Musical Texture

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Musical texture is like a fabric of sound.

This is a sonic fabric using one thread, i.e. monophony: the chant “Ut queant laxis” for the Feast of St. John the Baptist, which dates back at least to the 9th century. Note that, even though many voices are singing, the texture is monophonic — the sonic equivalent of this.

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Homophony is a musical texture that we can think of as a sonic fabric in which one color or thread is dominant — as in this fabric, whose main color is red and whose main visual theme is crosses and diamonds.

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In homophonic musical texture, the equivalent of that dominant thread is the melody. The other musical elements support that melody harmonically, with chords that outline or emphasize the melody. For example, this:

Or this:

Most Western music written after about 1750 has a homophonic texture.

Finally, there is polyphony, which means “many voices.” In polyphonic texture, we hear several voices or melodic lines of equal importance – the sonic equivalent of this:

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Here is a well-known polyphonic piece. The different voices are demonstrated visually.

This motet (a sacred piece for voices), “Spem in alum,” written in 1570 by the English composer Thomas Tallis, is polyphonic. The animator uses color to show each voice and its melody. There are 40 different voices/melodies in this piece!

This is what Tallis’s score looks like:

SpemInAlium

 

 

 

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