Definition of cantus firmus in US English:

cantus firmus


  • An existing melody used as the basis for a polyphonic composition.

    ‘this four-part mass uses as its cantus firmus a popular French tune’
    • ‘Orgelbuchlein Pieces - Bach's ‘Little Organ Book’ consists of 45 short chorales mainly having the cantus firmus in the soprano voice with the lower voices acting as counterpoint to the chorale melodies.’
    • ‘On the other hand, the In nomine was still alive in Facy's day, and Lugge was composing his cantus firmus settings, so the genre was not quite dead.’
    • ‘In the early years of the seventeenth century, English composers increasingly turned to the hexachord as a cantus firmus for keyboard pieces.’
    • ‘This cadence articulates the structure of the cantus firmus more clearly than the first, marking precisely the end of the second line of the hymn.’
    • ‘The cantus firmus is sounded in semibreves in the middle of the three voices.’


Mid 19th century: from Latin, literally ‘firm song’.


cantus firmus

/ˌkan(t)əs ˈfərməs/