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Medieval Music Glossary

Cynthia J. Cyrus

Last modified on June 15, 2003

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a highly melismatic responsorial chant from the mass. Alleluias are commonly identified by the first few words of their verses, such as Alleluia Justus ut palma. The form of the alleluia is complicated:
Alleluia (sung by the soloist)
Alleluia + jubilus (sung by the choir)
Verse (sung by the soloist, with the choir joining at the very end)
Alleluia + jubilus (sung by the choir)
the range of pitches used in a piece or a melodic line; narrow ambitus is typically a sixth or less, normal ambitus an octave or so, and wide ambitus would be an eleventh or more.
a musically interesting section of chant which is sung by a choir; the text and music were intended to serve as a frame to a psalm verse (or a series of psalm verses), introducing and following it. The term is used sometimes to mean sacred song (e.g. Marian antiphons).
antiphonal (1)
an antiphonal chant origianlly used a musically interesting section sung by the choir (the antiphon) to frame a musically boring section (usually the recitational psalm tone). The antiphonal chants of the mass are the introit, offertory and communion.
antiphonal (2)
an antiphonal chant was performed in alternation, with one half of the choir answering the other half. Psalms were often performed antiphonally, breaking either at the half- verse or at the line ending.
aperto ("open")
see ouvert.
Aquitainian organum
see florid organum.
a melodic line that rises first and then descends to a cadence. Related terms: ascending, descending.
Ars antiqua ("Old art"), also "Ars vetus"
a term used in the fourteenth century to refer to the "old style" typical of twelfth-century Notre Dame organum and of the thirteenth-century motet and conductus. Characteristics include the predominance of triple meter and a limited rhythmic vocabulary.
Ars nova ("New art")
a term used to designate the music of fourteenth-century France; characteristics include the use of duple as well as triple meter, the use of the minim (a very short note value) and in some works the use of isorhythm. The term was also used as the title for a treatise reflecting the teachings of Philippe de Vitry.
Ars subtilior ("Subtle art")
a modern term referring to music from late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century France. Characteristics include intricate rhythms, exotic harmonies, and erudite poetry.
a melodic line that goes upward in pitch. Related terms: arch, descending.
when a set of rhythmic values are lengthened; all values may be doubled, for instance. (Intervals may also be augmented, but this rarely happens in medieval music.) Antonym: diminished.
authentic mode
a melody is in an authentic mode when all of the notes (except perhaps one or two) are above the final. See mode. An introduction to church modes is available.
the stated (but unreachable) goal of performing a piece in the way it would have originally sounded or in the way the composer intended for it to sound. A less contentious term is "historically informed." See performance practice.
one of the French formes fixe, cultivated in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. A strophic piece with an internal structure of a a b X where a capital letter designates a refrain text and lower case designates new text. Ballades could be love songs, but were frequently so-called occasional pieces, with texts designed to fit a particular state occasion.
a fourteenth-century Italian secular genre which follows the form A b b a A; related to the French virelai.
bar form
an a a b form used in German Minnelieder and in chorales. The first (repeated) section is called the "Stollen" and the second section is known as the "Abgesang."
bas instruments
soft instruments (literally, "low," but referring to volume, not pitch), suitable for the chamber. Includes vielles, rebecs and other bowed strings, lutes and other plucked strings, recorders, etc. Antonym: haut instruments.
a fourteenth-century canonic piece (literally, "chase") on an Italian text; the text often deals with hunting or nature and may include bird calls, hunting fanfares, etc.
the end of a musical phrase. A cadence typically has some kind of closing gesture and a concluding note; its finality is judged by the relationship of the concluding note to the final (that is, to the central pitch of the piece). See ouvert, clos, landini cadence, medial cadence, sixth-to-octave cadence.
literally, "rule"; a technique in which one line is repeated in its entirety by another following a pre-established rule (e.g. "wait four beats then play the melody starting at the same pitch"). The instructions do not have to be written out--they can be left as a puzzle for the performer to solve.
canso (1)
a strophic troubadour song with the musical form a a b (pes pes cauda) for each stanza. The pes has two phrases, the first inconclusive or "open" and the second conclusive or "closed"; music of the pes is then repeated to new text. The cauda is musically free, though in some cases the composer rounded the form by repeating musical material at the end of the cauda. Following the last complete stanza of poetry, the composer may include a partial stanza known as the envoy.
canso (2)
any troubadour song.
monophonic Spanish vernacular songs from the thirteenth century. Many are devoted to the Virgin Mary.
vocal soloist and leader of the choir.
the principal (that is, important) melody at the top of a polyphonic texture. Often designed to form a duo with the tenor line; see discant-tenor framework.
an English genre which may have originated as a round dance. Texts could be in English, Latin, or both, and were frequently focussed on a joyful season: Easter, Christmas, or spring. The carol had a burden (the verses) and a refrain; the refrain might add an extra voice part.
Carolingian era
the time of Charlemagne (ca. 742-814), a period in which Roman liturgy was spread throughout the Frankish empire.
cauda ("tail")
the second section of a troubadour canso; in the cauda, a composer is free to create whatever internal structure seems appropriate to the poetry. The cauda ends with a conclusive clos cadence, and may involve musical rounding (repeating the music of the clos phrase of the pes as its final phrase, for example).
any French-texted secular song. Trouvère chansons--which were strophic--often followed the internal a a b form of the troubadour canso, but could also be through-composed (without any set musical structure) or follow one of the formes fixes. By the fourteenth century, formes fixes were the norm.
chiuso ("closed")
see clos.
church modes
see mode.
clos ("closed")
designates a cadence (a closing gesture and a concluding note) in which the last note sounds conclusive; this pitch is called the final and is the central or "home" note for the melody. The term clos is applied to troubadour and trouvère repertory and some instrumental dances; see also ouvert.
color ("koh-LOR")
a pattern of pitches (longer than a motive) in an isorhythmic voice which is repeated verbatim one or more times, though perhaps in different rhythms. One refers to the number of "statements of the color." See isorhythm.
color (or coloration)
the use of ink color to indicate a shift from duple to triple (or triple to duple). First proposed by Philippe de Vitry (1291-1361). During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, coloration was often used as shorthand for dotted figures (e.g. notes that could be transcribed as dotted-eighth plus sixteenth or as dotted-quarter plus eighth).
the simplest of the antiphonal chants from the mass. Like the offertory, the communion has shed its psalm verse and consists of an antiphon alone. (As usual, the antiphon is sung by the choir).
conductus (monophonic)
a paraliturgical strophic genre sometimes called the "versus" for its poetic structure; it is thought to have accompanied movement of a celebrant from one station to another within a church.
conductus (polyphonic)
a thirteenth-century genre based on newly composed material. All voices move together (it is homorhythmic) and sing the same text. Contrasts with the motet.
a thirteenth-century genre exhibiting characteristics of both the polyphonic conductus and the motet; the two upper voices are homorhythmic and sing the same text, but the tenor moves in an independent rhythm and is a plainchant excerpt.
a melody that moves mostly by whole step or half step, moving up and down the scale. The music for the phrases "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream" is conjunct, as are many examples of plainchant. Antonym: disjunct.
pitches that sound good together. During the period before 1200, the fourth, fifth and octave were consonant, while thirds and sixths as well as seconds and sevenths were dissonant and had to be handled carefully. In the later Middle Ages and Renaissance, the third and sixth came to be considered consonant. Antonym: dissonance.
contrary motion
when two voices move in opposite directions. Related terms: parallel motion, similar motion, oblique motion.
contratenor (1)
a voice composed against the tenor. During the fourteenth century, the contratenor was in the style of the tenor, often slower than the upper voices. During the fifteenth century, composers began distinguishing between the high contratenor (the "contratenor altus," later known as the "altus") and the low contratenor (the "contratenor bassus" or "bassus"). The contratenor of either era often had wide leaps and might cross the tenor part.
contratenor (2)
a specially-trained male voice which sings in what are now considered women's vocal ranges (soprano or alto).
a style of Notre-Dame organum in which the top voice is measured (that is, it uses one of the rhythmic modes) but the bottom voice is unmeasured. Related terms: organum purum, discant (2).
a melody designed to fit with another, more important melody. A countermelody could be omitted from a performance, but a principal melody is indispensable.
the symbol at the very end of a line of music which indicates the pitch for the first note of the next line as a warning of what is to come. The custos is not commonly used in modern notation.
several movements intended to be performed together; often refers to a setting of the five movements of the mass ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus dei). Movements in a cycle are connected by mode, voicing, musical material and/or musical technique.
declamatory rhythm
melodic rhythm which reflects the way the text might be read or declaimed.
a melodic line that goes downward in pitch. Related terms: arch, ascending.
diatonic scale
on the modern keyboard, the white keys are considered the diatonic notes, and scales (a series of notes in order from low to high or high to low) that can be made using only those whole-steps and half-steps are considered diatonic scales. In the Middle Ages, the church modes were based on diatonic scales.
when a set of rhythmic values are shortened; all values may be halved, for instance. (Intervals may also be diminished, but this rarely happens in medieval music.) Antonym: augmented.
discant (1)
the top voice in a polyphonic texture; the label implies that the voice is composed against another important line, usually the tenor.
discant (2)
a style of Notre Dame organum in which the all voices are measured (following the rhythmic modes). Related terms: organum purum, copula.
discant clausula
a substitute clausula using discant style in which all voices follow one of the rhythmic modes.
discant-tenor framework
the two principal voices which work together in a polyphonic piece to provide the harmonic structure for a composition. The discant and tenor form cadences using an interval of a major sixth opening to an octave or a minor third contracting to a unison.
a melody that moves mostly by leap, skipping notes in the scale. In the song, "Row, row, row your boat," the passage "merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily" is disjunct. Antonym: conjunct.
pitches that clash when sounded together, including seconds, sevenths, and the tritone. During the early Middle Ages, the third and sixth were also considered dissonant. Antonym: consonance.
divine office
see office.
doxology (lesser)
a text praising God (beginning Gloria patri and ending saecula seculorum amen: see EUOUAE) which comes in the middle of the introit of the mass. It is sung to the same recitational melody as the psalm verse.
an unchanging pitch that is held beneath a melody and so serves as an aural reference point. Drones are added by modern-day performers to some pieces (e.g. to Hildegard's music or to troubadour-trouvère repertory). Medieval notation never indicates where a drone should be used or what pitch it should hold, so performers must use their good judgement.
in organum, the voice above the tenor line which was the second to be composed. In early motets, this line is often called the "motetus."
ecclesiastical mode
see mode.
the final section of a troubadour poem which sends the song out into the world. Poetically it often involves a shift of character; it may address the messanger or the audience instead of the loved one of previous sections, for instance. The envoy is a partial stanza and is sung to the last line(s) of the musical setting; therefore it ends with a clos cadence and forms a musical rhyme to the final stanza.
the vowels from the words "seculorum amen," the final words of the doxology. The abbreviation is typically supplied with musical cues to show the singer how to link the end of the psalm tone and/or doxology (which use the same recitational melody) to the beginning of the antiphon in the introit.
see musica ficta.
the central pitch of a piece, a "home" note which sounds the most complete. Also, the note on which a piece ends. See mode.
florid organum (Aquitainian or melismatic organum)
A twelfth-century polyphonic composition based on plainchant in which a new ornate voice is added above the original voice, moving faster than the original plainchant line. (The notation does not specify rhythms, however.) A mixture of intervals appears, though cadences fall on perfect intervals (unisons, fourths, fifths, and octaves). See organum.
formes fixes ("fixed forms")
standardized musical and poetic forms (the virelai, ballade and rondeau) used in French secular music sporadically during the thirteenth century and consistently during the fourteenth and early-to-mid fifteenth centuries.
fracta modi
literally, breaking of the mode: ornamental notes which interrupt the steady pattern of the rhythmic modes.
Franconian motet
a motet which capitalizes on the mensural notation of Franco of Cologne (fl. ca. 1250-1280), showing a shift away from modal rhythm. The voices are usually rhythmically stratified, with each voice in the texture somewhat faster than the one below.
free rhythm
a fluid, adjustable rhythm which is shaped by the flow and meaning of the text. See also unmeasured music.
the range of notes available in Guido of Arezzo's hexachordal system, from the low G an octave and a fourth below middle C (known as "gamma ut," hence the term "gamut") to E an octave and a third above middle C. See hexachord.
an ornate responsorial chant from the mass. It is divided into two sections, the respond and the verse. In the Middle Ages, the respond was repeated in full at the end but in modern practice the gradual is truncated after the verse. A soloist begins each section and the choir enters to conclude the section.
guidonian hand
a mnemonic device for remembering pitches named after the theorist Guido of Arezzo (ca. 991-d. after 1033). Each pitch and its hexachordal names was assigned to a knuckle of the hand. By moving up and down the fingers, one could call to mind the particular pitches that made up a melody. See hexachord.
the vertical dimension of music, referring to the notes sounding together. Often abstracted to mean sets of pitches thought to sound well together.
haut instruments
loud instruments (literally "high" but referring to volume, not to pitch), suitable for outdooors. Includes shawms, sackbut, pipe and tabor, etc. Antonym: bas instruments
two or more musicians performing the same melody at the same time but embellishing it in different ways. Heterophonic performances, for example of troubadour and trouvère repertory, can be aurally exciting, but little documentary evidence supports them; they reflect modern hypotheses about what a medieval performance might have sounded like.
a system of six notes separated by whole- or half-step. Guido of Arezzo (ca. 991-d. after 1033) assigned solmization syllables to each note of the hexachord: ut re mi fa sol la . (The only half-step comes between mi and fa.) Guido had three types of hexachords: the hard hexachord uses B natural and is built on G (G A B-natural C D E); the natural hexachord starts on C (C D E F G A); and the soft hexachord uses B flat and starts on F (F G A B-flat C D). To sight-read a melody, one picked the appropriate hexachord; if the melody extended beyond the boundaries of the first hexachord, one mutated to the next with a pivot-note. Because all of the half-steps are specified by the syllables mi-fa (or fa-mi), the system could be used to sight-read an unknown melody.
historically informed
a performance that is guided by surviving information on the way the piece would have originally sounded or on the way the composer intended for it to sound. A historically- informed performance may use period instruments, follow period techniques, adopt a particular approach to ornamentation, adhere to other conventions of articulation, timbre, ensemble size, acoustical circumstances, etc. See performance practice.
hocket ("hiccup")
a late-thirteenth- and fourteenth-century technique in which two or more voices fill in one another's silences to make a composite melody. The term may also be applied to a musical work which relies extensively on the technique, such as Machaut's Hoquetus David.
a melody plus an accompaniment. The melody is more important than whatever else is going on. Related terms: monophonic, polyphonic.
all of the voices have the same rhythm but independent melodic contours. Modern day hymns tend to be homorhythmic. The medieval conductus could be homorhythmic, as could some carols.
when material from one line is repeated shortly thereafter in another line.
performance that involves invention while playing. Improvisation can either be guided by pre-existent material (loosely based on a particular melody, for instance), or be free of such influences.
the first few words (often the first line or the intonation) of a work; the incipit commonly functions like a modern-day title to identify the work in question.
the distance between two pitches. The half-step is the smallest distance used in medieval music and a mixture of whole steps and half steps form the diatonic scales on which the music is based. From smallest to largest, the common intervals are unison (same sound), half step or whole step, third, fourth, tritone (which is to be avoided), fifth, sixth, seventh, and octave. See consonance and dissonance.
intonation (1)
the extent to which a performed pitch matches the correct pitch.
intonation (2)
the initial portion of a piece--usually two or three words--sung by a soloist to establish the pitch.
the introductory chant of the mass, sung by the choir; it is proper (its text changes from day to day) and antiphonal. Its form is antiphon--psalm--antiphon--doxology--antiphon, though the antiphon between the psalm and doxology may be omitted. It is the only chant of the mass to use the lesser doxology.
a technique for musical organization used during the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries in which the tenor repeats a certain pattern of pitches (the "color") and a certain rhythmic pattern (the "talea"). The color and talea may be different lengths. Used commonly in the motet; also used in some mass settings, for example in the Messe de Notre Dame by Guillaume de Machaut.
the French term for a secular performing musician of the twelfth or thirteenth century; see minstrel/menestrelle.
an elaborate melisma on the final syllable of the word "Alleluia." It was said by medieval theorists to be an expression of joy.
a secular song of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries in which the characteristics of the stanza (line lengths, number of lines per stanza, rhyme scheme, musical setting) change from strophe to strophe. Machaut wrote twenty-four lais.
landini cadence (under-third cadence)
an elaboration on the standard polyphonic sixth-to-octave cadence in which the top line adds an ornamental note a third beneath the cadential pitch before both voices expand outward to an octave; the top voice might approach a C cadence with the pitches B-A-C (over the lower voice's descent from D to C). Named after the Italian composer Francesco Landini (1325-97), but used frequently by other fourteenth- and fifteenth-century composers as well.
songs of praise cultivated in Italy; the genre originated in the spiritual revival of the thirteenth century. Lauda could be monophonic or polyphonic.
Liber usualis
a modern-day chant book which contains chants, prayers and readings for major services (particularly the mass) throughout the church year. The Liber is not a critical edition, for it conflates practices of different times and places, but it is a standard reference for "typical" plainchant services. Items for a particular service are scattered (the propers in one place, the ordinary chants and texts in another). Consult the table of contents to find items from the ordinary. An index, divided by genres, is located approximately 9/10 of the way through the book.
madrigal (fourteenth-century)
an Italian secular genre using the form a a b or a a a b. If polyphonic, the top line is often more florid than the bottom. Not related to the sixteenth-century madrigal.
Magnus liber organi (The Great Book of Organum)
A collection of organa for various special occasions throughout the church year, said to have been composed by Leonin (fl. ca. 1163-90) with additions by Perotin (fl. ca. 1200). See Notre-Dame organum.
the major service of the Catholic church, commemorating Christ's sacrifice. The mass is divided into the proper (items with texts that change from day to day) and the ordinary (items with unchanging texts). A table of mass items is available, as is a more extensive discussion of the medieval mass by Joseph Dyer.
medial cadence
the "middle" cadence, marking the end of the first major musical section (particularly in discussions of the rondeau). It lacks the conclusiveness of the cadence at the end of the piece.
passages with many notes (roughly, more than 8) for a single syllable.
a musical setting is commonly deemed melismatic if it has two or more melismas and if the rest of the setting has several notes per syllable. Related terms: syllabic, neumatic.
melismatic organum
see florid organum.
the horizontal dimension of music, referring to the organization of pitches (and in later centuries, particular rhythms) into a line.
mensural notation
a system of rhythmic notation (late thirteenth century - ca. 1600) in which each shape stands for a particular rhythmic value. The commonly used noteshapes were the long, breve, semibreve and (by the fourteenth century) minim. Each value could be worth either two or three of the next value down and was called imperfect or perfect, respectively. Mensural music is distinct from music employing the rhythmic modes in which the context-dependent notation limited rhythmic flexibility, and from unmeasured music in which no set rhythmic values were employed.
the organization of some music into predictable units of accents and beats. In duple meter, the main stress falls every other beat, while in triple meter the main stress falls once every three beats. Medieval music did not use bar lines or have modern-day expectations of emphasis, but much of the music from the late twelfth century and after did have regular meter.
a secular musician (often an instrumentalist) and entertainer.
Messe de Notre Dame (Mass of Our Lady)
Machaut's work of that name from the fourteenth century is the earliest known setting of the complete mass ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus dei, and in this case also the Ite missa est) by a single composer. It uses isorhythm in the shorter movements.
mi contra fa
a rule that prohibited singing a pitch needing the solmization syllable "mi" against one needing the syllable "fa." Thus, the pitches E and F could not be sounded together; neither could E and B flat. See hexachord.
German vernacular love songs of the twelfth to fifteenth centuries; they typically use bar form (a a b).
modal rhythm
a term which describes a passage or piece following one of the six rhythmic patterns of the rhythmic modes. The term can be applied to pieces copied in mensural notation as well as those notated using the rhythmic modes.
mode ("church modes" or "ecclesiastical modes")
a system of classifying pieces based on the organization of pitches. In the middle Ages, mode was defined through a combination of range and final. If melodies were above the final, they were authentic, if they ranged both above and below the final, they were plagal. Mode also had melodic implications--each mode had characteristic intervals and musical gestures. An introduction to church modes is available.
mode, rhythmic
see rhythmic modes
a single melodic line without accompaniment. May be a single voice singing alone, or a whole choir, all singing exactly the same thing at the same time. Related terms: homophonic, polyphonic.
from the French term "mot" (word). The medieval motet is a polyphonic genre which originated in the thirteenth century in which the upper voice or voices are texted (usually syllabically) and the bottom voice, the tenor, is untexted. The tenor is usually an excerpt from a solo section of chant (though a few are drawn from secular models), but the excerpt has been provided with rhythm and may be repeated or manipulated. Though early motets are sacred, by the end of the thirteenth century the newly-created texts of the top lines often deal with secular topics such as love. See motet, double; motet, early; conductus-motet; Franconian motet; Petronian motet; isorhythm. See also conductus (polyphonic).
motet, double
a three-voice motet from the mid-to-late thirteenth century in which each of the top two lines has its own text and own phrase structure (their cadences do not align). May include a language designation: a Latin double motet would have two new Latin texts plus the tenor; a French double motet would have two new French texts plus the tenor.
motet, early
early-to-mid thirteenth-century motet drawn from a substitute clausula; may be two or three voices. Uses modal rhythm, and texts are usually in Latin.
the texted voice immediately above the tenor line in the texture of the early motet. Sometimes called the "duplum."
a short repeated pattern which can be melodic, rhythmic, or both.
musica ficta (1)
a note lying outside of Guido of Arezzo's hexachordal system including accidentals other than B flat and pitches from outside of the gamut.
musica ficta (2)
accidentals added by modern-day editors. They often appear above the note in question.
to shift from one hexachord to another, relying on a pivot pitch; for example, D sol (in the G hexachord) could become D re (in the C hexachord).
a musical setting is neumatic if there are two to seven notes per syllable. (In practice, some syllables of a neumatic chant will likely receive only one note.) Related terms: syllabic, melismatic.
the name for a musical sign in plainchant notation which designates a very small melodic gesture sung to a single syllable. Standard neumes contained from one to three pitches, though some conglomerate neumes had four, five, or even six pitches.
non-imitative polyphony
two or more independent melodic lines that do not share melodic material with one another. Most medieval polyphony falls in this category.
note-against-note organum
A polyphonic composition (eleventh to early twelfth centuries) based on plainchant in which the new voice is added above the original voice; the voices move in a mixture of contrary, oblique, similar and parallel motion, though most of the resultant intervals are fourths, fifths, unisons and octaves. See organum.
Notre Dame organum
A polyphonic composition based on plainchant in which the new voice(s) appears above the original voice; Notre Dame organum is the most elaborate style of organum, incorporating rhythmic passages and elaborate melismas in the new voices. It originated during the late twelfth century in Paris. See organum, organum purum, copula, discant (2), Magnus Liber, rhythmic modes, substitute clausula.
oblique motion
when one part stays stationary and another moves up or down. Related terms: parallel motion, similar motion, contrary motion.
occasional piece
a piece of music composed for a specific occasion such as a wedding or a state event.
to modern ears, the "same" pitch separated by register. The octave is the eighth note counting by step up a diatonic scale and in modern notation would be called by the same letter name as the starting pitch. Medieval listeners, however, did not consider octaves to be equivalent, so, for instance, a cadence on the upper octave could not be substituted for a lower note. See interval.
the most elaborate of the antiphonal chants from the mass. The offertory has shed its psalm verse, so the antiphon stands alone. (As usual, the choir sings the antiphon.)
a series of religious services spread throughout the day that involve prayer, readings and the recitation of psalms. The daily cycle of services consists of Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.
a liturgical genre is ordinary if its text is repeated from day to day. In the mass, the musical items of the ordinary are the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus dei; the Ite missa est and the Benedicamus Domino may also be considered ordinary. A number of different melodies are associated with each ordinary text, so while the text repeats, the music may change from one day to the next. A table of items from the mass is available.
a polyphonic composition based on plainchant. In organum, a new line (the vox organalis) is added to the original plainchant line (the vox principalis) and uses the same text as the original. In settings of organum, sections of a chant that were originally sung by the choir remain as plainchant, so an alternation of polyphony and monophony results. See parallel organum, note-against-note organum, florid organum, and Notre-Dame organum.
organum purum
a style of organum in which all voices are unmeasured. Related terms: Notre Dame organum, copula, discant (2).
an elaboration of a given melody. Ornaments could be written out or improvised.
ouvert ("open")
designates a cadence (a closing gesture and a concluding note) in which the last note sounds inconclusive and is on a pitch which is one step above the final; applied to troubadour and trouvère repertory and some instrumental dances. Related term: clos.
a piece is pan-isorhythmic if all of its voices are isorhythmic in at least one section.
parallel motion
when two or more parts move the same interval in the same direction. If too much parallel motion is used, the parts lose their independence. Related terms: similar motion, oblique motion, contrary motion.
parallel organum
A polyphonic composition based on plainchant in which the new voice is added below the original voice and the two voices move in parallel or oblique motion, emphasizing parallel fourths or fifths. They may cadence on unisons. First discussed ca. 900. See organum.
part (pars)
a section of a musical work, roughly equivalent to the modern term "movement" but typically shorter. Sources may label each section in turn: prima pars, secunda pars, tertia pars, etc.
patter song
a polyphonic work in which one or more voices sings the syllabic text as fast as possible. Modern examples include some Gilbert and Sullivan songs and performances by Danny Kaye. The medieval Petronian motet adopts this texture.
a long held note within a piece of music; the pedal is held while other parts move above it.
performance practice
the study of the way in which a piece would have been performed, including issues of timbre (voices or instruments and the quality of the sounds they make), ornamentation, size of ensemble, appropraite techniques and the like. The historical performance practice movement approaches a work by studying the conventions that guided its early performances. See historically informed.
pes ("foot"; plural pedes)
the first section of a canso, typically consisting of two musical phrases. The first phrase ends inconclusively on an ouvert ("open") cadence, usually on a step above the final; the second ends conclusively on a clos ("closed") cadence on the final itself. There are usually two pedes at the start of a canso.
Petronian motet
a motet which divides the breve into more than three shorter notes, following the notational innovations of Petrus de Cruce (fl. ca. 1290). Effectively, this results in a patter song in which the top voice sings as fast as it can, the motetus moves somewhat more slowly and the tenor seems to move in slow motion.
a term which designates a musical thought (akin to a clause or sentence in language); phrases end with cadences, a kind of musical punctuation in which the musical tension is released.
the relative heigth or depth of a sound. Pitches are changed by adjusting the frequency of vibrations. Though modern pitch is standardized (with A=440), medieval pitch was not, and an entire piece could be moved higher or lower at will.
plagal mode
a melody is in a plagal mode when its notes range on either side of the final. See mode. An introduction to church modes is available.
two or more independent melodies that fit together. May be imitative or non- imitative. Related terms: monophonic, homophonic.
a liturgical genre is proper if its text changes from one day to the next. In the mass, the musical items of the proper are the introit, gradual, alleluia, offertory, and communion. A table of items from the mass is available.
quadruplum (1)
the fourth voice to be composed; in organum and the early motet, it is found above the triplum, duplum/motetus, and tenor.
quadruplum (2)
in organum, a piece which has a fourth "quadruplum" line can be called an "organum quadruplum" or "quadruplum" for short. Perotin wrote two quadrupla: "Viderunt omnes" and "Sederunt."
a recitational chant is syllabic and has a melody that repeats a single pitch; melodic inflections (up, down or both) provide punctuation.
a unit of text and music which repeats, commonly at the end of each stanza.
a responsorial chant emphasizes the "response" between a soloist and the choir. Responsorial chants tend to be extremely elaborate, particularly in their second section (known as the verse) where the soloist performs the bulk of the musical material and the choir enters only at the end.
the organization of music in time; specifically, the duration of notes and rests.
rhythmic modes
rhythmic patterns governing the performance of measured sections of Notre Dame organum and, by extension, polyphonic conductus and early motets (late twelfth-thirteenth centuries). All patterns employ triple meter. In the following short-hand descriptions, "Dah" is worth three units, "duh" two units and "dee" is a single unit; while the vertical stroke act like modern-day barlines showing groupings of three beats.
mode 1: trochaic (duh dee) -- duh dee | duh dee | duh dee | ....
mode 2: iambic (dee duh) -- dee duh | dee duh | dee duh | ....
mode 3: dactylic (Dah, dee duh) -- Dah | dee duh | Dah | dee duh | ....
mode 4: anapestic (dee duh, Dah) -- dee duh | Dah | dee duh | Dah | ....
mode 5: spondaic (Dah, Dah) -- Dah | Dah | Dah | ....
mode 6: tribrachic (dee dee dee) -- dee dee dee | dee dee dee | ....
These patterns, once invoked, remain in force in that voice until the notation signals a change. Not related to church modes.
rondeau (plural "rondeaux")
the most long-lasting of the French formes-fixes, cultivated in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries; it has the form A B a A a b A B, where a capital letter designates a refrain text and lower case designates new text. Each of the two musical sections had a refrain text which came back at the end of the poem, but the two halves of the refrain had to be separable, for in the middle of the poem three statements of the opening music appeared together. Thus, the medial cadence marking the end of the first (A) section had to be able to lead forward to the contrasting B material or lead back to the beginning of the first section. Poets and musicians alike enjoyed playing with the subtle reinterpretation of material over the course of a piece generated by this elaborate structure.
a form is rounded when material from an earlier section is repeated at the very end.
a series of notes organized in ascending or descending order to form a pattern of whole steps and half steps.
sequence (1)
a syllabic genre which follows the Alleluia in the mass. Both text and music were newly composed. The typical sequence has a deliberately irreglar structure, in which a series of couplets of various lengths are combined. Musically, this structure can be summarized as a b b c c d d ... The presence of internal subdivisions within each line and the tendency towards motivic unity normally complicate the structure, and some sequences dispense with the couplet structure altogether. Most sequences were banned by the Council of Trent (1545-63), and only five survive in modern-day practice.
sequence (2)
a melodic pattern that is repeated at successively higher (or successively lower) pitches.
similar motion
when two or more parts move in generally the same direction, but by different amounts. Related terms: parallel motion, oblique motion, contrary motion.
sixth-to-octave cadence
in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, cadences were defined contrapuntally (e.g. two voices moving out by step from a major sixth to an octave) rather than harmonically (dominant chord to tonic). The major sixth expanding to an octave was the most commonly used cadential gesture, though it was often enhanced by rhythmic and melodic ornamentation.
using syllables to represent the notes of the scale; the singer associates the syllable with a particular pitch and its context of whole steps and half steps. See hexachord.
a composition is strophic if the music which accompanies one stanza of poetry is repeated for subsequent stanzas.
substitute clausula
a passage (or several passages) composed as a replacement for a segment of Notre- Dame organum. Thus, it employs a short excerpt of plainchant in the tenor and new material in the organal voice(s). Such clausulas often employed rhythmic modes (using copula or discant). Since the tenor usually came from a melismatic portion of the plainchant, the clausula seemingly had no text (or only one or two syllables). The clausula could be plugged back into the original organum setting, but evidently may also have had an independent musical existence. The clausula was the immediate forerunner of the early motet.
the top voice in a polyphonic texture; the term becomes common in the fifteenth century.
a musical setting is syllabic if there is only one note for each syllable of the text. Related terms: neumatic, melismatic.
a play on rhythmic and metrical expectations such as giving a silence where a stressed note is expected or stressing a normally weak beat. Used extensively in the fourteenth century.
the metrical unit, involving both a downward and an upward motion of the arm if "conducted."
a rhythmic pattern (longer than a motive) which is repeated exactly in an isorhythmic tenor. One refers to the "number of talea" when determining the structure of the isorhythmic voice. The talea may be augmented or diminished as long as the rhythmic proportions stay the same. See isorhythm.
tenor (1)
a structural voice near or at the bottom of the musical texture in polyphonic works. During the Middle Ages, the tenor is the part which is most likely to have borrowed material (a plainchant excerpt, for instance). It is also the part which is most likely to employ melodic repetition or to use isorhythm. It also provides part of the contrapuntal harmonic foundation for compositions; see discant-tenor framework.
tenor (2)
a high man's voice; also, a voice part which falls into that register. During the fourteenth century, the "tenorista" was often a highly-paid soloist.
tenor (3)
a reciting tone for a particular mode, that is, a note that can be repeated as many times as is necessary for the number of syllables in a given line of text. The tenor for each mode is included on the table of modes.
where a melody is located within a given vocal register (e.g. high in the soprano range); also, where a melody spends most of its time within its overall range. Tessitura can be high, medium or low.
the way in which the individual lines of a composition interact. Commonly divided into monophonic, homophonic, and polyphonic.
a form without any pre-established musical structure.
a soloistic chant from the mass which replaces the alleluia in penitential seasons. It has several verses, sung by the soloist.
triplum (1)
the third voice to be composed. In organum and the early motet, it may share the range of the duplum/motetus, but usually has a higher tessitura (being the top note at cadences, for instance). In the fourteenth century, however, the triplum is often a countermelody which is found above the primary cantus line at the top of the texture regardless of the total number of voices.
triplum (2)
in organum, a piece which has a third "triplum" line can be called an "organum triplum" or "triplum" for short. Perotin wrote a number of tripla.
an addition to a pre-existent chant (known as the "host"). The trope introduces and comments on the text of the host chant. Tropes are usually syllabic and are sung by a soloist; they may be monophonic or polyphonic.
under-third cadence
see landini cadence.
the identical pitch (literally, "one sound"). See interval.
unmeasured music
an approach to rhythm which left the determination of rhythm to the performer. Many medieval genres were unmeasured: plainchant, troubadour-trouvère repertory, organum purum and early organum styles, for instance. Since several of these genres predate systems of rhythmic notation, the term "free rhythm" is preferred by some authors.
see conductus (monophonic)
one of the French formes fixe, cultivated in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. A strophic piece with an internal structure of A b b a A, where a capital letter designates a repetition of both text and music and lower case designates new text. The virelai typically had three stanzas; its refrain could easily lead into the new text of successive stanzas or serve to conclude the piece.
a term used loosely to mean number of parts in the texture (and not necessarily number of vocalists); it would include an instrumental line or a line sung by an ensemble as a single "voice." (The term "part" can then be reserved to mean a section of a work)

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