Music in Medieval Britain

By Frank L. Harrison | Go to book overview

IV THE INSTITUTIONS AND THE CULTIVATION OF POLYPHONY FROM 1400 TO THE REFORMATION

POLYPHONIC music in the early Middle Ages, and until the late fourteenth century, was sung by solo voices. The respond, Benedicamus and conductus were ceremonial elaborations or replacements of soloists' chants in the ritual, while the motet originated as a troping elaboration of a neuma from the soloists' part of a respond. The later Middle Ages saw the development of forms of polyphony in which the whole choir took part, as in the Mass and the votive antiphon, and of others in which polyphony sung by one side of the choir alternated with plainsong sung by the other side, as in the Magnificat and Hymn. The leaders of this movement towards choral polyphony were the more important colleges and collegiate churches, and the royal and aristocratic household chapels. The singers in these institutions formed a balanced choir, and there is good reason to assume that all of them were expected to be competent in polyphonic music. Though this was not a statutory or usual requirement in secular cathedrals, it became customary to support the singing of polyphonic antiphons and votive Masses by the more expert of the vicars and choristers in rotation. The greater monasteries also adopted this idea,

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