Plainchant (Latin: cantus planus) is a body of chants used in the liturgies of the Western Church. Though the Catholic Church (both its Eastern and Western halves) and the Eastern Orthodox churches did not split until long after the origin of plainsong, Byzantine chants are generally not classified as plainsong.
Plainsong is monophonic, consisting of a single, unaccompanied melodic line. Its rhythm is generally freer than the metered rhythm of later Western music.
Plainsong developed during the earliest centuries of Christianity, influenced possibly by the music of the Jewish synagogue and certainly by the Greek modal system. It has its own system of notation, employing a staff of four lines instead of five.
Two methods of singing psalms or other chants are responsorial and antiphonal. In responsorial singing, the soloist (or choir) sings a series of verses, each one followed by a response from the choir (or congregation). In antiphonal singing, the verses are sung alternately by soloist and choir, or by choir and congregation. It is probable that even in the early period the two methods caused that differentiation in the style of musical composition which is observed throughout the later history of plain chant, the choral compositions being of a simple kind, the solo compositions more elaborate, using a more extended compass of melodies and longer groups of notes on single syllables. A marked feature in plain chant is the use of the same melody for various texts. This is quite typical for the ordinary psalmody in which the same formula, the "psalm tone", is used for all the verses of a psalm, just as in a hymn or a folk song the same melody is used for the various stanzas.
Gregorian chant is a variety of plainsong named after Pope Gregory I (6th century A.D.), although Gregory himself did not invent the chant. The tradition linking Gregory I to the development of the chant seems to rest on a possibly mistaken identification of a certain "Gregorius", probably Pope Gregory II, with his more famous predecessor. For several centuries, different plainchant styles existed concurrently. Standardization on Gregorian chant was not completed, even in Italy, until the 12th century. Plainchant represents the first revival of musical notation after knowledge of the ancient Greek system was lost. Plainsong notation differs from the modern system in having only four lines to the staff and a system of note shapes called neumes.
In the late 9th century, plainsong began to evolve into organum, which led to the development of polyphony.
Artist descriptions on Last.fm are editable by everyone. Feel free to contribute!
All user-contributed text on this page is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply.