Music History 1
2 October 2012
The Development of Polyphony
Polyphony is a musical concept that completely revolutionized music as a whole. The development of polyphony began to take shape around the 11th century. When talking about polyphony, we are referring to a texture made up of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice (monophony) or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords (homophony). Although we have an overall understanding when polyphony came about, many historians are still concealed in speculation and theories. Despite its beginnings we can assume that polyphony existed in one form or another somewhere else before it grew in the West. Some scholars suggest that roots may lie in Greek music, when the technique of improvising on the same melody could be found, also known as heterophony. Others opinionate that its origins rest in the natural variations in voice placement from one person to another. This is best described as when two different voices would sing the same melody using the most comfortable parts of their ranges, causing a succession of parallel intervals to be produced. It can also be viewed as a result of philosophical assumption on the possibility of synchronized interval performances. In order to understand the earliest stages of its development, we must rely on theoretical treatises. These are the technical descriptions of part singing, that have a distinguishing name, organum. Organums can be found in theoretical works by the ninth and tenth centuries, but we do not find any signs of the early history or an attachment to any specific region in them. Conversely, these treatises describe and arrange practices that may well have been widespread and could be considered a custom, not a novelty.
Another theory of when European polyphony came about begins when the rivalry between the Western and Eastern churches reached a crisis in 1054. When that...