HAT IS POLYPHONY? How does it incorporate ancient plainsong melodies? Our eyes could better see that if we looked at the original part books. In the following example, I have superimposed the original plainsong melody (“Vexilla Regis”) onto Palestrina’s part books from 1589AD.
Do you see how all four voices enter with the “Fulget crucis” plainsong melody?
We can also see how chants are incorporated by looking at a modern version of the same hymn by Palestrina:
To use melodies in this way may seem—to those who don’t know very much about counterpoint—a simple task. Nothing could be further from the truth. Composing in such a way is like trying to solve a massive Rubik’s Cube; when you try to complete one line, it has an effect on all the work you’ve already done and messes it up.