A part song, or part-song or partsong, is a form of choral music that consists of a secular song having been written or arranged for several vocal parts, commonly SATB choir but sometimes for an all-male or all-female ensemble. It is usually primarily homophonic, with the highest part carrying the melody and the other voices supplying the accompanying harmonies, rather than contrapuntal like a madrigal. Part songs are intended to be sung unaccompanied unless an instrumental accompaniment is specified.
The part song in Great Britain grew from, and gradually superseded, the earlier form of the Glee as well as being particularly influenced by the choral works of Felix Mendelssohn. This 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 Shakespeare settings. Around the turn of the 20th century, the heyday of the form, 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.