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date: 23 January 2020

Centonization (from Lat. cento: ‘patchwork’)locked

  • Geoffrey Chew
  •  and James W. McKinnon


(from Lat. cento: ‘patchwork’)

Composition by the synthesis of pre-existing musical units. The term is modern, borrowed from poetry by Ferretti in 1934, and has been applied mainly to Gregorian and other chant. Some later studies have sought to expose weaknesses in the concept it represents.

Since the 19th century scholars have recognized the role played in some music by traditional aptness rather than originality; the notion of centonization has gradually grown out of this recognition. Gevaert (1881) wrote of ‘prototype melodies’ and ‘melodic schemes’ (type mélodique, schéma mélodique) which he claimed musicians in ancient Greece used to build up compositions, as did composers of Latin chant, and musicians in ancient and modern India. These ideas were developed by Peter Wagner (1921), who described the ‘wandering melismas’ of Gregorian chant: certain melodic formulae that recurred in different contexts in some of the oldest chants of the repertory, such as graduals. He attributed an archaic oriental origin to this formulaic procedure and, by contrast, saw a Latin ‘drive towards order and clarity’ in the ‘freely composed’ melodic repetition structure of the alleluias, in which formulaic structure scarcely occurs (Wagner, 417). He categorized the recurrent melismas in Gregorian graduals of the 2nd mode, and Frere similarly studied responsories of the 2nd mode....

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Journal of the American Musicological Society
Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart
Musical Quarterly