Last week I discussed the concepts of consonance and dissonance, and how they constitute the “building blocks” of harmony. But what is harmony, really?
Harmony is, fundamentally, the result of two or more pitches sounding simultaneously. The Ancients used harmony in just two ways, either as augmentation or canon.
Both augmentation and canon begin with the establishment of a fixed melody, called the cantus firmus. In augmentation, a single harmony part is added to the cantus firmus. This vertical arrangement of parts is the foundation of all chordal harmony, from Ancient times through Modern.
The term canon is probably familiar to us all, and it meant much the same in Antiquity as it does today. In canon, the cantus firmus (melody) is repeated by other parts at specified intervals. This type of linear development would, over the centuries, become the modern concept of polyphony.
These ancient concepts of vertical and linear development have fundamentally shaped the evolution of music. Next week, I will skip ahead to the Baroque period, where we will discover what some of these fundamental concepts ultimately led to.
Until then, take care and stay well!