In music, homophony (/, , /; Greek: ὁμόφωνος, homóphōnos, from ὁμός, homós, "same" and φωνή, phōnē, "sound, tone") is a texture in which a primary part is supported by one or more additional strands that flesh out the harmony and often provide rhythmic contrast. This differentiation of roles contrasts with equal-voice polyphony (in which similar lines move with rhythmic and melodic independence to form an even texture) and monophony (in which all parts move in unison or octaves). Historically, homophony and its differentiated roles for parts emerged in tandem with tonality, which gave distinct harmonic functions to the soprano, bass and inner voices.
A homophonic texture may be homorhythmic, which means that all parts have the same rhythm. Chorale texture is another variant of homophony. The most common type of homophony is melody-dominated homophony, in which one voice, often the highest, plays a distinct melody, and the accompanying voices work together to articulate an underlying harmony.
Initially, in Ancient Greece, homophony indicated music in which a single melody is performed by two or more voices in unison or octaves, i.e. monophony with multiple voices. Homophony as a term first appeared in English with Charles Burney in 1776, emphasizing the concord of harmonized melody.
European and German music
Beginning of Tallis' "If ye love me," notated above.
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While homophony can be heard in nearly all European musical traditions, the first notated examples appeared during the Medieval period in dance music, such as the Estampie. However, because manuscript was expensive to produce, there is little record of Medieval homophony, most notated music being monophonic. There was similarly little record of homophony during the Renaissance period.
Homophony first appeared as one of the predominant textures in Western music during the Baroque period in the early 17th century, when composers began to commonly compose with vertical harmony in mind, the homophonic basso continuo becoming a definitive feature of the style. The choral arrangement of four voices (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass) has since become common in Western music. Homophony began by appearing in sacred music, replacing polyphony and monophony as the dominant form, but spread to secular music, for which it is one of the standard forms today.
In 20th century classical music some of the "triad-oriented accompanimental figures such as the Alberti bass [a homophonic form of accompaniment] have largely disappeared from usage and, rather than the traditional interdependence of melodic and chordal pitches sharing the same tonal basis, a clear distinction may exist between the pitch materials of the melody and harmony, commonly avoiding duplication. However, some traditional devices, such as repeated chords, are still used.
African and Asian music
Homophony has appeared in several non-Western cultures, perhaps particularly in regions where communal vocal music has been cultivated. When explorer Vasco da Gama landed in West Africa in 1497, he referred to the music he heard there as being in "sweet harmony". While the concept of harmony in that time was not necessarily the same as the concept of homophony as understood by modern scholars, it is generally accepted that homophonic voice harmonies were commonplace in African music for centuries before contact with Europeans and is common in African music today. Singers normally harmonize voices in homophonic parallelism moving in parallel thirds or fourths. This type of harmonic model is also, implemented in instrumental music where voices are stacked in thirds or fourths. Homophonic Parallelism is not restricted to thirds and fourths, however all harmonic material adheres to the scalar system the particular tune or song is based on. The use of harmony in sixths is common in areas where a hexatonic scale system is used . For instance, the Fang people of Gabon use homophony in their music.
In eastern Indonesia (i.e. in the music of the Toraja in South Sulawesi, in Flores, in East Kalimantan and in North Sulawesi), two-part harmonies are common, usually in intervals of thirds, fourths or fifths. Additionally, much music of the Middle East is generally homophonic, although polyphony is also an important texture, while Chinese music is generally thought to be homophonic, since instruments typically provide accompaniment in parallel fourths and fifths and often double the voice in vocal music, heterophony also being common in China.
In melody-dominated homophony, accompanying voices provide chordal support for the lead voice, which assumes the melody. Some popular music today might be considered melody-dominated homophony, voice typically taking on the lead role, while instruments like piano, guitar and bass guitar normally accompany the voice. In many cases, instruments also take on the lead role, and often the role switches between parts, voice taking the lead during a verse and instruments subsequently taking solos, during which the other instruments provide chordal support.
Monody is similar to melody-dominated homophony in that one voice becomes the melody, while another voice assumes the underlying harmony. Monody, however, is characterized by a single voice with instrumental accompaniment, whereas melody-dominated homophony refers to a broader category of homophonic music, which includes works for multiple voices, not just works for solo voice, as was the tradition with early 17th-century Italian monody.
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