Thomas Payne

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Music
  • Applied Music
  • Ethnomusicology
  • Music Theory and Analysis
  • Musicology and Music History
  • Music Education and Pedagogy


Show Summary Details


As the Latin form of the Greek ὄργανον (organon: “tool,” “instrument,” “systematic principle”), the word organum refers most typically to a specimen of vocal polyphony, especially one that has a preexisting liturgical chant as one of its voices. Examples of works fitting this generic label appear primarily from the 9th century to the 16th century, after which other practices, genres, and styles begin edging it out as a descriptive marker. The initial derivation of the term from the musical instrument (the organ) is unlikely. Rather, the most likely stimulus for its adoption lies in its association with the systematic measurement of musical consonances, particularly the perfect intervals of the fourth, fifth, and octave. Additionally, the term could encompass the specific voice (or voices) added to the chant (itself usually called vox principalis [principal voice], and, later, tenor) as well as the entire musical product. Descriptions of organum arise around the same time as the first examples of notated chants, and these imply an already long-standing practice. The earliest treatments appear embedded in 9th-century theoretical treatises otherwise concerned with teaching principles of Gregorian chant. Here, a few specific rules and precepts could be followed to generate an organum ex tempore that generally lies below the chant. Around 1100, significant changes arise in the appearance of a much greater freedom in the use of harmonic intervals, the placement of the organal voice above the chant, and—later in the century—the option of melismatic elaboration in the added part, creating a new style eventually called organum purum, as distinct from note-against-note discant. Results are visible in the repertories of Aquitanian polyphony and in works preserved in the Codex Calixtinus. By the end of the 12th through the mid-13th centuries, a high point of cultivation is reached in the repertory associated with the Paris cathedral of Notre Dame, with (a) the clarification of rhythm in certain segments of compositions; (b) further stylistic categorization, including a new type, copula, in addition to discant and organum purum; (c) the introduction of the genre of the discant clausula; (d) the preparation of collections of organa encompassing the entire liturgical year; (e) an increase to as many as four parts; and (f) the recognition of the composers Léonin and Pérotin. Later developments in Parisian circles tended to leave organum behind in favor of the motet, while other areas of Europe may demonstrate an engagement with Parisian traditions and/or a reliance on retrospective polyphonic traditions.

Article.  19309 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.