The polyphony musical texture is a holistic approach to the quality of sound by integrating melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic aspects. Polyphony was not a phenomenon unique to western music as it was integrated to the cultural heritage of several regions. However, its origins as a professional practice between the 7th and the 13th century hail primarily from Europe. It was the natural progression from the organum that entailed adding a secondary voice to the plainsong between notes, the fifth step below the vox principalis. Organum characterized Gregorian chant which, enhanced harmony by adding one voice. Organum is ironically a precursor and a product of polyphony. Polyphony was added as decoration to the liturgical performance to increase its grandeur before evolving into an autonomous style. Once a commentary on the primary chant, starting mid way, the second and subsequently, third and fourth voice began singing in unison from the onset. Singers imbued with different vocal ranges sung at their defunct pitch levels while preserving the sanctity of the melody. To a degree they were emulating the example of their organist predecessors. Nonetheless, the polyphony movement was not limited to parallel motion at set intervals, as in the secular song contra movements of melody existed though with few surviving texts. Otherwise, the Georgian polyphony favored singing parallel fifths working in tandem with strong dissonance was common place.

            The development of Polyphony was expedited by the advancements in theory and notation making as well as translation of Greek texts to the dominant European tongue making the genre more elaborate[1]. On top of the melodic autonomy, the polyphony added rhythmic independence. The latter implied that the additional voices had the freedom to vary the tones of a singular plainchant. Polyphony’s zenith was marked by vox organalis, the emancipation of instrumentation. The composition became distinct from performance. The twelfth century composers, Leonin and his counterpart Perotin of the Notre-Dame school, further distinguished organum as a genre by adding a third and fourth voice to the chants[2]. By this time, chants were supplemented by musical instruments to increase their harmony and melody, homophonic. The two innovators were the architects of rhythmic modes and the first professional composers of polyphonic music. Apart from the Gregorian chant, the rhythmic systems of St. Augustine were their primary theoretical influences. Leonin composition transcended textual scope. Perotin edited the works of Leonin by integrating preexisting rhythmic patterns that were popular in secular music.

            Prior to the development of the polyphony, the monophonic liturgical chant, one voice, pervaded the church halls. The Polyphony innovations were met with vibrant opposition by the Catholic Church as it was viewed as a secular invention[3]. The perceptions of the impiety were confounded by the inaudibility of the words when independent melodies were song simultaneously. Its performance at first appeared to be overly dramatized and haphazard contrary to the solemn worship that the monophonic chant embodied. The church’s suppression of the sound gradually waned and it was officially embraced in the Papal courts. The demarcation between secular and religious use of polyphony became increasingly blurred. It was common to find lyrics of popular love poems sung utilizing sacred text in a type of trope. Similarly, sacred text could be chanted by leveraging a popular secular melody. The musical innovations ran parallel to societal change. The development of the polyphony between the 7th and the 13th century was gradual adopting different attributes corresponding to the societal changes.


Jeppesen, Knud. Counterpoint: the polyphonic vocal style of the sixteenth century. Courier Corporation, 2013.

Rager, Dan. “The Evolution and Antithesis of Western Music.” Music Faculty Publications Chardon, Ohio: Wind-Band Music, 2015.

[1]Knud Jeppesen. Counterpoint: the polyphonic vocal style of the sixteenth century. (Courier Corporation, 2013), 60.

[2] Ibid, 72.

[3] Dan Rager. “The Evolution and Antithesis of Western Music.” Music Faculty Publications (Chardon, Ohio: Wind-Band Music, 2015), 43.

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