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

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