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date: 18 January 2020

Cantus(i) (Lat.: ‘song’)locked

  • Owen Jander

Extract

(Lat.: ‘song’)

The medieval and Renaissance word for melody; more specifically, the highest voice in a polyphonic composition. Tinctoris (Terminorum musicae diffinitorium, 1475) mentioned four uses of the word ‘cantus’. In the widest sense it could refer to any vocal composition; the three volumes of the Odhecaton, published by Petrucci (1501–4), are designated Canti A, Canti B and Canti C. Cantus simplex planus was a simple melody using notes of indefinite value, as in Gregorian chant; cantus simplex figuratus was a melody in metrical rhythm, as was cantus fractus which resulted from a long note value being broken into smaller parts; and cantus compositus meant polyphony. In Tinctoris’s time the term was occasionally used also for the top voice of a polyphonic composition, though ‘superius’ or ‘discantus’ were more common designations. ‘Cantus’ displaced the term ‘superius’ only in the second half of the 16th century.

The terms cantus durus...

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