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13th Century Motet: O Mitissima – Virgo – Haec dies


13th century origins …
The word motet is derived from the French word “mot” which means “word”. The motet developed from the organum, which was an early genre of polyphonic music in which the upper voice was textless. The composers of the early motet applied text to the upper voices, which made the piece easier to sing. Sometimes only Latin was used and other times Latin and French were used in conjunction. Secular texts could be sung against sacred, creating a double meaning. The early motet was based on the foundation of plainchant presented in the tenor voice.
Cantus firmus …
It is the original Latin text from a plainsong which is presented in the tenor voice.
Tenor …
Tenor is derived from the Latin word “Tenere” which means “To hold”. The tenor voice would hold the cantus firmus in the early motet.
Duplum …
The term “duplum” could be applied to a polyphonic composition for two voices or also in reference to the voice sung above the tenor.
Triplum …
The term “triplum” could be applied to a polyphonic composition for three voices or also in reference to second voice above the tenor.
Polytextuality …
The early motet was composed with multiple texts which were sung simultaneously. The multiple texts could be either sacred or secular.
Ostinato …
An ostinato is a pattern which could be rhythmic, melodic, or harmonic. Often the tenor would present the cantus firms in an ostinato.

“O Mitissima – Virgo – Haec dies”

This motet is easily identified as a polytextual composition by only a glance at the title which presents the first line in all three voices. We can also conclude from the title that all the texts are sung in Latin. The cantus firmus is presented as a rhythmic ostinato in the tenor: long-long-short-long. The triplum and duplum are presenting praise to the Virgin Mary while the tenor is singing Haec dies “This is the day”. The most prominent harmonic intervals heard in the piece are open fifths and octaves. The upper two voices frequently cross over each other. The rhythm generally follows the contour of the tenor’s ostinato. A triple meter is used which to the Medieval ear symbolises the perfection of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost).

All information on this article is derived from: Joseph Machlis and Kristine Forney. The Enjoyment of Music, Eight Edition, Standard Version, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999. Janet Lopinski, Joe Ringhofer, and Peteris Zarins. Exploring Music History, A Guided Approach, Mississauga, Ontario: Frederick Harris Music Co., Limited
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15 comments (show) ▼


Thanks! It helped me a lot, i have a test this friday, music history really IS THRILLING!

Mozart Is Cool :)

Hi, I was wondering where I could get the score for this?

Isabel Bowman

This site is brilliant. THANK YOU.


Can u add the basic facts with all the songs, like composition date or composer?

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Hey, can you make some tests for the Renaissance and the Middle Ages? I know that it takes time, but could you do it? Thank you!

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