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Definition: motet from The Macquarie Dictionary

a vocal composition in polyphonic style, on a biblical or similar prose text, intended for use in a church service.

(plural motets)

Etymology:

Middle English, from Old French, diminutive of mot word


Summary Article: motet
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(mōtĕt'), name for the outstanding type of musical composition of the 13th cent. and for a different type that originated in the Renaissance. The 13th-century motet, a creation (c.1200) of the school of Notre-Dame de Paris, was a polyphonic composition based on a tenor that was a fragment of plainsong (or, later, of any type of melody, sacred or secular) arranged in a brief, reiterated rhythmic pattern called an ordo. It existed side by side but was distinct from the conductus, an earlier development of choral composition, which was not based on preexisting liturgical chants and which employed several voice parts in a type of harmony. The motet's original text, sometimes only a word or two, was kept, but the tenor may have been played on instruments. The second part, called motetus [Fr. mot=word], had its own text, usually sacred and in Latin but by the second half of the century sometimes secular and in French. The third voice, the triplum, had still another text, and very often the motet combined a triplum that was a French love song and a motetus that was a Latin hymn to the Virgin Mary. The outgrowth of this early motet was the isorhythmic motet of the late 13th and the 14th cent. It employed a recurring rhythmic pattern called a talea, longer than an ordo and not restricted to the tenor part. Of the 23 extant motets of Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300–c.1377), an outstanding 14th-century composer, 20 are isorhythmic. Isorhythmic technique was not confined to the motet and persisted into the mid-15th cent. The Renaissance motet had but one text, in Latin, and was a polyphonic, unaccompanied composition. It had usually from four to six voices and was free from the 13th-century rhythmic rigidity. Cultivated by composers of the Flemish school, it had spread throughout Europe by the middle of the 15th cent. Outstanding composers are Josquin Desprez and Orlando di Lasso of the Flemish school; the Italians Andrea Gabrieli, Giovanni Gabrieli, and Palestrina; the Spaniard Tomás Luis de Victoria; and the Englishmen Thomas Tallis and William Byrd. In the baroque era the greatest motets were written in Germany to German texts. The Symphoniae Sacrae of Heinrich Schütz include many motets in various styles, with the addition of solo voices and instrumental accompaniment. The peak is reached in the six motets of Bach, which are thought to have had some continuo accompaniment. Since Bach's time the term motet has been applied to almost any kind of sacred choral polyphony but usually refers to unaccompanied Latin motets for use in Roman Catholic services. Many anthems in English, however, have been designated motets by their composers.

  • See Matthiassen, F., The Style of the Early Motet (1966).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

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