In music centonization (from Latin cento or patchwork (Randel, p.123)) is the practice of composing a melody, melodies, or piece based on pre-existing melodic figures and formulas (Hoppin, p.69). A piece created using centonization is known as centonate (Randel, ibid).

The aesthetic behind centonization differs strongly from the emphasis on originality and innovation in musical modernism, but it is in fact a very old and widespread technique and also resembles the collages of postmodern music. The musical modes used in Gregorian chant in fact reflect this use; the modes were actually 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 ornaments (they are sometimes called "melody types"). The originality of the composer lies in how he or she links these formulas together and elaborates upon them in a new way.

See also


  • Hoppin, Richard (1978). Medieval Music. New York: Norton.
  • Randel, Don Michael (2002). The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians. ISBN 0-674-00978-9.

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