A part song, part-song or partsong is a form of choral music that consists of a secular (vs. ecclesiastical) song written or arranged for several vocal parts. Part songs are commonly sung by an SATB choir, but sometimes for an all-male or all-female ensemble. This music is usually homophonic, meaning that the highest part carries the melody and the other voices or parts supply the accompanying harmonies, in contrast to songs that are contrapuntal, as are madrigals. Part songs are intended to be sung a cappella, that is without accompaniment, unless an instrumental accompaniment is particularly specified.
The part song in was created in Great Britain, first growing from, and then gradually superseding, the earlier form of glee, as well as being particularly influenced by the choral works of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). This[clarification needed] was linked with the growth of choral societies during the 19th century which were larger groups than glee clubs had been.
Early British composers of part songs include John Liptrot Hatton, R. J. S. Stevens, Henry Smart and George Alexander Macfarren, who was renowned for his Shakespearean settings. Around the turn of the 20th century in the heyday of the part song, Hubert Parry, Charles Villiers Stanford and Edward Elgar were the principal exponents, often bringing a high-minded seriousness to their settings of great English poetry both contemporary and from earlier epochs. More recent major contributors to the genre include Ralph Vaughan Williams, Granville Bantock, Arnold Bax, Peter Warlock, Gustav Holst and Benjamin Britten. The development of the part song has been marked by increasing complexity of form, and contrapuntal content.[clarification needed]