In music centonization (from Latin cento or patchwork[1]) is a theory about the composition of a melody, melodies, or piece based on pre-existing melodic figures and formulas.[2] A piece created using centonization is known as a "centonate".[1]

The concept of centonization was borrowed from literary theory, and first applied to Gregorian chant in 1934 by Dom Paolo Ferretti.[3][4]

Centonization, according to Ferretti's theory, is a very old and widespread technique. The musical modes used in Gregorian chant are supposed to reflect this use; according to the theory, the modes were more collections of appropriate melodic formulas than a set of pitches. Similar ideas appear in the music theory of other cultures; for example, the maqam of Arab music, the raga of Indian music, or the pathet of Indonesian music. These do not designate merely scales, but sets of appropriate melodies and specific ornaments on certain tones (they are sometimes called "melody types").[5] The originality of the composer lies in how he or she links these formulas together and elaborates upon them in a new way.[citation needed]

Regardless of whether the application of the concept to other branches of Christian chant, or other types of music is valid, its use with respect to Gregorian chant has been severely criticized, and opposing models have been proposed.[6][7] The term "centonate" is not applied to other categories of composition constructed from pre-existing units, such as fricassée, pasticcio, potpourri, and quodlibet.[3]

See alsoEdit


  • Ferretti, Paolo Maria (1934). Estetica gregoriana ossia Trattato delle forme musicali del canto gregoriano. Rome: Pontificio Istituto di Musica Sacra. Reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1977. ISBN 0-306-77414-3 OCLC 2910922.
  • Treitler, Leo (July 1974). "Homer and Gregory: The Transmission of Epic Poetry and Plainchant". Musical Quarterly. 60 (3): 333–72. doi:10.1093/mq/LX.3.333.
  • Treitler, Leo (Spring 1975). "'Centonate' Chant: Übles Flickwerk or E pluribus unus?". Journal of the American Musicological Society. 28 (1): 1–23. doi:10.2307/830914. JSTOR 830914.


  1. ^ a b Randel, Don Michael (2002). The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians. p. 123. ISBN 0-674-00978-9.
  2. ^ Hoppin, Richard (1978). Medieval Music. New York City: W. W. Norton.
  3. ^ a b Chew, Geoffrey; McKinnon, James W. (2001). "Centonization". In Sadie, Stanley; Tyrrell, John (eds.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan. ISBN 9780195170672.
  4. ^ Treitler 1975, p. 7.
  5. ^ Powers, Harold; Wiering, Frans; Porter, James; Cowdery, James; Davis, Ruth; Widdess, Richard; Perlman, Marc; JonesStephen; Marett, Allan (2001). "Mode". In Sadie, Stanley; Tyrrell, John (eds.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan. ISBN 9780195170672.
  6. ^ Hiley, David. (1993). Western Plainchant: A Handbook. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 74-5. ISBN 0-19-816289-8 OCLC 25707447.
  7. ^ Treitler 1975, pp. 14–5, 22–3; Treitler 1974, p. 356.