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An antiphon (Greek ἀντίφωνον, ἀντί "opposite" + φωνή "voice") in Christian music and ritual, is a "responsory" by a choir or congregation, usually in Gregorian chant, to a psalm or other text in a religious service or musical work.

This gives rise to the general term 'antiphony', which may be used for any call and response style of singing such as the kirtan and the sea shanty. Particularly, any piece of music performed by two semi-independent choirs in interaction, often singing alternate musical phrases, is known as 'antiphonal'.[1] Antiphonal psalmody is the singing or musical playing of psalms by alternating groups of performers.[2]



The "mirror" structure of the Hebrew psalms renders it probable that the antiphonal method was present in the services of the ancient Israelites.[who?] According to the historian Socrates of Constantinople, it was introduced into Christian worship by Ignatius of Antioch (died 107) who, in a vision, had seen angels singing in alternating choirs.[3]

Antiphons have remained an integral part of the worship in the Greek Orthodox church[4] and the Eastern Catholic churches.[5] The practice was not found in the Latin Church until more than two centuries later. Ambrose, bishop of Milan and Gregory the Great, the founders of Roman Catholic chant, are credited with 'antiphonaries', collections of works suitable for antiphon, that are still in use in the Roman Catholic Church today.[6]

Polyphonic votive antiphons

Polyphonic votive antiphons emerged in England in the fourteenth century as settings of texts honouring the Virgin Mary separately from the mass and office, often after compline.[7] Towards the end of the fifteenth century English composers produced expanded settings for as many as nine parts with increasing complexity and vocal range.[7] The largest collection of such antiphons is the late fifteenth century Eton choirbook.[8] As a result antiphony remains particularly common in the Anglican musical tradition: the choir, often divided into two equal halves on opposite sides of the quire, is then regarded as two, termed Decani and Cantoris.[9]

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