The musicians we don't like to mention

In school today I came across a GCSE music question which I couldn’t answer. It asked for definitions of homophony, polyphony, monophony and heterophony; the first two are simple enough, the (largely choral) styles of writing based either on chords or on contrapuntal lines. By extension, monophony is the art of writing single notes, so a simpler term to use is “tune”.

But heterophony? I’d never heard the word. On the surface it sounds like it ought to be the opposite of homophony, but that role is already filled by polyphony.

It turns out, as a student had to explain to me, that heterophony is “like, when you have one note and then another note on top of it which is, like, the same note, but there are more of them and they move at a different speed”.

But it does seem odd to me that from starting to learn the recorder at the age of five through to completing the Cambridge music tripos some 17 years of musical education later that I never once came across this undoubtedly useful term. In school today I voiced the theory that it has just been made up in the interim to make GCSE music more interesting.

And then it occurred to me that heterophony sounds like the kind of practise that might, until recently, have been found abhorent by normal homophonic musicians. Maybe it was even illegal until Blair’s government passed an act giving heterophonics the same rights as other people. Could it be that until the mid-90s, heterophony was only really found in the dark shady underground of the music world – in heterophonic bars and clubs, in heterophonic saunas, on Hampstead Heath or in Amsterdam?

It put me in mind of certain other musical deviations which, to date, are still not talked about in GCSE papers, or even mentioned in polite society:

Necrophony – using chords written by dead composers

Bestiophony – using animal noises in music (cf Banchieri’s ‘Contrapunto bestiale alla mente’)

Sodophony – leaving a concert before it’s finished

Masochophony – listening to Philip Glass for pleasure

Transvestophony – singing countertenor

Cacophony – music involving faeces

…I expect there are more where that came from…

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