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Title: Heterophony  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Texture (music), Daina (Lithuania), Monophony, Music of Lithuania, Traditional sub-Saharan African harmony
Collection: Musical Texture
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


In music, heterophony is a type of texture characterized by the simultaneous variation of a single melodic line. Such a texture can be regarded as a kind of complex monophony in which there is only one basic melody, but realized at the same time in multiple voices, each of which plays the melody differently, either in a different rhythm or tempo, or with various embellishments and elaborations. The term (coined by Archilochus) was initially introduced into systematic musicology to denote a subcategory of polyphonic music, though is now regarded as a textural category in its own right.

Heterophony is often a characteristic feature of non-Western traditional musics—for example Arabic classical music, Japanese Gagaku, the gamelan music of Indonesia, kulintang ensembles of the Philippines and the traditional music of Thailand. In European traditions, there are only few examples of heterophony. One such example is dissonant heterophony of dinaric Ganga or "Ojkavica" traditions from southern Bosnia, Croatia and Montenegro that is attributed to ancient Illyrian tradition. Another remarkably vigorous European tradition of heterophonic music exists, in the form of Outer Hebridean Gaelic psalmody.


The term heterophony may not clearly describe the phenomena involved, and the term polyphonic stratification is suggested instead:

"The technique of combining simultaneously one main melody and its variants is often incorrectly described as heterophony: polyphonic stratification seems a more precise description, since each of the 'layers' is not just a close approximation of the main melody, but also has distinct characteristics and a style of its own"[2]

Heterophony is somewhat rare in Enescu and Stravinsky, who were directly influenced by non-Western (and largely heterophonic) musics. Heterophony is a standard technique in the music of the post-war avant-garde, however - for example Olivier Messiaen's Sept Haïkaï (1962), and Harrison Birtwistle's Pulse Shadows (1989-96). Other examples include Pierre Boulez's Rituel, Répons, and …explosante-fixe….[3] Benjamin Britten used it to great effect in many of his compositions, including parts of the War Requiem and especially his three Church Parables: Curlew River, The Burning Fiery Furnace and The Prodigal Son.


  1. ^ Morton, David (1976). The Traditional Music of Thailand, p.21. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-01876-1.
  2. ^ Morton (1964), p.39.
  3. ^ Campbell, Edward (2010). Boulez, Music and Philosophy, p.211&213. ISBN 978-0-521-86242-4.

External links

  • The dictionary definition of heterophony at Wiktionary
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