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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.
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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.
V. V. PROTOPOPOV