Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Where’d Polyphony Come From?

February 5th, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

Here are a few video clips which show the progression sacred music experienced from its earliest days of plainchant through to the present day.

Here’s a setting of the Kyrie, from Mass IV:

Here’s a setting of the same Kyrie, only with “organum.” The introduction of “organum” consists of one or two singers singing at a set interval which makes a very distinct harmony. It sounds very haunting, very Medieval.

Now here is an early setting of the Kyrie which has broken free from the simple effect of adding the “organum” voices. We now have a new melody, one not seen in the original chant:

The first melody was officially penned in the 10th Century, but was most likely taken from even more ancient times. The second melody was written in the 13th Century (give or take a few decades). The last piece was written by William Byrd in 1592. Over the course of three or four centuries, we see the blooming of polyphony, a facet of sacred music far too often overlooked on account of its complexity. Progressive liturgical naysayers claim that complex things are too confusing, and only serve to alienate the flock. I don’t know about you, but heavenly music is far less complex than trying to figure out the “logic” behind some of the “reforms” we’ve seen implemented in the years since Vatican II, a Council which upheld and defended the “principal place” of Gregorian Chant.

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5 Responses to “Where’d Polyphony Come From?”

  1. snowshoes says:


    Thank you, I always wondered how it developed! Every parish should have a schola to be truly in the “spirit of Vatican II”! AND no amplified music, AND all Churches must have acoustics (bulldoze the modern ones that don’t). The faithful must hear THEIR prayers going up to God. Oh yes, now that everyone knows how to read, EVERYBODY can chant, and sing polyphony, after all, you only have to learn your part, SATB, you know who you are… In third grade, my 60 classmates and I learned how to read and write and sing in Gregorian chant notation, and compose our own chants. And we sang Latin, another no big deal! It ain’t rocket science. This isn’t a panacea, but it won’t drive the children away like the doppler grannies screaming “Sing to the Mountains” into the mike does… Santa Cecilia ora pro nobis!

  2. David says:

    A simple Google search of “Kyrie Eleison” will assuage your fallacious appeal to ignorance.

  3. Gen says:

    All knowledge has to come from somewhere, be it a missal, a classroom, or a google-search. We mustn’t be complacent in our faith, but always seek to nurture it, enrich it, expand it. We’ve got Masses in the vernacular, and beautiful Mass settings in the vernacular, too. (I’ll post some soon.) I was merely pointing out the origins of polyphony – not making a statement on the language of the liturgy.

    By the way, the Second Vatican Council affirmed the importance and integral nature of Latin in the Mass. In the words of the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”: “The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rite.” While the Kyrie is Greek, the same maxim holds true – it fosters the universality of the Church, rather than making it something relative to our own experiences. Pope Pius XII also noted (before the Council) that “the day the Church abandons Her mother tongue is the day she returns to the catacombs.” I think we have seen very ample evidence of the truth of this saying. Dioceses which treat the liturgy with more reverence, i.e. with Gregorian chant, etc., are in nowhere nearly as bad a shape as those dioceses which show open contempt for what the Church was before 1969.

  4. Jim R says:

    Dear Anon

    Really???? You mean Spanish or French or Polish or Vietnamese etc. etc., at Mass is inappropriate if English speakers are in the Congregation? !!!! I don’t speak or understand any other languages worth a twit. Guess i can’t participate in any of those Masses by your logic.

    Or, is your problem only with Latin and Greek? Ahhhhhh!!!!

    I suggest education if you are having trouble participating at Mass. Catholics used to be all in favor of education, but a certain subset now appears to be opposed to it: the anti-Latin crowd in particular. BTW education and participation in the Mass extends beyond the language in which Mass is said.

  5. Jim R says:

    BTW Anon – your understanding of the Mass is sorely limited if you believe your understanding is needed to make the Mass meaningful. Mass is meaningful because of Christ and what He does – not because of anything you do or don’t do. Mass is well beyond you, me or anyone. God is beyond this world – the transcendence of the Mass certainly has been lost on you and so many. Such a shame so many have lost that.

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