User:Aura/Aura & Fumica's Guide to Diatonic Functional Harmony- Part 1

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This is article 1 of however many we need for Aura and Fumica's Guide to Diatonic Functional Harmony. We can start by giving a brief synopsis of the history of functional harmony in Western Classical Music, starting from the earliest known examples of polyphony, since we will be building off of even the earlier portions of this history in later articles.

Polyphony in Medieval Europe

Polyphony has been attested in Europe from as early as the ninth century CE. Back then, the Catholic Church greatly contributed to the music scene in Europe at the time, and so, it should be no surprise that the earliest known example of polyphony at the time this article was written was a piece based on the antiphon for St. Boniface[1]. Back then, the rules that would eventually come to dominate florid organum were still in development and so, they were effectively being broken often while they were still being written. As noted in the Musica enchiriadis (c. 900; “Musical Handbook”)[2] Organum back then consisted of only two melodic voices moving note against note- the extra melodic voice sometimes doubling the chant either a fourth or a fifth below and sometimes starting in unison with the chant, then going on to wider intervals. Sometimes both parts might be doubled at the octave.

The first known significant composer of polyphonic organum was Léonin. Then there was Pérotin, who is credited with developing Léonin's practices by introducing three-part and four-part harmonies. Back then, the octave, the perfect fifth and the perfect fourth were all considered consonances, and much of the rules of organum known from this period have been documented by Margo Schulter[3], and have in fact been extended by her[4]. It was with the Notre-Dame of polyphony to which both Léonin and Pérotin belonged that the motet originated from the older clausula[5] genre of Medieval plainchant.

Polyphony of the European Renaissance

Back in the Medieval period, thirds and sixths were considered to be dissonances- most likely due to them being tuned mainly according to Pythagorean tuning. However, with the rediscovery of the consonance of the classic major third, people wanted to try and use them in their music. This lead to the widespread usage of meantone. Thus, starting in the Renaissance, harmony began to increasingly rely on the major and minor thirds rather than the perfect fourth and fifth. Arguably one of the earlier composers of this era was John Dunstaple, an English composer of polyphonic music of the late medieval era and early Renaissance periods who was known for his use of the Contenance angloise, a distinctive style of polyphony that involves rich harmonies based on the third and the sixth such as full triadic harmony. Dunstaple went on to influence Dufay, the most famous figure of the Burgundian School, who was perhaps arguably the first professional composer in Europe. Dufay was known for his technique of Fauxbourdon, which involved lots of parallel thirds, as well as parallel fourths. Also prominent in this era is the emergence of counterpoint from the earlier polyphonic organum.

Baroque Harmony

The Baroque period saw the emergence of the basso continuo technique, which supplied the bassline and chord progressions for songs of the era, and furthermore, represents the development of harmony as a foundation for polyphony. On top of that, starting around 1600 CE and being nearly completed by around 1650 CE, the concepts of key, functional harmony and modulation became important[6]. It should be noted that harmony in this era was the end result of counterpoint, and in fact, this led to the emergence of homophony. Despite all this, counterpoint continued to be mastered by composers such as Bach, who also tried to integrate elements of polyphony into his style in his latter days.