Definition of polyphony in English:



  • 1The style of simultaneously combining a number of parts, each forming an individual melody and harmonizing with each other.

    • ‘The combination of melodies in polyphony, one of the great artistic achievements of medieval Europe, has produced the need for a more specialized explanation of melody in Western music.’
    • ‘What surprised me was that a group from the opera chorus, joined by some students, wanted to give a whole concert of Renaissance polyphony, a style of music which the Russians never fostered.’
    • ‘The characteristic feature of Georgian folk music is polyphony.’
    • ‘This frees McFerrin to experiment with musical forms ranging from Medieval polyphony to African folk music.’
    • ‘Messiaen's almost Pentecostal polyphony not only makes us hear traditional melodies with new ears, it also makes us return to nature and listen to those sounds with a deeper spiritual understanding.’
    euphony, polyphony, consonance
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1A composition written, played, or sung in polyphony.
      • ‘My favourite part is the quintet; it is a heavenly polyphony.’
      • ‘This particularly brilliant and beautiful instrument illuminates the most complex orchestral and choral polyphonies of Bach and Handel.’
    2. 1.2(on an electronic keyboard or synthesizer) the number of notes or voices that can be played simultaneously without loss.
      • ‘Using two iterations, I had nine polyphonic instruments up and running, with polyphony occasionally spilling over 100 notes simultaneously.’
      • ‘If you expect to exceed the polyphony limits of your keyboard with any regularity, check out what it does when you push the envelope.’
      • ‘In effect, your keyboard can now be played with polyphony (simultaneous sounds) as high as the number of channels selected for Jazz Edit mode.’


Early 19th century: from Greek poluphōnia, from polu- many + phōnē sound.