The Classical Music Minute

The Rise of Polyphony & The Notre Dame School

December 12, 2022 Steven Hobé, Composer & Host Season 1 Episode 90
The Classical Music Minute
The Rise of Polyphony & The Notre Dame School
Show Notes Transcript

The majority of modern music we hear today would not have been possible without the development of Polyphony in the 12th and 13th centuries. Much of this was accomplished through the innovation of The Notre Dame School in Paris. Take a minute to get the scoop!

Listen to a great example of Pérotin’s organum quadruplum—four-voice polyphony ℅ YouTube

Fun Fact
The earliest motets are the Notre-Dame motets, written by composers such as Leonin and Perotin during the 13th century. These motets were polyphonic, with a different text in each voice, and employed the rhythmic modes. An example of a Notre-Dame motet is Salve, salus hominum/O radians stella/nostrum by Perotin, composed between 1180 and 1238.

About Steven, Host
Steven is a Canadian composer living in Toronto. He creates a range of works, with an emphasis on the short-form genre—his muse being to offer the listener both the darker and more satiric shades of human existence. If you're interested, please check out his website for more. Member of the Canadian League Of Composers.

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Polyphony was the single most important development in the history of Western music. It began to emerge in the 12th and 13th centuries in Paris. 

Polyphony combines two or more simultaneous lines of music. This allowed for regular meters, which was needed if the different voices were to be kept together.  Music also needed to be written down in order to indicate rhythm and pitch.

With more precise notational systems, music progressed from being improvised and disseminated through oral tradition to one that could be planned and carefully preserved.

During the Gothic era, which saw the rise of cathedrals, the individual composer came to be recognized. The earliest polyphonic music, called organum, developed from the custom of adding a second voice that ran above or below the Gregorian melody at the interval of a fifth or fourth. 

In the forefront of this evolution were the composers centered at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The only composers whose names have come down to us from this time are Léonin and then subsequently Pérotin.