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date: 16 October 2019

Organum (Lat., from Gk. organon: ‘instrument’, ‘implement’, ‘tool’)locked

  • Norman E. Smith,
  • Fritz Reckow
  •  and Edward H. Roesner
  • , revised by Rudolf Flotzinger


(Lat., from Gk. organon: ‘instrument’, ‘implement’, ‘tool’)

A type of medieval polyphony. Early meanings are connected with the organ, but later only with ‘consonant music’. While retaining the collective meaning of ‘polyphony’ in general, from the 12th century it was used specifically to refer to music with a sustained-note tenor (usually a pre-existing part) and more mobile upper part or parts.

Fritz Reckow and Edward H. Roesner

The Greek word ‘organon’ (‘tool’, ‘means’, ‘organ of the body’) was also used for musical instruments, and for the various organs of speech of the human voice. Its first known usage specifically as ‘organ’ in the musical sense occurred in the first half of the 5th century ce in a commentary on the psalms by Hesychios of Jerusalem (PG, xxvii, 1341C). The Latin word ‘organum’ on the other hand was current in the restricted sense of ‘organ’ as early as c400 according to St Augustine, and this was its ‘true’ Latin meaning (Psalm commentary: ...

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