Definition of cantus firmus in English:

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cantus firmus

Pronunciation: /ˌkan(t)əs ˈfərməs/

noun (plural cantus firmi /ˈfərˌmī/ /-mē/)

An existing melody used as the basis for a polyphonic composition.
Example sentences
  • In the early years of the seventeenth century, English composers increasingly turned to the hexachord as a cantus firmus for keyboard pieces.
  • Orgelbuchlein Pieces - Bach's ‘Little Organ Book’ consists of 45 short chorales mainly having the cantus firmus in the soprano voice with the lower voices acting as counterpoint to the chorale melodies.
  • The cantus firmus is sounded in semibreves in the middle of the three voices.


Mid 19th century: from Latin, literally 'firm song'.

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