Notre Dame (Our Lady) Cathedral of Paris was a centerpoint of the development of early polyphony.  This was the first place where music was primarily read from notation rather than from memory or improvisation.  It also was the origin of music using multiple independent parts.  In Leonin's music, one voice sang the chant while another sang florid organum above it.  For Perotin, there was more complexity and added voices. (Please note: not all Leonin music is two part, and not all of Perotin's was 3-4 parts.)  All of this was cutting edge for an audience that may have only heard chant or parallel organum.  Early polyphony paved the way for a greater lean toward artistry in church music, and it reflected the ornate beauty of the cathedral in which it was performed. 

Most music composed at Notre Dame was attributed to either Leonin or Perotin, but may have been composed by others in their style.  A treatise by Anonymous 4 gave credit to Perotin for seven pieces.  The polyphony of this period has been preserved in four large thirteenth-century manuscripts.

Impact and Legacy of Notre Dame SchoolEdit

The school "...produced the earliest repertory of polyphonic music to gain international prestige and circulation." 

The Notre Dame school of composition introduced four categories that were imitated by many others afterward:

  • organum
  • clausula
  • conductus
  • motet

The most notable of these is the motet, a genre that will continue to pop up in different ways throughout Western Art Music.  When Perotin added clausulae to Leonin's music, he also wrote in words for the added parts.  This became the thirteenth century Parisian motet as we know it, in three parts, often in two or three languages running simultaneously.

Leonin left a great legacy with his Magnus Liber Organi, or great book of organa that had a year's worth of material.  His two part polyphony served to segue the course of music from monophonic plainchant to the rich polyphony of the Ars Nova period and beyond.

Early Polyphony to 1300 Jerome F. Weber[1]Second Series, Vol. 58, No. 3 (Mar., 2002) , p. 652Published by: Music Library AssociationStable URL:

Other sources include The Encyclopedia Brittanica online: