The motet is hardly a term that can be defined in brief. It is a word that requires a descriptive analysis for each time period. Throughout its history, the motet has taken on several different forms and ideas. A significant difference in the definition of the motet can be seen between the 13th and 14th centuries.
It is appropriate to begin in the 13th century, when the motet was originated. Originally, the motet was seen as a decoration of chant, for it was based on the sacred Latin texts of the Gregorian chant. In the early motet the tenor, or bottom voice, sang original Gregorian chant. In terms of form, it originated as a troped clausula. This changed in the 14th century when the idea of the motet was more secular, the tenor did not sing chant. The text was usually French and portrayed ideas of courtly love and satire. Often times the text and music was often symbolic. At times the motet during the 14th century was written to recognize special events, feasts or occasions. In the 13th century, the motet usually consisted of 3 to 4 voices. Most often, each of these voices would sing their own text, with the tenor singing the chant as previously mentioned. Usually the top voice or the triplum had the longest text and the smallest note values. The middle voice, or duplum, had less text and slightly longer note values. The tenor sang the sacred text and the longest note values. This concept becomes known as the Franconian motet. This idea would continue for the 14th century motets. Although the idea of the Franconian motet continued, the way artists understood rhythm would differ. During the 13th century rhythmic modes were used to distinguish certain rhythmic patterns. For the duration of this time, there was no standard notation of rhythm on the score. This changed during the 14th century when the use of mensurations began, indicating the relationship between the breve and semibreve. They can be compared to our idea of time signatures....
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