Author Topic: Counterpoint  (Read 3749 times)

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RichardMc

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Counterpoint
« on: May 02, 2012, 08:23:06 AM »
I have an understanding of basic species counterpoint as per Fux. What happens when I am faced with bitonality-if I am using the term correctly. For example, if I have a passage which states a G Major Chord in the upper part and a C Major chord in the lower part and I am constructing a line in the lower part how do I reckon it. It seems that if I apply strict counterpoint I will lose my bitonal effect because I will be reckoning consonances with respect to all parts. But the bitonal quality introduces dissonances in the first instance. eg. the b in the G Major against the C in the C Major. I hope this makes some sense. Thanks.

Michel.R.E

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Re: Counterpoint
« Reply #1 on: May 02, 2012, 08:29:49 AM »
you can't stick to ALL of the classic counterpoint rules if you are moving away from common practice harmony.

speaking for myself, the only rules of counterpoint to which I adhere as strictly as I can are "no parallel octaves", and as much as possible, use contrary motion rather than parallel.

The latter is a preference. I simply find it creates more-interesting counterpoint.

But the former is, in my opinion, absolute. Parallel octaves are "wrong" no matter what harmonic language you are using.
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Jamie Kowalski

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Re: Counterpoint
« Reply #2 on: May 02, 2012, 09:09:50 AM »
I'm a big counterpoint guy, having gone through the Fux route as well as studying 2- and 3- part Renaissance counterpoint. It's pretty heavily engraved on my brain, and I could probably write a decent fugue on as little as one hour of sleep.

But I don't let any of its detailed rules to tell me how to write, and neither should you. It's all about absorbing the sensibilities of the lessons. Traditionally, the point of good part-writing was two-fold:

1. To keep the voices independent and distinct from one another.
2. To write lines that are easily singable.

And yes, I mean number 2 literally. Were Fux alive today, he would tell you quite plainly: If you can't sing it, it's bad counterpoint. While people today are used to singing unusual intervals with lots of chromaticism, the distinction is really what is easy and natural for the voice.

Parallel octaves and fifths, and too much parallel motion in general break the first rule. Why shouldn't you double a leading tone? Because the most singable line resolves up a half-step, and you can't have both voices do that and not break that rule as well. Show me any rule you learned in counterpoint class, and I will show you how it supports one or both of these rules.

I think once you get into bi-tonality, you pretty much have to redefine rule number 2. I like to think of it as make sure the line makes sense when played alone. It's a judgement call, and yours to make. As for rule number 1, Michel pretty much covered it. Parallel motion undermines voice independence. It is not wrong in an absolute sense, but as long as your goal is "good counterpoint," avoid it.

RichardMc

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Re: Counterpoint
« Reply #3 on: May 02, 2012, 09:29:27 AM »
Thank you both. This makes a lot of sense and I really appreciate your taking the time to respond.

Michel.R.E

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Re: Counterpoint
« Reply #4 on: May 02, 2012, 09:34:13 AM »
depending on which "school" of counterpoint you belong to, there are certain "rules" that are used during the teaching of counterpoint that end up being for a very good reason.

For example, we weren't allowed to use more than four parallel 3rds or 6ths in a row. Not because it was wrong, but because it forces you to think outside of simply doubling a line with consonances.

Some schools are more relaxed on that particular rule, while others are even stricter.

"Don't double the leading tone" is a very simple rule, and you understand immediately when you take a second to look at it. As Jaimie so clearly put it, the leading tone is a tendency tone that "demands" to rise to its resolution. If you're doubling the leading tone, then you have two voices that are both demanding to rise to the resolution. End result: parallel unisons/octaves.

When writing contemporary counterpoint, I'd be considerably more forgiving of something like "no parallel 5ths"... I write a LOT of parallel 5ths in my music. It's part of the actual harmonic language. The original stricture against parallel 5ths was because (if I recall.. or at least, this is how I remember it being taught to us) it was too prominent a feature of Gregorian plainchant. The point of counterpoint, as it evolved, was to break with what came before. Gregorian plainsong is pretty much the antithesis of counterpoint.

However, the rule for parallel consonances (which again, is a variable "rule" depending on the school) should be applied to parallel 5ths (if your particular harmonic language supports their use) or any other interval consonant or dissonant, as a means of pushing you to actually write "counterpoint" and not just parallel motion.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

RichardMc

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Re: Counterpoint
« Reply #5 on: May 02, 2012, 02:19:33 PM »
I see that I started this thread in the wrong place. My apologies. The rule you mention concerning the use of consecutive 3rds and 6ths is interesting because that is a trap I can fall into easily if I am not paying attention.

Michel.R.E

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Re: Counterpoint
« Reply #6 on: May 02, 2012, 02:29:06 PM »
One particularly important point of counterpoint is that it should teach a composer to vary material, to seek out and consider means OTHER than the most direct and simple route between point A and point B.

It doesn't mean that the simplest answer is not always the best. It means that one needs to consider ALL alternatives and select the one that achieves maximum effect.

Sometimes, too much complex counterpoint can be detrimental to the overall effect of a composition.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

RichardMc

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Re: Counterpoint
« Reply #7 on: May 02, 2012, 05:50:16 PM »
This is a piece that I need a better grasp of. I am coming from a place where I have to hear it first before I write it. I am trying to move toward treating the material rather than just writing down what I think I am hearing. I still need to hear things but there it seems like there is room for more methodical treatment of the musical material.

Michel.R.E

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Re: Counterpoint
« Reply #8 on: May 02, 2012, 06:51:06 PM »
if you can, I HIGHLY recommend trying to audit (or get credit for) a counterpoint class at your local college.

doing strict counterpoint with a teacher is an eye-opening experience. It changes completely how you see linear movement in your music.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

RichardMc

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Re: Counterpoint
« Reply #9 on: May 03, 2012, 03:04:08 AM »
Thanks for the suggestion. Unfortunately I don't think it's possible at this time.

Ron

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Re: Counterpoint
« Reply #10 on: May 03, 2012, 09:04:47 AM »
Many years ago I took a course in J S Bach's counterpoint. I really enjoyed the exercises, but one day the prof said, "Ron, your counterpoint is excellent; it reminds me of Mendelssohn's counterpoint; however, this is a course about Bach!"
Ron
Rules? What rules?

RichardMc

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Re: Counterpoint
« Reply #11 on: May 04, 2012, 07:49:47 AM »
I can't resist. What distinguishes the one from the other.

Ron

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Re: Counterpoint
« Reply #12 on: May 04, 2012, 10:30:39 AM »
Oh! Oh! I might get into trouble here. Bach's counterpoint was always technically strict in its details, while Mendelssohn's was looser. On the other hand, Bach invented new harmonies and harmonic progressions in his counterpoint while Mendelssohn stuck closer to "home base," as it were. While Bach set the standard for the early classicists (like Handel), Mendelssohn laid the basis for later Romantic forms. Ironically, perhaps, Bach's counterpoint was more "melodic" than Mendelssohn's.
Ron
Rules? What rules?

RichardMc

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Re: Counterpoint
« Reply #13 on: May 04, 2012, 10:34:05 AM »
Thank you.