Polyphony Copying Medieval Pop?
  • I attempted to talk to some members of my choir about the difference between creating sacred music from non-sacred musical traditions (cf. Musicam Sacram 61), and simply putting Christian lyrics to pop songs.

    A member of my choir objected to this distinction, claiming that this is exactly what polyphony was, and that Pope Pius X called polyphony the second highest form of sacred music.

    I didn't know what to say. I know there are cases in which this occurred, but it seems doubtful to me that this was any kind of significant percentage of the whole of polyphony.

    For those of you who know a lot about this stuff, what is the truth?
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 1,259
    Given that there is a lot of polyphony that is so obviously based upon Gregorian chant, and that is the primary type and source of polyphony, I don’t think that his argument holds water.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • After messaging the choir member for clarification, I got the following info:
    -was referring to parody Masses. From the Wikipedia article, it seems like this was very common. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parody_mass
    -Also from the Wikipedia article, it seems that the Council of Trent banned this.
    -Ars Nova was in opposition to chant? And some of polyphony developed from this?

    So I'm curious to what degree the origins of polyphony come from putting Christian words to the pop melodies of the time.

    [to be clear, even if the evidence shows that yes, this happened a lot, I would agree that this is not how things ought to be]
  • GerardH
    Posts: 279
    This seems relevant: Missa L'homme armé
  • Contemporary,

    Pop the bubble (if you'll forgive the pun).
    The nature of secular music in the Medieval period and "pop" music nowadays is not the same. To say that adding Christian words to pop songs is perfectly fine can be contradicted by the work already done: My Little Pony Mass, for example.

    Among people who knew L'homme arme before it became Missa L'homme arme, they would have recognized that the composer had made the melody capable of bearing the weight of the sacred text, not merely taken a drinking song and made everyone feel like drinking and getting drunk at Mass.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,040
    Of course, Parody Masses of get a bad rap today because the word 'parody' in English as it's currently used makes one immediately think of "Weird Al" Yankovic rather than Josquin; they are also often confused with Cantus Firmus Masses (also known as Tenor Masses).

    The majority of the l'Homme Arme Masses, for example, are Cantus Firmus Masses, where the borrowed monophonic song is used in one voice (the Tenor), often in long notes, while the other voices sing newly composed polyphony; though often, especially in the competitive settings of the Franco-Flemish school, highly complex canonic structures utilizing the borrowed melody are not uncommon. In addition to borrowed secular tunes, like l'Homme Arme, sacred melodies were also common, particularly votive antiphons.

    Parody Masses use as the borrowed material not only a melody, but an entire polyphonic piece, often a chanson but with increasing frequency a motet (Hassler's Missa Dixit Maria is a good example of the latter.

    It is also important to remember that the pre-Enlightenment & pre-Reformation Europaean mind looked at thing differently than we do today, in particular the division between sacred and secular was not as stark as today, particularly in those places with a strong cultural connexion with the theology of Calvin ... Even J.S. Bach in this regard is more at home in the company of Lassus and Josquin, as was Luther himself, than most Americans, particularly Yankees, since he not only signed his Sacred Cantatas and Missae Breves with 'S.D.G.' (Soli Deo Gloria), but also his Concerti Grossi & Clavier Suites.

    It is important when looking at Parody or Tenor Masses that utilize a secular tune to look at the history, and with the allegories involved...after all, the Mediaevals loved a good allegory. L'Homme Arme, for instance, began to be used as a Mass Tenor around the time of the Crusades, and many settings, IIRC, seem to have been composed for the chapels or functions of the military orders; Also, too, the "Armed Man" was connected with Christ Himself, particularly in some of the militaristic language in Psalm 109(110), sung at vespers, particularly the 6th verse (for some reason, expunged from the LotH), and the final judgement.

    There is also a very beautiful Tenor Mass by Dufay "Missa Ce la face ay pale". The borrowed monophonic song speaks of a man who is growing pale because of his great suffering in his 'love sickness'. The Mass seems to have been composed for a special Mass celebrated in honor of the Holy Shroud: In Dufay's mind, then, the 'Man with the pale face' is Christ, Who out of love for mankind, suffered and died on the Cross: literally, turning pale in His death-agony. Further, the Cantus Firmus is obscured, being surrounded by three other polyphonic voices, and also being sung at slower than usual pace (the melody is also subjected to a number of verbal canons, requiring the tune to be sung two or three times slower than notated).

    These pieces are not the kind of banal imitation of 'pop' music that has plagued the Church since the 19th century, and blossomed in the post-concilliar era. These works take secular elements, and through the artistry of the composer, elevate them to the sacred realm, and set them aside for sacred purposes; much in the same way that vestment makers take the same silk fabrics used to make dresses and curtains and fashion the sacred vestments.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,569
    Looking forward to Turtures' Missa Beati Simul. (purple)
  • madorganist
    Posts: 819
    And what about di Lasso's Missa "Entre vous filles," based on a particularly lewd chanson by Clemens?
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,040
    I'm not saying that all of these Masses are appropriate for liturgical use, but just that 20th century musicians should look at these things in context: Sometimes context allows for an allegorical interpretation, particularly for the earliest layers of the repertoire. By the 16th century the choice of borrowed material had indeed become a problem, as the Council of Trent points out: By the time of Lassus the form had been corrupted, and Trent was correct to put an end to it.
    Thanked by 1LauraKaz
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,016
    The origins of polyphony arise in organum, possibly as early as the eighth century. But Satan is adept at tempting people to overstep the mark, Orlando di Lasso is more than half a millennium later, and musicians are as susceptible as others.
    After banishing polyphony from the Liturgy in 1322, Pope John XXII warned against the unbecoming elements of this musical innovation in his 1324 bull Docta Sanctorum Patrum. In contrast Pope Clement VI (1342-1352) indulged in it.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,514
    the difference between creating sacred music from non-sacred musical traditions (cf. Musicam Sacram 61), and simply putting Christian lyrics to pop songs.

    In the classical tradition these would seen to correspond to parody, paraphrase and tenor techniques on the one hand and contrafacta such as are found in Bedyngham's oeuvre as well as Coppini's book and even more thoroughly baptised Christmas Oratorio on the other. The choir member might be on pretty firm ground.

    Parody is defined differently from the above in a Bachian context and is simple retexting; Malcom Boyd writes in the Oxford Bach Companion:
    It is often noted that many of Bach's parodies remain in either the realm of the sacred or of the secular; those that cross over are transformations from secular works to church compositions, never the other way around. It is unclear, though, wether the direction reflacts Bach's ideas about sacred versus secular music, or wether it is merely the consequence of his tendency to parody pieces usable only one (most of the secular works fall into this category) as works for recurring occasions (such as liturgical pieces).


    Btw, l'homme armé appears in the mid-15c around the fall of Constantinople, not most commonly thought of as the time of crusades, in spite of the Teutonic, Portugese and Albanian expansions. I once mentioned here a review of a study of the armed priest Mass.