Music that combines several simultaneous voice-parts
of individual design, in contrast to monophonic
music, which consists of a single melody, or homophonic
music, which combines several voice-parts of similar, rhythmically identical
design. The prefix "poly-" should not be taken literally, since as
few as two parts can make perfect polyphony -- better indeed, than six
or eight. Polyphony is largely synonymous with counterpoint,
except for a difference of emphasis.
There are numerous theories regarding the "origin of polyphony," but
none is more than hypothetical. Some scholars regard the earliest
extant examples of polyphony (c. 900) not as a beginning but as a "first
culmination" of a development whose origin, they believe, lies in Oriental
and primitive music.