Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A preexisting melody used as the basis of a polyphonic composition, especially in 14th- and 15th-century polyphony.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a melody used as the basis for a polyphonic composition

Etymologies

Medieval Latin : Latin cantus, song + Latin firmus, fixed.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)

Examples

  • The folk-song of olden times, springing directly from and resembling the music of the Church, was often employed as motif or cantus firmus in masses and other liturgical compositions, a proceeding which would not be allowed now-a-days.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 10: Mass Music-Newman

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