A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Discant
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DISCANT, dis-cantus, a double song; originally the melody or 'counterpoint' sung with a plain-song; thence the upper voice or leading melody in a piece of part-music; and thence the canto, cantus, or soprano voice, which was formerly—as late as Mendelssohn, who used to say he had learnt it from Zelter—written in the C clef.
Thus in earlier English the word 'discant' or 'descant' means an air:
'And sprightly voice sweet descant sing.'
And the violin, because it took the upper part in the quartet, was called the 'diskant- Violin.'