Monday, November 23, 2020

The different types of polyphonic singing 8: chordal polyphony

Joseph Jordania has outlined nine different types of polyphonic singing in his book Choral singing in human evolution.

Tenores di Bitti, Sardinia

I will be working through each type trying to give a simplified explanation and some musical examples.

This week it’s chordal polyphony.

Not every culture has polyphonic or multi-part singing. When they do, it can take many different forms. 

In part 1, I wrote about parallel polyphony.

In part 2, I wrote about drone polyphony.

In part 3, I wrote about canonic polyphony.

In part 4, I wrote about contrapuntal polyphony.

In part 5, I wrote about ostinato polyphony.

In part 6, I wrote about heterophonic polyphony.

In part 7, I wrote about overlapping polyphony.

chordal polyphony

Chordal polyphony is where parts are moving in a steady progression of chords. Another name for this type of polyphony is homophony. The most common example of this type of polyphony is what Joseph Jordania calls “European professional polyphony.”

Chordal polyphony mostly (but not always) develops in a slow or medium tempo. All the parts follow the same rhythm, and the overall sound is very full.

3 examples of chordal polyphony

If chordal polyphony does appear in a culture’s traditional polyphonic style, it’s usually as an influence of the dominant European professional style.

Many European polyphonic traditions are affected by late professional polyphony. In most European cities we would expect there to be some late style group singing connected to
European professional polyphony.

Here are just three examples.

1. the Alps

Choral singing from the Alpine mountains in Austria, Switzerland, Northern Italy, and Southern Germany is the backbone of their traditional music.

The influence of European professional polyphony in this region is so strong, that apart from the yodelling, it is not easy to detect any feature that does not come from the influence of omnipotent European professional polyphony.

An Austrian traditional folk song, Summerlang, winterlang:

A traditional Austrian song from Kaernten:

Between 6pm and midnight on the Sunday following Ash Wednesday, groups of singers walk through the centre of Zug, Switzerland dedicating their music to engaged couples and newly-weds. As a reward they receive a basket of doughnuts (‘Chrööpfe’ in the local dialect) and wine, lowered by rope from the windows of the lovers' houses. The gift is presented when the singers perform the Chrööpflimee song, which always comes right at the end of their repertoire. Here are some examples:

Part of a Swiss folk show in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland:

2. Republic of Georgia

In Georgia chordal polyphony is well represented by the so-called “western branch” of Georgian urban music. This style is known and popular in most of the cities of Georgia, particularly in the biggest city of western Georgia, Kutaisi and the capital Tbilisi.

A modern urban song about the Spring:

And if you want to listen to a whole HOUR of Georgian urban songs, check this out:

3. Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily

The influence of the European professional style is also evident in the polyphonic traditions of the Mediterranean islands: Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily.

Cantu in paghjella from Corsica (a three-part male singing tradition):

A whole hour of Tenores De Oniferi from Sardinia:

next week

In the next and final post in this series I’ll be looking at synthesis polyphony.


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Chris Rowbury




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