Thanks to godless Eurpoean hordes with punk-rock names like Huns, Vandals and Visigoths, the mighty Roman Empire fell on on Sept, 4, 476 A.D. (yep, we have an exact date for that). Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic Church rose to take its place, and began to centralize all of the various musical styles that accompanied regional religious rituals, like the Celtic Rite, the Mozarabic Rite, the Ambrosian Rite and the Gallican Rite. Their main similarity was that they were all a vocal form called “Plainchant,” which is exactly what it sounds like: a single line of melody -- one! -- with no musical accompaniment -- none! To make a VERY long story short, a few of these heathen styles melded with the dominant Roman rite to produce around 750 A.D. what we now know today as a million-selling post-yuppie aromatherapy spa/coffee shop fad: the GREGORIAN CHANT.
Hell, it was a fad then, too, and it's hard not to see why. The Gregorian chant involves the innovation of a number of voices singing in unison at the same pitch and rhythm, all a cappella. It was so popular -- imagine monks, nuns and choirs as the rock stars of their day -- that it remains the official chant of the Roman Catholic Church to this day. It also became the bedrock for all Western music that followed. Unfortunately, this includes the most recent fad of Gregorian monks singing songs like "Tears In Heaven," "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "Sweet Child O' Mine" and "Bad Romance." Lord have mercy...
Modern equivalent: The Cure's "Plainsong"; The Electric Prunes’ “Kyrie Elison”; Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie”; Enigma’s “Sadeness (Pt. 1),” The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos’ Chant; Ace of Base’s “Kyrie Eleison”; the theme for Medieval II: Total War
Around 900 A.D., a more complicated style of Plainchant called ORGANUM emerged to challenge the old Gregorian fogeys. Organum took existing Gregorian chants and embellished them with a second melodic line parallel to the original -- quite possibly the earliest example of "sampling" in human history. Not only that, Organum was originally improvised, with one cantor singing from the notated score and another coming in with on-the-spot parrallel melodies -- namely, jazz singing by medieval cantors. Later, innovative theorists like Johannes Cotto and Guido D'Arezzo published texts that added the innovations of contrary voices moving in opposite directions and well as similar directions at different intervals. This was called "Free Organum" and it was instrumental in developing the Western musical concept of "counterpoint," or musical lines that move independently of one another:
Increasingly complex forms of organum building to a steam-head in the 12th Century A.D. with the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Like Motown Records 715 years later, the cathedral produced a stable of composers who deepened the polyphonic well, the most famous of which were Leonin and Pérotin, who were sort of like the Brian Holland-Lamont Dozier of their day. Pérotin, in particular, produced the first-known four-voiced organum: