(redirected from polyphonous)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.


(pəlĭf`ənē), music whose texture is formed by the interweaving of several melodic lines. The lines are independent but sound together harmonically. Contrasting terms are homophony, wherein one part dominates while the others form a basically chordal accompaniment, and monophony, wherein there is but a single melodic line (e.g., plainsongplainsong
or plainchant,
the unharmonized chant of the medieval Christian liturgies in Europe and the Middle East; usually synonymous with Gregorian chant, the liturgical music of the Roman Catholic Church.
..... Click the link for more information.
). Polyphony grew out of the practice of organum, in which a plainsong melody is paralleled by another melody at the interval of a fourth or a fifth. This practice, first described in the Musica enchiriadis (late 9th cent.), developed into freer forms of countermelody, culminating in the great age of polyphony in the 15th and 16th cent. In the music of this period, harmonies seem to be generated by the melodic lines sung simultaneously. The gradual ascendancy of harmonic relationships over melodic considerations and the resultant development of major and minor tonalities led in the baroque era to a polyphony controlled by harmony. The fugues and chorale settings of J. S. Bach are the epitome of this type. Homophonic texture is more characteristic of the music of the classical and romantic eras, but in the 20th cent. there has been renewed interest in polyphonic aspects of musical texture and structure. See counterpointcounterpoint,
in music, the art of combining melodies each of which is independent though forming part of a homogeneous texture. The term derives from the Latin for "point against point," meaning note against note in referring to the notation of plainsong.
..... Click the link for more information.



a type of many-voiced music, the fundamental characteristic of which is the equal importance of the voices constituting the texture. (“Counterpoint” is a term related to polyphony.) In polyphonic music, the voices are combined in accordance with the principles of harmony, which ensure a coordinated sound. Unlike polyphony, homophonic or harmonic many-voiced music is dominated by a single voice, usually the upper voice, which is called the melody. It is accompanied by other voices that sound together as chords, heightening the expressiveness of the melody. Polyphony takes shape through the joining of independent, linear melodic voices that are extensively developed in a composition.

There are a number of types of polyphony, classified according to the melodic and thematic content of the voices. In pod-golosochnaia (supporting-voice) polyphony, a principal melody is heard simultaneously with its variants, or podgoloski. This type of polyphony is characteristic of some folk-song cultures (for example, Russian folk music), from which it has been borrowed by professional composers. In imitative polyphony a single theme is developed by means of restatement or duplication in every voice. The canon and the fugue are among the forms based on this principle. In contrast-thematic polyphony, the voices simultaneously introduce independent themes, which, in many instances, belong to various musical genres. This type of polyphony synthesizes the thematic material and contrasts and combines the various lines of music.

In music of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, the various types of polyphony have sometimes been brought together in complex combinations: fugues and canons on two or more themes, and the fusion of imitative development with a consistently independent theme in forms such as the chorale (J. S. Bach’s cantatas) and the passacaglia (P. Hindemith).

Since the 12th and 13th centuries, the forms of polyphony have changed considerably. It is customary to distinguish two periods of polyphony: the period of strict polyphony, which culminated in the creative work of Palestrina, and the period of free polyphony, which reached its peak in the art of J. S. Bach and G. F. Handel. The traditions of free polyphony were developed by Mozart, Beethoven, and other composers of that period.

In the USSR, polyphony is important in Russian, Ukrainian, and Georgian folk music. The origins of polyphony in professional music are linked to partesnoe penie, or part-singing. Russian polyphony received its classic formulation in works by M. I. Glinka and the classic Russian composers of the subsequent generation.

Polyphony is an important element in the musical language of 20th-century composers, particularly I. F. Stravinsky, N. Ia. Miaskovskii, S. S. Prokofiev, D. D. Shostakovich, R. K. Shchedrin, P. Hindemith, and B. Britten.


Taneev, S. Podvizhnoi kontrapunkt strogogo pis’ma, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1959.
Skrebkov, S. Uchebnik polifonii, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1965.
Protopopov, V. V. Istoriia polifonii v ee vazhneishikh iavleniiakh: Russkaia klassicheskaia i sovetskaia muzyka. Moscow, 1962.
Protopopov, V. V. Istoriia polifonii v ee vazhneishikh iavleniiakh: Zapadno-evropeiskaia klassika XVIII-XIX vv. Moscow, 1965.
Prout, E. Counterpoint: Strict and Free. London, 1890.
Riemann, H. Grosse Kompositionslehre, vols. 1–2. Berlin-Stuttgart, 1903.



polyphonic style of composition or a piece of music utilizing it
References in periodicals archive ?
First, no matter their background or (ethnic / sub-national) heritage, African-Canadian writers tend to reflect a multicultural temperament and a polyphonous consciousness.
Susan Ackerman (2005) has recently read the Epic from the point of view of liminality, and Neal Walls (2001: 9-92) from that of queer studies, revealing its polyphonous discourse of desire that transcends traditional erotic categories.
In the polyphonous echo chamber of S/Z, the voice becomes a somatic zone of inter-sexual synesthesia.
Nick Paley uses the words "polyphonous voice" to describe "systems of univocal discourse ...
For Chude-Sokei, Williams's performance is plural, polyphonous, multifaceted, complex, heteroglot, "trigonometric," even fractal--with literally infinite meanings and possibilities--yet we cannot "hear the full implications of Williams's voice" nor appreciate its polyphony because Chude-Sokei does not take the time to analyze Williams's minstrelsy thoroughly (241).
As we analyze fictional production in Shakespeare and Ruzante--the most complex and polyphonous early modern Italian playwright--we can begin to glimpse structural patterns, theatergrams of poverty that might be homologically explained by the unfortunate supranational parity shared by the itinerant beggars affected by the pan-European economic crisis of the sixteenth century.
In his sensitive monograph devoted to Pollock, Terence Maloon calls these works polyphonous: Each color, each layer, acts as a different voice, and the result is a strangely unified and democratic field in which no element gets more attention than any other.
Most people will be familiar with the intricate polyphonous music from Bach's fifth Brandenberg, which includes a long, breakaway harpsichord solo in the first movement.
Donabedian (2001: 423-424) discusses a similar interpretation for a hearsay marker in Modern Western Armenian, which can give an utterance with an unattributable source a "polyphonous flavor", whereby "the speaker distances herself from claiming that the utterance is true.
'As we grope to understand the political and social meaning of our experiences in Seattle, there's no doubt that we all saw the elephant.' (73) He records how, It was absolutely exhilarating to be in the midst of this polyphonous cacophony.
It is the poetic output that Gruesz zeroes in on, poems in Spanish and English and works in translation--a polyphonous dynamic she says reveals "transamerican thinking" (xiii).
Smollett's book is itself polyphonous and noisy; this is its very nature as an epistolary, dialogic novel, in which the authorial tone alternates between the fascistically facetious and the mirthfully liberal.