It is well known that a type of polyphony called discant was common in Europe and Great Britain during medieval times. Less well known is the sudden emergence, more than three centuries after discant had fallen into disuse, of a new sort of ‘melody above the melody’, now called hymn tune descant, or simply descant.
The new kind of descant was described by Athelstan Riley* (1915) as ‘a peculiar kind of faux-bourdon harmony [consisting] of a single part above the melody sung by boys’ voices, whilst the rest of the choir and the congregation sing the melody in unison.’ A year later Riley (1916) distinguished the new two-part fauxbourdon from the already well established four-part...
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