In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more musical lines (or voices) which are harmonically interdependent yet independent in rhythm and melodic contour.It has been most commonly identified in the European classical tradition, strongly developing during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period, especially in the Baroque period. The term originates from the Latin punctus contra punctum meaning "point against point", i.e. "note against note".
In Western pedagogy, counterpoint is taught through a system of species (see below).
There are several different forms of counterpoint, including imitative counterpoint and free counterpoint. Imitative counterpoint involves the repetition of a main melodic idea across different vocal parts, with or without variation. Compositions written in free counterpoint often incorporate non-traditional harmonies and chords, chromaticism and dissonance.
The term "counterpoint" has been used to designate a voice or even an entire composition.Counterpoint focuses on melodic interaction—only secondarily on the harmonies produced by that interaction. In the words of John Rahn:
It is hard to write a beautiful song. It is harder to write several individually beautiful songs that, when sung simultaneously, sound as a more beautiful polyphonic whole. The internal structures that create each of the voices separately must contribute to the emergent structure of the polyphony, which in turn must reinforce and comment on the structures of the individual voices. The way that is accomplished in detail is ... 'counterpoint'.
Work initiated by Guerino Mazzola (born 1947) has given counterpoint theory a mathematical foundation. In particular, Mazzola's model gives a structural (and not psychological) foundation of forbidden parallels of fifths and the dissonant fourth. Octavio Agustin has extended the model to microtonal contexts.
In counterpoint, the functional independence of voices is the prime concern. The violation of this principle leads to special effects, which are avoided in counterpoint. In organ registers, certain interval combinations and chords are activated by a single key so that playing a melody results in parallel voice leading. These voices, losing independence, are fused into one and the parallel chords are perceived as single tones with a new timbre. This effect is also used in orchestral arrangements; for instance, in Ravel’s Bolero #5 the parallel parts of flutes, horn and celesta resemble the sound of an electric organ. In counterpoint, parallel voices are prohibited because they violate the homogeneity of musical texture when independent voices occasionally disappear turning into a new timbre quality and vice versa.
Some examples of related compositional techniques include: the round (familiar in folk traditions), the canon, and perhaps the most complex contrapuntal convention: the fugue. All of these are examples of imitative counterpoint.
There are many examples of song melodies that are harmonically interdependent yet independent in rhythm and melodic contour. For example, "Frère Jacques" and "Three Blind Mice" combine euphoniously when sung together. A number of popular songs that share the same chord progression can also be sung together as counterpoint. A well-known pair of examples is "My Way" combined with "Life on Mars".
Bach's 3-part Invention in F minor combines three independent melodies:
According to pianist András Schiff, Bach's counterpoint influenced the composing of both Mozart and Beethoven. In the development section of the opening movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata in E minor, Beethoven demonstrates this influence by adding "a wonderful counterpoint" to one of the main themes.
A further example of fluid counterpoint in late Beethoven may be found in the first orchestral variation on the "Ode to Joy" theme in the last movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, bars 116–123. The famous theme is heard on the violas and cellos, while "the basses add a bass-line whose sheer unpredictability gives the impression that it is being spontaneously improvised. Meantime a solo bassoon adds a counterpoint that has a similarly impromptu quality."
In the Prelude to Richard Wagner's opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg , three themes from the opera are combined simultaneously. According to Gordon Jacob, "This is universally and justly acclaimed as an extraordinary feat of virtuosity."However, Donald Tovey points out that here "the combination of themes ... unlike classical counterpoint, really do not of themselves combine into complete or euphonious harmony."
One spectacular example of 5-voice counterpoint can be found in the finale to Mozart's Symphony No 41 ("Jupiter" Symphony). Here five tunes combine simultaneously in "a rich tapestry of dialogue":
See also Invertible counterpoint.
Species counterpoint was developed as a pedagogical tool in which students progress through several "species" of increasing complexity, with a very simple part that remains constant known as the cantus firmus (Latin for "fixed melody"). Species counterpoint generally offers less freedom to the composer than other types of counterpoint and therefore is called a "strict" counterpoint. The student gradually attains the ability to write free counterpoint (that is, less rigorously constrained counterpoint, usually without a cantus firmus) according to the given rules at the time.The idea is at least as old as 1532, when Giovanni Maria Lanfranco described a similar concept in his Scintille di musica (Brescia, 1533). The 16th-century Venetian theorist Zarlino elaborated on the idea in his influential Le institutioni harmoniche, and it was first presented in a codified form in 1619 by Lodovico Zacconi in his Prattica di musica. Zacconi, unlike later theorists, included a few extra contrapuntal techniques, such as invertible counterpoint.
In 1725 Johann Joseph Fux published Gradus ad Parnassum (Steps to Parnassus), in which he described five species:
A succession of later theorists quite closely imitated Fux's seminal work, often with some small and idiosyncratic modifications in the rules. Many of Fux's rules concerning the purely linear construction of melodies have their origin in solfeggi. Concerning the common practice era, alterations to the melodic rules were introduced to enable the function of certain harmonic forms. The combination of these melodies produced the basic harmonic structure, the figured bass.[ citation needed ]
The following rules apply to melodic writing in each species, for each part:
And, in all species, the following rules govern the combination of the parts:
In first species counterpoint, each note in every added part (parts being also referred to as lines or voices) sounds against one note in the cantus firmus. Notes in all parts are sounded simultaneously, and move against each other simultaneously. Since all notes in First species counterpoint are whole notes, rhythmic independence is not available.
In the present context, a "step" is a melodic interval of a half or whole step. A "skip" is an interval of a third or fourth. (See Steps and skips.) An interval of a fifth or larger is referred to as a "leap".
A few further rules given by Fux, by study of the Palestrina style, and usually given in the works of later counterpoint pedagogues,are as follows.
In the adjacent example in two parts, the cantus firmus is the lower part. (The same cantus firmus is used for later examples also. Each is in the Dorian mode.)
In second species counterpoint, two notes in each of the added parts work against each longer note in the given part.
Additional considerations in second species counterpoint are as follows, and are in addition to the considerations for first species:
In third species counterpoint, four (or three, etc.) notes move against each longer note in the given part.
Three special figures are introduced into third species and later added to fifth species, and ultimately outside the restrictions of species writing. There are three figures to consider: The nota cambiata , double neighbor tones, and double passing tones.
Double neighbor tones: the figure is prolonged over four beats and allows special dissonances. The upper and lower tones are prepared on beat 1 and resolved on beat 4. The fifth note or downbeat of the next measure should move by step in the same direction as the last two notes of the double neighbor figure. Lastly a double passing tone allows two dissonant passing tones in a row. The figure would consist of 4 notes moving in the same direction by step. The two notes that allow dissonance would be beat 2 and 3 or 3 and 4. The dissonant interval of a fourth would proceed into a diminished fifth and the next note would resolve at the interval of a sixth.
In fourth species counterpoint, some notes are sustained or suspended in an added part while notes move against them in the given part, often creating a dissonance on the beat, followed by the suspended note then changing (and "catching up") to create a subsequent consonance with the note in the given part as it continues to sound. As before, fourth species counterpoint is called expanded when the added-part notes vary in length among themselves. The technique requires chains of notes sustained across the boundaries determined by beat, and so creates syncopation. Also, it is important to note that a dissonant interval is allowed on beat 1 because of the syncopation created by the suspension. While it is not incorrect to start with a half note, it is also common to start 4th species with a half rest.
Short example of "fourth species" counterpoint
In fifth species counterpoint, sometimes called florid counterpoint, the other four species of counterpoint are combined within the added parts. In the example, the first and second bars are second species, the third bar is third species, the fourth and fifth bars are third and embellished fourth species, and the final bar is first species. In florid counterpoint it is important that no one species dominates the composition.
Short example of "Florid" counterpoint
Since the Renaissance period in European music, much contrapuntal music has been written in imitative counterpoint. In imitative counterpoint, two or more voices enter at different times, and (especially when entering) each voice repeats some version of the same melodic element. The fantasia, the ricercar, and later, the canon and fugue (the contrapuntal form par excellence) all feature imitative counterpoint, which also frequently appears in choral works such as motets and madrigals. Imitative counterpoint spawned a number of devices, including:
Broadly speaking, due to the development of harmony, from the Baroque period on, most contrapuntal compositions were written in the style of free counterpoint. This means that the general focus of the composer had shifted away from how the intervals of added melodies related to a cantus firmus , and more toward how they related to each other.[ citation needed ]
Nonetheless, according to Kent Kennan: "....actual teaching in that fashion (free counterpoint) did not become widespread until the late nineteenth century." [ citation needed ]Young composers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Schumann, were still educated in the style of "strict" counterpoint, but in practice, they would look for ways to expand on the traditional concepts of the subject.
Main features of free counterpoint:
[ example needed ]
Linear counterpoint is "a purely horizontal technique in which the integrity of the individual melodic lines is not sacrificed to harmonic considerations. "Its distinctive feature is rather the concept of melody, which served as the starting-point for the adherents of the 'new objectivity' when they set up linear counterpoint as an anti-type to the Romantic harmony."The voice parts move freely, irrespective of the effects their combined motions may create." In other words, either "the domination of the horizontal (linear) aspects over the vertical" is featured or the "harmonic control of lines is rejected."
Associated with neoclassicism,the technique was first used in Igor Stravinsky's Octet (1923), inspired by J. S. Bach and Giovanni Palestrina. However, according to Knud Jeppesen: "Bach's and Palestrina's points of departure are antipodal. Palestrina starts out from lines and arrives at chords; Bach's music grows out of an ideally harmonic background, against which the voices develop with a bold independence that is often breath-taking."
According to Cunningham, linear harmony is "a frequent approach in the 20th century...[in which lines] are combined with almost careless abandon in the hopes that new 'chords' and 'progressions'...will result." It is possible with "any kind of line, diatonic or duodecuple".
[ example needed ]
Dissonant counterpoint was originally theorized by Charles Seeger as "at first purely a school-room discipline," consisting of species counterpoint but with all the traditional rules reversed. First species counterpoint must be all dissonances, establishing "dissonance, rather than consonance, as the rule," and consonances are "resolved" through a skip, not step. He wrote that "the effect of this discipline" was "one of purification". Other aspects of composition, such as rhythm, could be "dissonated" by applying the same principle.
Seeger was not the first to employ dissonant counterpoint, but was the first to theorize and promote it. Other composers who have used dissonant counterpoint, if not in the exact manner prescribed by Charles Seeger, include Johanna Beyer, John Cage, Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Vivian Fine, Carl Ruggles, Henry Cowell, Carlos Chávez, John J. Becker, Henry Brant, Lou Harrison, Wallingford Riegger, and Frank Wigglesworth.
In music, a fugue is a contrapuntal compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject that is introduced at the beginning in imitation and which recurs frequently in the course of the composition. It is not to be confused with a fuguing tune, which is a style of song popularized by and mostly limited to early American music and West Gallery music. A fugue usually has three main sections: an exposition, a development and a final entry that contains the return of the subject in the fugue's tonic key. Some fugues have a recapitulation.
Polyphony is a type of musical texture consisting of two or more simultaneous lines of independent melody, as opposed to a musical texture with just one voice, monophony, or a texture with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords, homophony.
In music, harmony is the process by which individual sounds are joined together or composed into whole units or compositions. Often, the term harmony refers to simultaneously occurring frequencies, pitches, or chords. However, harmony is generally understood to involve both vertical harmony (chords) and horizontal harmony (melody).
In music theory, an interval is a difference in pitch between two sounds. An interval may be described as horizontal, linear, or melodic if it refers to successively sounding tones, such as two adjacent pitches in a melody, and vertical or harmonic if it pertains to simultaneously sounding tones, such as in a chord.
A fourth is a musical interval encompassing four staff positions in the music notation of Western culture, and a perfect fourth is the fourth spanning five semitones. For example, the ascending interval from C to the next F is a perfect fourth, because the note F is the fifth semitone above C, and there are four staff positions between C and F. Diminished and augmented fourths span the same number of staff positions, but consist of a different number of semitones.
A nonchord tone (NCT), nonharmonic tone, or embellishing tone is a note in a piece of music or song that is not part of the implied or expressed chord set out by the harmonic framework. In contrast, a chord tone is a note that is a part of the functional chord. Non-chord tones are most often discussed in the context of the common practice period of classical music, but they can be used in the analysis of other types of tonal music as well, such as Western popular music.
In music, a canon is a contrapuntal (counterpoint-based) compositional technique that employs a melody with one or more imitations of the melody played after a given duration. The initial melody is called the leader, while the imitative melody, which is played in a different voice, is called the follower. The follower must imitate the leader, either as an exact replication of its rhythms and intervals or some transformation thereof. Repeating canons in which all voices are musically identical are called rounds—"Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and "Frère Jacques" are popular examples.
In Western music and music theory, diminution has four distinct meanings. Diminution may be a form of embellishment in which a long note is divided into a series of shorter, usually melodic, values. Diminution may also be the compositional device where a melody, theme or motif is presented in shorter note-values than were previously used. Diminution is also the term for the proportional shortening of the value of individual note-shapes in mensural notation, either by coloration or by a sign of proportion. A minor or perfect interval that is narrowed by a chromatic semitone is a diminished interval, and the process may be referred to as diminution.
In music theory, contrapuntal motion is the general movement of two melodic lines with respect to each other. In traditional four-part harmony, it is important that lines maintain their independence, an effect which can be achieved by the judicious use of the four types of contrapuntal motion: parallel motion, similar motion, contrary motion, and oblique motion.
Jehan le Taintenier or Jean Teinturier was a Renaissance music theorist and composer from the Low Countries. Up to his time, he is perhaps the most significant European writer on music since Guido of Arezzo.
In music, a cantus firmus is a pre-existing melody forming the basis of a polyphonic composition.
Voice leading is the linear progression of individual melodic lines and their interaction with one another to create harmonies, typically in accordance with the principles of common-practice harmony and counterpoint.
In music, consecutive fifths or parallel fifths are progressions in which the interval of a perfect fifth is followed by a different perfect fifth between the same two musical parts : for example, from C to D in one part along with G to A in a higher part. Octave displacement is irrelevant to this aspect of musical grammar; for example, a parallel twelfth is equivalent to a parallel fifth.
In music, consonance and dissonance are categorizations of simultaneous or successive sounds. Within the Western tradition, some listeners associate consonance with sweetness, pleasantness, and acceptability, and dissonance with harshness, unpleasantness, or unacceptability, although there is broad acknowledgement that this depends also on familiarity and musical expertise. The terms form a structural dichotomy in which they define each other by mutual exclusion: a consonance is what is not dissonant, and a dissonance is what is not consonant. However, a finer consideration shows that the distinction forms a gradation, from the most consonant to the most dissonant. In casual discourse, as German composer and music theorist Paul Hindemith stressed, "The two concepts have never been completely explained, and for a thousand years the definitions have varied". The term sonance has been proposed to encompass or refer indistinctly to the terms consonance and dissonance.
The Orgelbüchlein BWV 599−644 is a set of 46 chorale preludes for organ — one of them is given in two versions — by Johann Sebastian Bach. All but three were written between 1708 and 1717 when Bach served as organist to the ducal court in Weimar; the remainder and a short two-bar fragment came no earlier than 1726, after the composer’s appointment as cantor at the Thomasschule in Leipzig.
Musica ricercata is a set of eleven pieces for piano by György Ligeti. The work was composed from 1951 to 1953, shortly after the composer began lecturing at the Budapest Academy of Music. The work premiered on 18 November 1969 in Sundsvall, Sweden. Although the ricercata is an established contrapuntal style, Ligeti's title should probably be interpreted literally as "researched music" or "sought music". This work captures the essence of Ligeti's search to construct his own compositional style ex nihilo, and as such presages many of the more radical directions Ligeti would take in the future.
In music theory, an inversion is a type of change to intervals, chords, voices, and melodies. In each of these cases, "inversion" has a distinct but related meaning. The concept of inversion also plays an important role in musical set theory.
A part generally refers to a single strand or melody or harmony of music within a larger ensemble or a polyphonic musical composition. There are several senses in which the word is often used:
Cambiata, or nota cambiata, has a number of different and related meanings in music. Generally it refers to a pattern in a homophonic or polyphonic setting of a melody where a note is skipped from in one direction followed by the note skipped to, and then by motion in the opposite direction, and where either the note skipped from is distinguished as a dissonance or the note skipped to is distinguished as a non-harmonic or non-chordal tone. With regards to music pedagogical activities and species counterpoint, it refers to a more specific set of patterns.
Traditional sub-Saharan African harmony is a music theory of harmony in sub-Saharan African music based on the principles of homophonic parallelism, homophonic polyphony, counter-melody and ostinato-variation. Polyphony is common in African music and heterophony is a common technique as well. Although these principles of traditional African music are of Pan-African validity, the degree to which they are used in one area over another varies. Specific techniques that used to generate harmony in Africa are the "span process", "pedal notes", "rhythmic harmony", "harmony by imitation", and "scalar clusters".