetus, is the term that musicology uses to refer to the polyphonic music of a period not quite accurate but in any case, before the fourteenth century, which was developed specifically bright in France and, which had as its main manifestation the politextual motete.
In the Ars Nova, medieval polyphony acquires its greatest perfection. Some composers, besides Vitry, period highlights are Guillaume de Machaut or Francesco Landini.
Among the main musical forms of the time, we find: the Motete, which continues to develop until the point where each voice can have a different text;
Or the Canon, a contrapuntal composition in which all the voices sing the same melody but make their entrance progressively.
The term ars antiqua is used in opposition to ars nova, which is the period of musical activity approximately between 1310 and 1375.
The name begins with the French composer of the fourteenth century, Philippe de Vitry, who titled his treatise published in 1322, ars nova.
In this treatise, Vitry produced a contrast between the innovative character of his style – which he himself considered as ars nova – and the style prevailing in the second half of the thirteenth century; Which he considered totally old-fashioned and, therefore, an ancient art or antiqua ars.
This denomination, coined in the XIV century with a certain contemptuous character, is what the current musical uses to refer to the European polyphonic music of a period that does not agree in all the sources.
In the opinion of some, the ars antiqua covers all the polyphony before the ars nova, that is, before the year 1320.
Others, on the other hand, consider that it should only be applied to the polyphonic music of the second half of the thirteenth century, that is, that which Philippe De Vitry considered old-fashioned and which is represented by Petrus de Cruce (Pierre de la Croix) and by Franco from Cologne.
In any case, the widely accepted view is that this denomination often ranges from the School of Notre Dame to the advent of the Ars Nova, that is, from approximately 1150 to 1300 or 1320.
In spite of the contemptuous character acquired by the expression in the treatise that gives birth to him, in the same years, James of Liege, another theorist and composer defended this style in his treatise Speculum Musicae.
In opposition to the new musical theories exposed by Vitry in his treatise, the most conservative musicians react violently before it, reason why, in this time, it is possible to speak of a contest between the most traditionalist musicians who saw the last advances as outside of Place and the modernists who continued to develop polyphony.
La definición de Polifonía (Spanish Versión)