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Guillaume Dufay & Gilles Binchois

Polyphony was invented by the Greeks. It is part of Western Europe’s Græco-Roman heritage. Guillaume Dufay (August 5, 1397 – November 27, 1474), Gilles Binchois (c. 1400 – 20 September 1460), and Johannes Ockeghem (1410–1425 Belgium – February 1497) contributed to the development of polyphony (Franco-Flemish school).

The examples I have used below are taken from Wikipedia and YouTube. (Please donate to Wikipedia. Small donations add up.)

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Monophonic music

  • one voice (that could constitute the cantus firmus, or melody, of a piece to which voices would be added)
  • eight “measures”

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Homophonic music

  • four voices (polyphonic)
  • sung simultaneously

Thomas Tallis "If ye love me"

Homophony in Tallis’s (c. 1505 – 23 November 1585) “If ye love me,” composed in 1549. The four voices move together using the same rhythm, and the relationship between them creates chords: the excerpt begins and ends with an F major triad. (Wikipedia)

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Contrapuntal polyphony

  • Four voices
  • polyphonic, but not chordal (not played simultaneously)

Fugue bar

Above is a bar, or measure, taken from J.S. Bach‘s “Fugue No.17 in A flat”, BWV 862, from Das Wohltemperierte Clavier (Part I), a famous example of contrapuntal polyphony. (Wikipedia)

The numbers indicate finguering.  They do not refer to the position of the chord: root position and inversions.  During the baroque period, it was not unusual simply to provide musicians with a figured bass from which they “realized” the chords.

Thomas Tallis, English composer

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Harmony (polyphony mixing human voices and instrumental voices) (click on title to hear)

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December 8, 2011