Beginning Polyphony Repertoire
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,513
    I have been on the lookout for music that can easily be used to start choirs singing polyphony, and came across this tonight:

    as well as an mp3

    I prefer the SAB verse, but this shows it may be sung by TTB as well. There are more versions at

    I can think of nothing else, at this point, that so easily and clearly would get a choir singing and gain the interest of the people. While are are working on the Missa Brevis Agnus Die II, this will make it a lot easier to educate the choir to understand and appreciate basic elements of polyphony.

    I would like to find some good examples of chant-based works that could be used to teach the transition of chant to organum and then polyphony....
  • Dear Noel,
    Please just regard this as kindly intentioned, devil's advocate-style observation. Just looking at the pdf, I wondered, is this really "polyphony?" But, that aside, whatever gets the boat to float with novice choirs.
    Some other pieces that pop to mind that will likely prompt other suggestions, but are more closely aligned with polyphony are:
    Byrd: Non nobis, Domine
    Boyce: Alleluia
    Billings (tho' obviously English) When Jesus Wept.
    Canon is good for this sort of embarcation.
  • marymezzomarymezzo
    Posts: 173
    My little schola loves "Jesu Rex." Simple but beautiful and gave them a sense of accomplishment. We're so small and so new as an ensemble that four parts are nearly impossible (unless I sing tenor and our tenors sing bass).

    There's quite a lot of relatively simple three-part music on CPDL if you dig around: Byrd, Monteverdi, etc. In English, in Latin.

    Others who are also in the three-part boat might enjoy investigating:
    Thanked by 2David Deavy CHGiffen
  • Charles, always interested in learning...fill me in.

    I see this piece as a great example of what Britannica says: "These terms are by no means mutually exclusive, and composers from the 16th through the 21st centuries have commonly varied textures from complex polyphony to rhythmically uniform homophony, even within the same piece."

    But I'm open...even if the best description for this work might
  • I knew I shouldn't have said that! Consider it and me redacted! Mea culpa 2x, mea maxima culpa!
  • Redacting sounds so....painful. But I am always interested in short pieces that can be used in education, and I can see that this is a good example of the two, but you are right, it should not be considered to be solely an example of polyphony, but rather rhythmically uniform homophony followed by simple polyphony.

    [I admit, I did not understand this until you wrote, so deduct all culpas, and credit yourself with one redaction.

    Bipohny lives.
  • priorstf
    Posts: 460
    There is an incredible source of such a polyphony sampler right here on the Musica Sacra website: Secunda Anthologia Vocalis (Liturgia). Palestrina, Ravanello, Vittoria, etc. If you learn a new one a week you'll be busy for more than 2 years. It'll take two months to get through the settings of the Tantum Ergos alone!
  • marrymezzo: "Jesu Rex" ? Please tell us more.
  • G
    Posts: 1,386
    Perhaps "Jesu Rex Admirabilis", Palestrina?
    ... or Jesu Rex Admirablilis as the edition I carelessly created for my choir proclaims itself.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • JDE
    Posts: 582
    And don't omit the unforgettable and reverent setting by Richard Rodgers from The Sound of Music.

    Just kidding! Sort of . . . it's more "sacred" in nature than Haugen & Haas.
  • marymezzomarymezzo
    Posts: 173
    Ralph--yes, the Jesu Rex Admirabilis attributed to Palestrina. I have a hard time believing he actually composed it, but what the heck?

    We also recently sang Monteverdi's Lauda Sion, another easy piece (3 part) but quite nice, I think.

    More than anything, what my schola needs is *easy* polyphony. There aren't many of us, and only one of my singers is a strong sight-reader. The others aren't horrible readers, just quite average. But they love this music and really dig in to learn what's put in front of them.
  • Short, yet beautiful Polyphonic Agnus Dei Needed...from 3 to 8 voices, please.
  • Noel, our schola uses Samuel Webbe's Agnus Dei/Ave verum available via cpdl with the addition of a third (middle) part read from the organ part. (At present we sing it with the Ave verum text, as for Missa Cantata we are limited to Missa De steps.) We alternate how we do it (for instance, just men or just ladies on the first verse, opposite on the second, full on the third; or solo/duo); there are eight of us SSMATbarBB so we reassign parts according to who will be present at any given liturgy. :-)
  • Felicity
    Posts: 77
    "More than anything, what my schola needs is *easy* polyphony. There aren't many of us, and only one of my singers is a strong sight-reader."

    Has anyone had any experience with Missa "Te Deum laudamus" for two voices and organ by Laurentius Perosi (1872-1956)?
  • bkenney27bkenney27
    Posts: 444
    Can I continue this conversation? I have a choir of five or six. Of those, one is an alto, one is an older tenor that I usually leave singing the melody, and the others are soprano.
    This leaves me with a VERY limited amount of Polyphonic rep that I can use. I usually look for two-parts (or pieces, such as Mozart's Ave Verum, that can work well with only the S/A parts) and preferably where the soprano doesn't go above a C or D and where the alto doesn't go much above an A. (Search results returned: ...-5)

    To give you an idea, they handle chanting the verses of Alstott's Respond & Acclaim almost flawlessly. So far O Bone Jesu (Palestrina) has been suggested. I know there is actually a two-part arrangement somewhere. I've looked at the CPDL as well, but have difficulty navigating it sometimes.

  • Are you restricted to only singing unaccompanied music?
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,021
    I have a PDF copy of Carlo Rossini's "Canticum Novum" collection of 2-part Latin works. Let me know if you want me to send it to you.

    It's an organ-vocal score, BTW.
  • bkenney27bkenney27
    Posts: 444
    Nope. In fact accompanied would be better, I think.

    @irishtenor - Sounds great. Thanks!
  • Much of The Catholic Choirbook Anthology 1 may be sung in two parts with the organ playing the remaining parts very effectively....when doing this, have the organist only play the missing voices. Free to download print and share, affordable to buy printed and bound.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,021
    Send me a PM with your email address, please, BK27
  • First page of Josquin's Ave Verum Corpus!!! By far the easiest and most lovely simple polyphony I have come across. I was able to do t with four very ametuer singers. I think I have a link to the PDF at:
    Thanked by 1expeditus1
  • bkenney27bkenney27
    Posts: 444
    O_O The Catholic Choirbook Anthology has had me occupied for the last few hours. What an absolutely incredibly resource. I'll be purchasing a hard copy to keep by the organ because much of this will work wonderfully as prelude music, as well.

    Thank you, everyone, for the help and suggestions! Keep 'em coming! I would love to focus on this with the choir starting in September for implementation at the Offertory around Christ the King or Advent.
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114
    Send to me too, please, Ryan! You have my email...
  • Hugh
    Posts: 178
    I've just put together a version of the Pale. Iesu Rex that splices in 3 chant verses from the same hymn by St Bernard - the chant being from the office hymn. Although obviously independent pieces, I think they go quite well together - similar modality, and some motifs that resonate with each other. (eg the similar shape of the opening aagcba in the motet and the opening aaaadfea in the chant). So, if you want to draw out this motet a little and give it some extra depth by contrasting with the chant ... see what you think.

    Also gives beginners a pleasant experience of the chant, with this beautiful melody.

    BTW, could be taken down a semitone or two if altos and basses have difficulty with the high bits of the chant.

    (If it's not enough, you can add extra verses from the St Bernard hymn - there's more than 50 of them, and most are standalone!).
  • Hugh
    Posts: 178
    Sorry, meant aaadfed . HH
  • Hugh
    Posts: 178
    Apologies: underlay "vi-les-cit" corrected to "vi-le-scit" in v. 2.
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,437
    This is superb, Hugh! Thanks for putting this together. Very timely, too, since I'm putting together music for the Feast of Christ the King for a children's choir and this will work splendidly. The children's choir will sing the chant verses and the adult choir sings the SAB verses.
  • Hugh
    Posts: 178
    That's a great idea, Julie - exactly what chant/polyphony combos allow for, in my experience. Hey, maybe think of finishing off by adults joining the children for the closing "Amen"? All the best.
    Thanked by 1JulieColl
  • hartleymartin
    Posts: 1,447
    Part-Singing of hymns in the Westminster style is a good preparation for polyphony. They usually part-sing the penultimate verse with 8ft stopped diapasons or soft flutes.

    There are also 2 part mass ordinaries such as "Mass in Mi" by bevenot, but this isn't public domain.