Thomas has introduced it in Ophelia's mad scene in 'Hamlet.' Other examples will be found in Ahlstrom's 'Walda Svenska Folksånga' (Stockholm, 1850).
[ W. B. S. ]
[ G. ]
POLYPHONIA (Eng. Polyphony, from the Gr. πολὺς, many, φονὴ, a voice). A term applied, by modern Musical Historians, to a certain species of unaccompanied Vocal Music, in which each Voice is made to sing a Melody of its own; the various Parts being bound together, in obedience to the laws of Counterpoint, into an harmonious whole, wherein it is impossible to decide which Voice has the most important task allotted to it, since all are equally necessary to the general effect. It is in this well-balanced equality of the several Parts that Polyphonia differs from Monodia; in which the Melody is given to one Part only, while supplementary Voices and Instruments are simply used to fill up the Harmony. [See Monodia.]
The development of Polyphony from the first rude attempts at Diaphonia, Discant, or Organum, described by Franco of Cologne, Guido d'Arezzo, and others, was so perfectly natural, that, notwithstanding the slowness of its progress, we can scarcely regard the results it eventually attained in any other light than that of an inevitable consequence. The first quest of the Musicians who invented 'Part-Singing' was, some method of making a Second Voice sing notes which, though not identical with those of the Canto fermo, would at least be harmonious with them. While searching for this, they discovered the use of one Interval after another, and employed their increased knowledge to so good purpose, that, before long, they were able to assign to the Second Voice a totally independent Part. It is true, that, to our ears, the greater number of their progressions are intolerable; less, however, because they mistook the character of the Intervals they employed, than because they did not at first understand the proper method of using them in succession. They learned this in course of time; and, discarding their primitive Sequences of Fifths and Fourths, attained at last the power of bringing two Voice parts into really harmonious relation with each other. The rate of their progress may be judged by the two following examples, the first of which is from a MS. of the end of the 11th or beginning of the 12th century, in the Ambrosian Collection at Milan; and the second, from one of the 14th, in the Paris Library.
11th or 12th cent.
Now, in both these cases, the two Parts are equally melodious. There are no long chains of reiterated notes, merely introduced, as Guido would have introduced them, for the purpose of supporting the Melody upon a Pedal-Point: but, each Part has its own work to do; and it cannot fairly be said that one is more important than the other. [See Organum.] Equal care was taken to preserve an absolutely independent Melody, in each several Part, when, at a later period, Composers attempted the production of Motets, and other similar works, in three and four Parts. We find no less pains bestowed upon the Melody of the Triplum, in such cases, than upon that of the Tenor, or Motetus; and very rarely indeed does the one exhibit more traces of archaic stiffness than the other. The following example from a Mass composed by Guillaume de Machault for the Coronation of Charles V, in the year 1364, shews a remarkable freedom of Melody—for the time--in all the Parts.
- That is, the Third Part—whence our English word, Treble. The Fourth Part was sometimes called Quadruplum, and the Fifth. Quincuplum. The principal part, containing the Canto fermo, was sometimes called Tenor, and sometimes Motetus. The term Contratenor was applied to the part which lay nearest the Tenor, whether immediately above, immediately below, or exactly of equal compass with it. This part was also frequently called Medius.