Music in History

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medieval motet




It was the most important form of music of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. There were so many variations through time (1220-1750), that we cannot give a general definition to include all development  phases of motet .
It  appeared as a choral composition without instrumental accompaniment, based on the Latin religious texts to serve the ritual of the Roman Catholic Church, especially during Vespers. The earliest motets  arose in 13th century from organum. Later in the 13th century  there were secular motets too,   written in the vernacular language.   Motet's history can be divided into three periods. 1 Medieval Motet (1229-1450), 2 Renaissance Motet (1450-1600), 3 Baroque Motet (1600 1750).

Medieval motet ( circa 1229-1450)

According to Willi Apel, motet was invented during 13th century. It was  derived from  clausula.
Originally, motet was not an independent composition, but it was -like clausula- an interpolation. It was performed in rhythmic mode, not in free rhythm  like the rest of the plainsong; it was a kind of  a rhythmic interlude  in the middle of a longer organum.  First additional texts were paraphrases of the original text of the tenor. However, soon enough  French texts in vernacular language were employed . An important step in motet's evolution was the addition of a third voice in Latin or French over two voices' texts.
Thus, the motet divided into secular and church. For a church Motet only texts in Latin were  to be used.

             Two Motets - 13th and late 13th century (double & Franconian)


As Willi Apel indicates, during the 14th century (ars nova) motet lost its dominance but it grew in length, collaboration and rhythmic variety. Typical was the use of isorhythm;  repeated rhythmic patterns were employed and this happened  in all voices, not only the cantus firmus.  Machaut's motets were very  influential.

In the early 15th century (Burgundian  School) new methods concerning motet composition were introduced . Tenor cantus firmus and multiple texts were abandoned. Now all the voices had same text and motets were not isorhythmic. These are called "free motets." (In the works of John Dunstable and Guillaume Dufay free motets appear together with the last representatives of the isorhythmic type). It is difficult to separate the Motet of those times from other contemporary polyphonic hymns.


1. Willi Apel, Motet , Harvard dictionary of music, second edition, eight printing
2. Motet base

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