Author Topic: December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition  (Read 273 times)

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sandalwood

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December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition
« on: December 02, 2018, 03:41:46 PM »
How relevant is a special concern for "good" counterpoint in your composing process? Do you have any specific set of rules you stick to ?   Are you inclined to remain homophonic with perhaps occasional  contrapuntally rich passages or do you have a penchant for polyphony and often seek to write sustained simultaneous independent melodies? How do these issues relate to your overall aesthetic/idiomatic preferences?

Ron

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Re: December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition
« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2018, 06:55:23 PM »
If I have multiple voices, then I am probably using counterpoint. I only very rarely move in block chords. I try to write so that each voice can stand alone and still make musical sense, though sometimes at cadences a voice will have to take a harmony note instead of resolving to a tonic. I often enter voices using stretto, though I do not write formal fugues as such. Really, I don't know how else to write.
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Rules? What rules?

Michel.R.E

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Re: December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition
« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2018, 07:36:22 PM »
I always start with both harmonic framework and contrapuntal material when beginning a new work.
Counterpoint, in and of itself, generates harmony in a way.
When handling slightly more complex (or in my case "compound") harmony, the generation of contrapuntal material becomes a tiny bit touchier.

Almost every single one of my pieces includes some sort of contrapuntal development, so for me, counterpoint is a primary form of inspiration.

And there are some basic counterpoint rules that apply to ALL composition in some form or other. Even the strictest "old style" counterpoint is an important source of material for composition regardless of the musical language being used - very tonal to not tonal at all.
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Patrick O'Keefe

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Re: December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition
« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2018, 09:08:38 PM »
How relevant is a special concern for "good" counterpoint in your composing process?
That "good" made me hesitate answering.  I suspect much of my counterpoint could be labeled "bad".  :)
Do you have any specific set of rules you stick to ?   
No.
Are you inclined to remain homophonic with perhaps occasional  contrapuntally rich passages or do you have a penchant for polyphony and often seek to write sustained simultaneous independent melodies? How do these issues relate to your overall aesthetic/idiomatic preferences?
I'm not sure I've ever written anything strictly homophonic.  Even when I've written block chords I usually have something puttering around in the background providing some rhythmic counterpoint so that the harmony doesn't just lumber along.  More often I've got a couple thematic lines going - not necessarily of equal importance or weight but present enough to be noticeable.  Very often I bring in some kind of simple imitative counterpoint - either melodic or rhythmic.
« Last Edit: December 02, 2018, 11:11:23 PM by Patrick O'Keefe »

tbmartin

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Re: December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition
« Reply #4 on: December 03, 2018, 05:46:15 AM »
My list of works that are truly compositions, rather than arrangements with relatively small amounts of original material, is quite small.  (1 full band piece, another in process, about 5 sax quartets.) Even with that, however, I seem to have a penchant for working with "partner songs", which is essentially a form of counterpoint. In my completed band piece I purposely created two separate melodies that both worked with the underlying harmony structure I had created, but also could stand alone in their own sections. In my current project, I'm quoting several melodies that have meaning in the life of the person to whom the piece is dedicated, and having them play at the same time. This often requires a "shoehorn" to make them work, which is part of the fun and challenge. For this current piece I have also created some original melodies and countermelodies that work together, much like the completed piece I just mentioned.

To quote Ron: "Rules? What rules?" I have only small amounts of academic training, so I don't know what rules there are, or if I'm breaking them. Very likely I am breaking them! My rule is "If I think it sounds good, then it stays. If I don't, I change it."
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RJB54

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Re: December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition
« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2018, 12:22:26 PM »
As far as my music is concerned, the relationship to the traditional rules of 'good' counterpoint is somewhat anomalous since the basic material for my compositions for the last few years (and for the foreseeable future) is comprised of tone rows.

Because of this, my general approach to the counterpoint in my pieces does not, as far as the inner voices are concerned, pay much, if any, attention to the ramifications of 'good' contrapuntal relationships between those voices since the tonal ramifications of the 'good' contrapuntal rules rarely, if ever, apply to the inner voices in my music. About the only aspect of 'good' counterpoint which I tend to apply is that, unlike the traditional serialist composer, I generally try to handle my treatment of the tone row to emphasize traditionally consonant intervals between voices. I just don't, in general, follow the traditional contrapuntal rules regarding pitch to pitch movements in the inner voices.

As far as the outer voice relationships go, I definately avoid parallel octaves (unless I make a mistake in my handling of the tone rows here or there :)). This is due to the fact that, regardless of the harmonic context, parallel octaves (particularly in the outer voices) always sound somewhat 'off' as the parallel octaves create the impression of a voice 'disappearing'. Of course, this does not apply to a line which is doubling a particular voice at the octave.

I am less concerned about parallel fifths in the outer voices. The proscription against parallel fifths are largely based upon the harmonic ramifications of the fifth relationship and the fact that, amongst other things, the parallel fifths create a static harmonic effect. Since my music is not diatonic in nature I don't try especially hard to avoid parallel fifths in the outer voices as the diatonic harmonic relationship issues mentioned don't exist. The chromatic row-based counterpoint which is typically going on in the other voices usually precludes any of the typical 'problems' which would arise with parallel fifths in diatonic music.
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Patrick O'Keefe

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Re: December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition
« Reply #6 on: December 03, 2018, 01:16:51 PM »
... my general approach to the counterpoint in my pieces does not, as far as the inner voices are concerned, pay much, if any, attention to the ramifications of 'good' contrapuntal relationships between those voices since the tonal ramifications of the 'good' contrapuntal rules rarely, if ever, apply to the inner voices in my music.
I think this applies, to lesser extent, to any `music that does not rely on functional harmony, even if that music is essentially "tonal".   Good counterpoint for modal music, or music using quartal harmony, undoubtedly has its own set of rules that differ from the common practice rules.  I usually let my ears tell me if I've violated those rules.

On the other hand, if I find myself in need of a rule to guide me I will sometimes fall back on the traditional ones (perhaps tweaked a bit).  I vaguely remember writing a fugal section in a piece using a mode with a flat 5 - no traditional dominant.   I had the 2nd voice enter a 5th higher even though that did not correspond to any note in the tonic mode.  That sounded no worse than any other interval I tried.  (And the fact that I said "no worse" rather than "better" probably explains why I can't remember much about the piece.  :) )

Jerry Engelbach

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Re: December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition
« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2018, 06:22:24 AM »
I work in fuctional harmony, so in my formal compositions the voice leading in the harmony might be considered "contrapuntal."
 
I also enjoy putting counter melodies behind the main melody, but since the voices are not equal it's not counterpoint in its strictest sense.
 
In playing jazz, I can similarly emphasize the voice leading in the left hand against the improvised melody, for an effect that sounds contrapuntal.
 
In most Western music, I don't see how some form of countrapuntal activity, no matter how subtle, can be avoided.
 
Cheers,
Jer
« Last Edit: December 05, 2018, 06:24:04 AM by Jerry Engelbach »
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Patrick O'Keefe

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Re: December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition
« Reply #8 on: December 05, 2018, 09:51:55 AM »
I also enjoy putting counter melodies behind the main melody, but since the voices are not equal it's not counterpoint in its strictest sense.
Your use of a counter melody sounds like counterpoint to me.  Counterpoint does not have to be equal voice polyphony,

Jerry Engelbach

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Re: December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition
« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2018, 08:49:47 AM »
I also enjoy putting counter melodies behind the main melody, but since the voices are not equal it's not counterpoint in its strictest sense.
Your use of a counter melody sounds like counterpoint to me.  Counterpoint does not have to be equal voice polyphony,
OK.
 
I suppose I'm thinking of pieces in which the melodies create the harmony rather than just overlaying it.
 
Cheers,
Jer
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Patrick O'Keefe

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Re: December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition
« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2018, 09:33:35 AM »

I suppose I'm thinking of pieces in which the melodies create the harmony rather than just overlaying it.
I may be completely misunderstanding, but I think a very good example of this kind of counterpoint is in the 2nd movement of Mahler's 2nd symphony.  The movement is in ABABA form.  The primary theme of the first A section is used as a counter melodic line to a new theme in the 2nd A section.  Or perhaps that new them is actually reuse of a subtle counter melody in the 1st section.  I'm not sure.  In any case,  the two themes are harmonically related but melodically and rhythmically unrelated.   Two unrelated themes creating beautiful harmony.  Wonderful counterpoint.

Jerry Engelbach

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Re: December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition
« Reply #11 on: December 06, 2018, 12:16:37 PM »
Yes, where under the violins the cello plays the counter melody. Very beautiful interweaving. Thanks for calling my attention to it.

I think, though, that the voices conform to the underlying harmony rather than define it — the difference between vertical and horizontal harmony.

But okay, the result here is counterpoint. Just not in the sense of what I meant above as "strict" species counterpoint.

Cheers,
Jer
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Patrick O'Keefe

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Re: December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition
« Reply #12 on: December 06, 2018, 03:20:40 PM »

I think, though, that the voices conform to the underlying harmony rather than define it — the difference between vertical and horizontal harmony.
I'm afraid I don't see the difference.  In music that has a harmonic structure, any truly thematic line is going to express some of the  harmonic structure by the included intervals.  Any two thematic lines that work together contrapuntally are going to express the same underlying harmonic structure ... even if that common harmonic structure is not the most obvious surface structure expressed by the themes.  If that commonality does not exist, I'm not sure it counts as counterpoint.  (And I can picture someone counter-arguing by waving The Unanswered Question in my face.  Maybe it's my own personal private definition of counterpoint.)

It seems to me that themes that work together contrapuntally have tobe designed to express a common harmonic structure or have to be found that already express the same harmonic structure.

]But okay, the result here is counterpoint. Just not in the sense of what I meant above as "strict" species counterpoint.
I could be way off base here (and welcome correction) but I thought the species concept of counterpoint was a pedagogical tool for teaching and learning counterpoint, not a defining characteristic of counterpoint.  If nothing else, the definition of harmonic structure has changed a bit since Fux's day.  But counterpoint is still a useful concept even when stretched far beyond what the baroque masters would recognize.

About 5 years ago I was studying atonal techniques and decided to try writing a short atonal fugue.  Such a thing could not exist in species counterpoint because it has no harmonic structure pre se.  It may not be a true fugue by anybody's definition but it looks and sounds like a fugue.  It's got several entrances (expositions) and episodes.  It uses a real answer.  (Couldn't very well be a "tonal' answer, could it?  :) )  It even uses a pedal tone in the final entrance even though there is no tonal center.  It may not be a real fugue but it is certainly got imitative counterpoint.
« Last Edit: December 06, 2018, 04:14:21 PM by Patrick O'Keefe »

Michel.R.E

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Re: December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition
« Reply #13 on: December 06, 2018, 03:33:07 PM »
To be clear, "strict species counterpoint" does not exist outside of academic  environments.
It is purely a didactic tool. No composer has ever written a complete work that could be by any definition called "strict species counterpoint".
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Jerry Engelbach

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Re: December, 2018: Counterpoint and polyphony in your composition
« Reply #14 on: December 06, 2018, 05:46:08 PM »
My apologies if my terminology is off.

I've never studied formal counterpoint, and what I meant is not exercises by Fux but music that interweaves all the lines of a piece, not just the melody and counter melod(y)(ies), but the bass line as well, where the harmony is created by and moves according to those interactions. I do get that impression from much Baroque music.

Patrick’s "it looks and sounds like a fugue" is all that is needed for obviously fugal sounding material that doesn’t have to rely on functional harmony. All we have to trust is our ears.

I think of "vertical" harmony as laying down a series of chords and then playing a melody over them, such as in the sound of an oompah band, and in a lot of jazz, where the harmony doesn't create its own sense of melody, but just punctuates. It feels as if the harmony is a row of columns supporting a superstructure, very un-fugal.

Of course the harmony has its own movement, regardless of how slow or subtle. There are just degrees of movement that give me the impression of vertical or horizontal — allowing that the distinction between them can be blurry.

Cheers,
Jer
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