In music centonization (from Latin cento or patchwork (Randel 2002, 123)) is a theory about the composition of a melody, melodies, or piece based on pre-existing melodic figures and formulas (Hoppin 1978, 69). A piece created using centonization is known as a "centonate" (Randel 2002, 123).

The concept of centonization was borrowed from literary theory, and first applied to Gregorian chant in 1934 by Dom Paolo Ferretti (Chew and McKinnon 2001; Treitler 1975, 7).

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") (Powers, et al. 2001). The originality of the composer lies in how he or she links these formulas together and elaborates upon them in a new way.

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 (Hiley 1993, 74–75; Treitler 1974, 356; Treitler 1975, 14–15 & 22–23). The term "centonate" is not applied to other categories of composition constructed from pre-existing units, such as fricassée, pasticcio, potpourri, and quodlibet (Chew and McKinnon 2001).

See also


  • Chew, Geoffrey, and James W. McKinnon (2001). "Centonization". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • 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.
  • Hiley, David. (1993). Western Plainchant: A Handbook. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816289-8 OCLC 25707447.
  • Hoppin, Richard (1978). Medieval Music. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Powers, Harold, Frans Wiering, James Porter, James Cowdery, Ruth Davis, Richard Widdess, Marc Perlman, Stephen Jones, and Allan Marett (2001). "Mode". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Randel, Don Michael (2002). The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians. ISBN 0-674-00978-9.
  • Treitler, Leo (1974). "Homer and Gregory: The Transmission of Epic Poetry and Plainchant". Musical Quarterly 60, no. 3 (July): 333–72.
  • Treitler, Leo (1975). "'Centonate' Chant: Übles Flickwerk or E pluribus unus?". Journal of the American Musicological Society 28, no. 1 (Spring): 1–23.
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