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CHAPTER 8. MUSIC IN MEDIEVAL PARIS: POLYPHONY AT NOTRE DAME. Notre Dame. Notre Dame, the cathedral of Paris, stood in the middle of the city and was home to important composers of polyphony including Leoninus and Perotinus.

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chapter 8



notre dame
Notre Dame
  • Notre Dame, the cathedral of Paris, stood in the middle of the city and was home to important composers of polyphony including Leoninus and Perotinus.
  • The east end of Notre Dame of Paris, begun around 1163, with its flamboyant flying buttresses.
leoninus f 1160 1201
Leoninus (f. 1160-1201)
  • Composed the Magnus liber organi (Great Book of Organum) which contains nearly a hundred pieces of two-voice polyphony.
  • Most of the compositions in the Magnus liber organi were setting of the solo portions of the Gradual and the Alleluia of the Mass. Leoninus placed the pre-existing, centuries-old Gregorian chant on the bottom voice (tenor) and composed a new voice (duplum) against it above.
  • Most of Leoninus’ polyphony is written in a sustained-tone style called organum purum (pure organum) in which the tenor holds a note of the chant while the upper voice provides florid embellishment. Occasionally, when there is a long melisma, the tenor will move more quickly thereby creating discant, a style in which both voices move at roughly the same rate. A self-contained section of music written in discant style is called a clausula.

A thirteenth-century manuscript preserving Leoninus’ organum for Christmas, Viderunt omnes

The pre-existing chant is on staves 2, 4, 6, 8 etc. while Leoninus’ newly created voice is above it on staves 1, 3, 5, 7, etc. At the word “dominus” we see a clausula. Here Leoninus shifts from organum purum to discant.

modal notation
Modal Notation
  • Composers in medieval Paris developed a system for notating rhythm—the first such system in the history of music—and it was in effect from roughly 1150 to 1280. It is called modal notation because it involves six rhythmic modes, that is to say, six simple but distinctly different musical patterns. In modal notation, the singer quickly scans a passage to determine the sequence of ligatures and accordingly applies the correct rhythmic mode.

Rhythmic modes with their respective ligature patterns and their resolutions in modern rhythmic values

perotinus the great c1160 c1236
Perotinus the Great (c1160-c1236)
  • Took the rhythmic innovations of Leoninus and used them to create polyphonic works of unprecedented length, complexity, and grandeur.
  • Composed not only for two voices, as had Leoninus, but for three and four as well, adding to the basic structure of tenor and duplum, a triplum, and quadruplum voice.
  • Replaced what had previously been a performer-creator organum in a free improvisatory vocal style, with rigidly organized organum.
  • In his four-voice organa he incorporates interlocking modular units over long spans of time, all of which presupposes much a priori compositional planning. In this sense Perotinus can be called the first modern composer.
The beginning of Perotinus’ four-voice setting of the Gradual for high Mass on Christmas Day, Viderunt omnes, which makes abundant use of interlocking voices.
notre dame school
Notre Dame School
  • Leoninus, Perotinus, and their colleagues in Paris created a huge musical repertory, more than a thousand pieces, which soon spread around Western Europe. So numerous were their compositions and so influential their style that historians came to speak of these composers collectively as the Notre Dame School.