The Practice of Borrowing in 12th-Century Polyphony Analytical Essay by LisaLove

The Practice of Borrowing in 12th-Century Polyphony
A review of the organum repertoire of the 12th century, with particular attention to Leonin's and Adam de la Halle's works.
# 154152 | 1,003 words | 3 sources | 2015 | US
Published on Mar 31, 2015 in Music Studies (History)

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From the Paper:

"Music would not be what it is today if not for the influence of past generations of composers. Since antiquity, new developments in music have occurred when younger musicians study and improve upon the works of those who came before them. Composers of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, such as Leonin and Adam de la Halle, were no exception. They freely borrowed from and elaborated upon the Gregorian chants they knew, using them to create new and exciting polyphonic works that would help redefine concepts of harmony and voice leading in music.
"One of Leonin's best-known works is an organum, or polyphonic work, based on the gradual Viderunt Omnes. The cantus firmus, or the foundation of the work, is a rhythmically altered version of the gradual's melody, sung by several choir members. The duplum, or second voice, is performed by a talented soloist from the choir who improvises over the cantus firmus. The first page of the work is set in florid organum, with the cantus firmus singing the first four notes of the gradual's melody while the soloist sings elaborate melismas over it. The second page begins on the word "omnes," set this time in discant organum, with the cantus firmus moving as quickly as one note (notated as a dotted quarter) against two of the soloist's notes (generally quarters and eighths in rhythmic mode 1, though they are sometimes split into shorter durations). After a return to florid organum for the end of the phrase "Viderunt omnes," the rest of the choir joins in for the phrase beginning with "fines terre." These three systems on the second page, with their single melodic line, resemble the structure of the original gradual much more closely. The notes themselves remain nearly identical, with the exception of one shift between the syllables "nostri" and their corresponding neumes. The choral section ends and the florid organum resumes on the phrase "Notum fecit." After another discant portion on the word "dominus," the florid organum continues. Following a line of discant on the word "revelavit," the remainder of the chant is set to a single choral line. The first verse of "Viderunt omnes" is then repeated in this style, a musical reference to the original chant. The division of verses and phrases, with the exception of the repeat, corresponds closely to that of the gradual."

Sample of Sources Used:

  • Falck, Robert. "Adam de la Halle." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 15 Feb. 2011. <>.
  • Hiley, David. "Lyonin." The Oxford Companion to Music. Ed. Alison Latham. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <>.
  • Reckow, Fritz, et al. "Organum." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 18 Feb. 2011. <>.
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