Latin choral composition, generally in one movement. Its origins are in the 13th century, when words (French mots) began to be added to originally wordless polyphonic lines in settings of plainchant. It grew directly out of the clausula, a polyphonic decoration of a portion of organum, but it soon split off to become a separate composition, while retaining a meaningless fragment of chant text and melody in the tenor part. The upper texts often became a confusing mixture of sacred and secular—and even anticlerical—poems, indicating its intended performance in courtly as well as ecclesiastical settings. The motet was the most important musical genre of the 13th century and an essential vehicle for the development of polyphony. In the Renaissance, sacred motets, now employing a single text, were written by composers such as Josquin des Prez, Orlande de Lassus, and William Byrd, though it remains unclear how often they were performed in church settings. In the 17th–18th centuries, motets were written by Jean-Baptiste Lully, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Heinrich Schütz, and Johann Sebastian Bach. After c. 1750 the genre declined, and its distinguishing characteristics became diffuse.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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