Early Music – A Jargon Buster

Ars Antiqua
The earliest polyphonic style. Generally used triple-time rhythm.

Ars Nova
Polyphonic style dominant from 1280 onwards. Increased rhythmic complexity due to notes divided into two not three.

Chanson
French for ‘song’. In earliest days it meant a vocal piece for one or two voices and instrument. By the sixteenth century it could mean an unaccompanied vocal piece on secular words in French style.

Madrigal
Italian form. In the 16th century it referred to a secular, polyphonic piece (usually four or more voices) with special attention to bringing out the meaning of the words.

Mass
Music for Catholic communion service split into Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei.

Motet
Originally, piece to which new words were added. Post-fourteenth century, it meant any sacred polyphonic vocal piece. English equivalent is Anthem.

Canon
Musical device where one part imitates another.

Chromatic
In early periods, using notes outside the ‘mode’ (or type of scale) to heighten expression.

Homophony
Chordal style, like a hymn.

Hocket
Adding rests in between notes to enliven the rhythm.

Isorhythm
Division of melodic line into individual pitches which were put into a rhythmic pattern.

Melisma
The singing of several notes to one syllable.

Monody
Piece consisting of one vocal line, such as plainchant, which is unaccompanied. Same as monophonic.

Polychoral
Music using more than one choir at the same time.

Polyphony
Literally ‘many voices’, a vocal style which uses several independent melodic lines simultaneously, making a rich fluid texture.

Classic CD magazine, 1994

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