The motet was originally a polyphonic composition based on a sacred text and usually sung without accompaniment. It has its origins in the thirteenth century, and is attributed to Pérotin and his contemporaries at Notre Dame, Paris. Pérotin was probably French, and he lived around the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th century. He composed organum, the earliest type of polyphonic music which was basically a plainchant melody (a single, unaccompanied melodic line) with at least one added voice to enhance the harmony. He pioneered the styles of organum triplum and organum quadruplum (three and four-part polyphony). Works attributed to Pérotin include the four-voice Viderunt omnes and Sederunt principes; the three-voice Alleluia, Posui adiutorium, Alleluia, Nativitas, and nine others, all in the organum style; the two-voice Dum sigillum summi Patris, and the monophonic Beata viscera in the conductus style. (The conductus sets a rhymed Latin poem called a sequence to a repeated melody, much like a contemporary hymn). At first Latin texts, mainly concerning the Virgin, were used, but French non-religious texts became common as the motet shed its connection with church and public worship. Among the trouvères, Robert de Reins La Chievre and Richart de Fournival composed motets.

Several motet types flourished in France, but these reduced to a definitive type capable of much variety and this was due to the influence of Philippe de Vitry, (1291-1361) an innovative French composer, music theorist and poet. Many large-scale and complex ‘mensuration motets’ are found in English and French sources of the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Different forms of the motet took root in Italy, Austria, Germany and Iberia. After 1750 the history of the motet is largely an account of individual and mostly isolated works. Mozart, Liszt and Bruckner are important as composers of Latin motets, while the German Protestant tradition is best represented by the seven motets of Brahms. (see Britannica Concise Encyclopedia; Oxford Grove Music Encyclopedia; Columbia Encyclopedia; and ‘The late-medieval motet’ Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music, Margaret Bent, 1997, Oxford University Press).