Archive for the Music Category


Posted in Medieval, Music with tags , on January 30, 2012 by Nell
Gregorian chant

Gregorian chant

Guide: Vocal Music in the Medieval and Renaissance Periods

Gregorian chant, plainchant, plainsong, or simply chant are terms referring to a genre of church music codified and written down during the 10th to 13th centuries, mostly created by anonymous composers.

This music represents the first significant body of music in Western culture that was notated and preserved in writing (although it was very different from our modern notation).

What to listen for:

  • Chant (in its original state) is all monophonic, meaning there is a single melodic line which all singers perform simultaneously.
  • In organum, composers began using chants to create a cantus firmus—a fixed melody—and they would compose new, original music on top of the chant. Chants are often still present and intact in very complex polyphonic music by 16th century composers, even though they are somewhat hidden and obscured.
  • Chant was written using a system of musical scales called the church modes (which were derived from ancient Greek modes). As a result, chant may sound strange or exotic in comparison to later music, which is built around different rules of music theory.

Recommended listening:

Further reading:

Wikipedia article on Gregorian chant


Posted in Medieval, Music with tags , , on January 30, 2012 by Nell

Guide: Vocal Music in the Medieval and Renaissance Periods

Organum is a genre of Medieval polyphonic music (music with two or more simultaneous, different voice parts) that reached the peak of its sophistication during the late 1100s-early 1200s in France. In organum, new music would be composed and sometimes improvised on top of the “fixed” music of older Gregorian chant.

At first there were just two parts — one for the chant and the other to provide harmony or, in later music, to provide a faster, melodic part that decorated the chant. As more voices were added and the rhythmic and harmony behind the music became more sophisticated, it evolved into new musical forms such as the motet.

What to listen for:

  • In organum, the chant is always in the “tenor” voice (this is different from the kind of singer—“tenor” is a Medieval term referring to the lowest voice part, basically, and could actually be an alto or bass singer).
  • A notable feature of most forms of organum is that the tenor voice is usually singing very long notes (the chant has been stretched out in time) while the upper voice(s) are singing much faster music, creating a sense of two different tempos happening simultaneously.
  • Like the chant on which it is based, organum is derived from a modal pitch system rather than the tonal system.

Recommended listening:

These two are from a useful playlist of Medieval music created by a YouTube user. Check out those video descriptions for more information.

Further reading:

Wikipedia article on organum


Posted in Medieval, Music, Renaissance with tags , , , , , , on January 30, 2012 by Nell

Guide: Vocal Music in the Medieval and Renaissance Periods

Music by Orlando di Lassus

Music by Orlando di Lassus (click to view source)

The term polyphony can be used to describe a general style of music from the Medieval and Renaissance periods or, more broadly, to refer to any musical texture of more than one distinct, simultaneous melodic lines.

Polyphony emerged out of Medieval church music (chant) around the 12th century with the invention of organum (the earliest named composers of organum were Leonin and Perotin, both working at Notre Dame in Paris).

This form of music reached the peak of its popularity and sophistication in the Renaissance in the 16th century (Palestrina and Lassus, aka Lasso, are considered the defining composers of that period).

Polyphony may be found in motets, masses, and madrigals, the dominant genres of vocal ensemble music during the 14th-16th centuries.

What to listen for in Renaissance polyphony:

  • Polyphony utilizes mostly contrapuntal textures (often mixed with short passages of homophony, in which all the voices sing in the same rhythm but with different pitches), rather than melody-and-accompaniment type of textures (what we think of as “song”).
  • Each of the different voices have equal importance in the overall sound of the music. (This is in contrast to monophony, in which there is one melody which performers would sing simultaneously.)
  • Polyphony often involves canon, a compositional technique utilizing imitative counterpoint, where two or more voices perform the same, or very similar, melodies in a sequence of overlapping entrances. (Think “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”) Sometimes the melodies are transposed (i.e. starting on a different pitch) or otherwise altered.
  • The harmonic system used in this music was derived from the church modes (see chant for more info) and therefore sounds noticeably different from the tonal music of the Baroque and Classical periods.

Recommended listening:

See organum to hear the very earliest polyphony, which is stylistically and technically different than this later music.

Late Medieval polyphony:

Renaissance polyphony:

Further reading:

Wikipedia article on polyphony

Vocal Music in the Medieval and Renaissance Periods [GUIDE]

Posted in Guides, Medieval, Music, Renaissance, Videos with tags , , on January 30, 2012 by Nell

 Vocal music in the Medieval and Renaissance periods is some of the most interesting and beautiful music of all time. Use this guide as a jumping-off point to explore some of the more important genres and techniques in the Medieval era through the Renaissance (ending around 1600).



…video coming soon!