Polyphony (from the Greek “poly” – “a lot”, “background” – “sound”) is a kind of polyphonic music in which several independent equal melodies are simultaneously played. This is its difference from homophony (from the Greek “homo” – “equal”), where only one voice is the leading one, while others accompany it (as, for example, in Russian romance, Soviet mass song or dance music).
Polyphony is divided into types:
Sub-polyphony, in which along with the main melody its echo sounds, that is, slightly different options. Characteristic for Russian folk song.
Imitation polyphony, in which the main theme is heard first in one voice, and then, possibly with changes, appears in other voices (there may be several main themes). The form in which the theme is repeated without change is called the canon. The pinnacle of forms in which the melody changes from voice to voice is the fugue.
Contrast-thematic polyphony (or polymelodism), in which different melodies simultaneously sound. First appeared in the 19th century.
The main feature of polyphony is the continuous development of musical presentation, fluidity, the avoidance of periodically clear division into parts, uniform stops in the melody, and rhythmic repetitions of similar motifs.
Polyphony and homophony, possessing their own characteristic forms, genres and methods of development, are nevertheless interconnected and are organically intertwined in operas, symphonies, sonatas, and concerts.
In the centuries-old historical development of polyphony, two stages are distinguished. The strict style is the Renaissance polyphony. She was distinguished by severe color and epic leisurelyness, chanting and harmony. It is these qualities that are inherent in the works of the great polyphonist masters O. Lasso, J. Pa-Stilrina. The next stage is polyphony of the free style (XVII — XX centuries). She made a huge variety and freedom in the harmony-intonational structure of the melody, enriched harmony and musical genres. The polyphonic art of free style found its perfect embodiment in the works of I. S. Bach and G. F. Handel, in the works of V. A. Mozart, L. Beethoven, M. I. Glinka, P. I. Tchaikovsky, D. D. Shostakovich.
In composer’s work, two main types of polyphony are distinguished – imitation and non-imitation (dark, contrast). Imitation (from Latin – “imitation”) – holding the same topic in turn in different voices, often at different heights. Imitation is called accurate if the topic is repeated completely, and inaccurate if there are some changes in it.
Receptions of imitation polyphony are diverse. Simulations in rhythmic increase or decrease are possible when the theme is transferred to another voice and the duration of each sound increases or shortens. There are imitations in circulation when ascending intervals turn into descending ones and vice versa. All of these varieties are used by Bach in The Art of the Fugue.
A special type of imitation is the canon (from the Greek “rule”, “norm”). The canon imitates not only the topic, but also its continuation. Independent plays (canons for the piano by A.N. Scriabin, A.K. Lyadov), and pieces of large works (the finale of the sonata for violin and piano by S. Frank) are written in the form of a canon. There are numerous canons in the symphonies of A. K. Glazunov. Classical examples of the vocal canon in opera ensembles are the quartet “What a wonderful moment” from the opera “Ruslan and Lyudmila” by Glinka, the duet “Enemies” from the opera “Eugene Onegin” by Tchaikovsky.
In non-simulation polyphony, different, contrasting melodies sound simultaneously. Russian and eastern themes are combined in the symphonic film “In Central Asia” by A.P. Borodin. Contrast polyphony was widely used in opera ensembles (a quartet in the last picture of the opera Rigoletto by J. Verdi), choirs and scenes (Khovansky’s meeting in the opera Khovanshchina by M. P. Mussorgsky, a picture of the fair in the opera Decembrists by Yu. A. Shaporina).
The polyphonic combination of two melodies after their initial appearance can be given in a new combination: the voices exchange places, that is, the melody sounding higher is in the lower voice, and the lower melody is in the upper one. This technique is called complex counterpoint. It was applied by Borodin in an overture to the opera Prince Igor, in Kamarinskaya Glinka.
In contrast polyphony, most often they do not. more than two different themes, but there is a joint sound of three (in an overture to the opera “The Mastersingers” by R. Wagner) and even five themes (in the ending of Mozart’s symphony “Jupiter”).
The most important of the polyphonic forms is the fugue (from Latin – “flight”). The voices of the fugue seem to come after each other. A brief, expressive and easily recognizable theme at each of its appearance is the basis of the fugue, its main idea.
A fugue is composed in three or four voices, sometimes two or five. The main trick is imitation. In the first part – the exposition, all voices alternately sing the same melody (theme), as if imitating each other: first one of the voices comes unaccompanied, and then the second and third follow with the same melody.