An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

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A composition based on a sacred Latin text, sung by two or more voices. It was traditionally unaccompanied. The text sung by the upper part was a paraphrase of the plainchant text sung by the tenor or lower part. The motet was polyphonic (multiple tones) and polytextual (multiple texts). Additional parts add additional paraphrased texts and tones. The motet dates from the thirteenth century, when words were added to the upper part of two-part compositions. The upper parts of these compositions had previously been vocalized without words. The term is from the French mot, "word." Motets were first popular in France and then spread to other European countries during the fifteenth century. The motet is considered to be one of the most important forms of polyphonic music in the middle ages and Renaissance. It came to be used at royal courts and for secular entertainment as well as in church. Some later motets were accompanied by musical instruments, with voice parts sung by choruses or choirs. Noted composers of motets include Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525-1594), Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585), William Byrd (c. 1543-1623), and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Motets continue to enrich the worship of churches with musicians who can perform polyphonic compositions.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.