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See F. Matthiassen, The Style of the Early Motet (1966).
a genre of polyphonic vocal music that originated in 12th-century France. Originally, the motet was a musical composition for two voices, consisting of a new voice added to a voice based on refrains in the Catholic service (Gregorian chants). The new voice was called the motet. Subsequently, the term was applied to the entire composition. Later, motets were written for three or four voices.
The voices that were added to the main voice were melodically richer. Their texts—originally variations on the text for the main voice—became more and more independent. Some motets combined religious texts and humorous secular texts, nonsense texts, and texts in different languages. The main voice was often as signed to an instrumentalist. Later, the fugue and counterpoint were used in motets.
From the 15th century any vocal composition more developed and more ceremonial than a song was called a motet. A purely vocal (noninstrumental) style of choral polyphony was developed in the motets of O. Lassus, G. Gabrieli, and Palestrina in the 16th century. Choral settings prevail in the 16th-century French motet. A solo motet with a figured bass originated in 17th-century Italy. The motet reached its peak in the works of J. S. Bach, who made the choral motet a more profound musical form similar to the cantata.
In the 19th century the motet was developed as a choral composition based on a serious text and sometimes including religious motifs. Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bruckner, M. Reger, and Gounod were among the 19th-century composers who favored the form.