Saturday, December 12, 2015

You already know about polyphonic music

You definitely know about polyphonic music in films. It's when the background music does not complement the action on screen. The music, as well as the images, has an independent line of thought.

Imagine a scene wherein the city is under destruction. People are yelling and dying, and definitely in that order. You can put in homophonic music (homophony) that complements the images; sad music or anything that complements the doom on screen. Or you can put in happy music, that does not complement the images but 'does its own thing', that is, it is independent of the images on screen. Happy music and destruction on screen, that would be polyphonic music. Also vice versa. (Here's a violent example from Reservoir Dogs. One minute mark onwards.)

Polyphonic music was first written around the year 900 in London, as per recent discoveries. Let's step out of the
film territory and see what polyphony is about. As per 'the free dictionary', polyphonic music is music arranged in parts for several voices or instruments. In religious and classical music, it is imperative that each of the voices is important in terms of melody. Each voice is a melody. So this is an example of polyphonic music.


The composer is Francisco De Penalosa who was born in the fifteenth century. Listen to the voices and you will understand polyphony. Every voice - distinct. An eminent composer of this tradition, who embellished polyphonic music was Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Here's an eminent composition.

If you've read about the renaissance period then you'd have heard of him. He made music smooth and constant, despite containing mild dissonances. You will find his style in many 'church music' compositions. That's it about polyphony in this article. I plan to consider a film example the next time, and how polyphonic music added to its aura.  

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