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For other uses, see Monophony (disambiguation).

In music, monophony is the simplest of textures, consisting of melody without accompanying harmony. This may be realized as just one note at a time, or with the same note duplicated at the octave (such as when men and women sing together). If an entire melody is played by two or more instruments or sung by a choir with a fixed interval between the voices or in unison, it is also said to be in monophony. Music in which all the notes sung are in unison is called monophonic. Musical texture is determined in song and music by varying components. Songs intersperse monophony, heterophony, polyphony, homophony, or monody elements throughout the melody to create atmosphere and style. Monophony may not have underlying rhythmic textures, and must consist of only a melodic line. The music with a melodic line and rhythmic accompaniment is called homophony.

According to Ardis Butterfield (1997), monophony "is the dominant mode of the European vernacular genres as well as of Latin song ... in polyphonic works, it remains a central compositional principle."[2]

This is the plainchant version (mode iii) of Pange Lingua sung to its traditional Latin text.

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Erik Satie The Four Ogives. Their calm, slow melodies are built up from paired phrases reminiscent of plainchant.

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A monophonic Antiphon from the Gregorian Chant collection Liber Usualis

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Western Singing[edit]


The earliest recorded Christian monophony was plainchant or plainsong with its single unaccompanied vocal melody. Sung by multiple voices in unison (i.e. the same pitch and rhythm), this music is still considered monophonic. Plainsong was the first and foremost musical style of Italy, Ireland, Spain, and France. In the early 9th century, the organum tradition developed by adding voices in parallel to plainchant melodies. The earliest organum merely augmented the texture of the melody by adding a second voice in parallel octaves or fifths, which could still be considered monophonic; however, by the 11th century the organum had developed a style called "free organum" in which the voices were more independent, evolving into a polyphonic tradition.

Gregorian chant of the Kyrie (plainsong)

Plainchant styles[edit]

Mozarabic chant, Byzantine Chant, Armenian chant, Beneventan chant, Ambrosian chant, Gregorian chant and others were various forms of plainsong which were all monophonic. Many of these monophonic chants were written down, and contain the earliest music notation to develop after the loss of the ancient Greek system. For example, Dodecachordon was published by the Swiss Renaissance composer Heinrich Glarean (also Glareanus) and included plainsong or Gregorian chant and monophony. The earliest manuscripts which contain plainsong were written in neumes, a primitive system which recorded only the outline of the melody, and it was not until the 11th century that Guido d'Arezzo invented a more modern musical notation system that the exact notes of the melodies were preserved.

Troubador song monophony[edit]

Most Troubador songs were monophonic. Aristocratic troubadours and trouvères played religious devotion in courtly performances for kings, queens, and countesses. , poet and composer in the 14th century produced many songs which can be seen as extensions of the Provençal Troubador tradition, such as his secular monophonic lais and virelais. Jehan de Lescurel (or Jehannot de l'Escurel), poet and composer northern French Trouvère) also wrote monophonic songs in the style of virelais, ballades, rondeaux and diz entés. Minnesänger were similar to the French style but in Middle High German.[3]

Geisslerlieder or Flagellant songs[edit]

A tradition of Lauda, or sacred songs in the style of Troubador songs, was popularized in the 13th and 14th centuries by Geisslerlieder, or Flagellant songs. These monophonic Laude spirituale songs were used in the 13th and 17th century by flagellants, as recorded in the medieval chronicle Chronicon Hugonis sacerdotis de Rutelinga (1349).[4]

Lutheran Church chorale[edit]

Monophony was the first type of texture in the Lutheran Church. A well-known example is Martin Luther's hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," written as a monophonic tune sometime between 1527 and 1529. Many of Luther's hymns were later harmonized for multiple voices by other composers, and were also used in other polyphonic music such as the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Monophony with instrumental doubling[edit]

See Voicing (music)#Doubling

DeLone[5] more loosely defines monophony as "passages, movements, or sections in which notes sound alone, despite instrumental doubling" even if "such passages may involve several instruments or voices."

Music of India[edit]

Indian classical music is an ancient musical tradition where monophonic melodies called ragas are played over drones, sometimes accompanied by percussion and other accompaniment.

For more information see also Music history of India.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kliewer, Vernon (1975). "Melody: Linear Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music", Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music. Wittlich, Gary (ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-049346-5.
  2. ^ Ardis Butterfield (1997). "Monophonic song: questions of category", Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816540-4.
  3. ^ crusades article template Music of the Crusades Era URL accessed January 18, 2007] URL accessed January 18, 2007]
  4. ^ Medieval secular song: Introduction URL accessed January 18, 2007]
  5. ^ DeLone, Richard (1975). "Timbre and Texture in Twentieth-Century Music", p.99, Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music. Wittlich, Gary (ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-049346-5.

Further reading[edit]

  • Copland, Aaron. "What to Listen for in Music". Published by Signet Classic, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY, 10014. Library of Congress catalogue 98-53893.

External links[edit]