Author Topic: Counterpoint in Composition  (Read 12554 times)

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RichardMc

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Counterpoint in Composition
« on: June 23, 2012, 06:24:48 AM »
I am taking some time to study from Counterpoint in Composition by Felix Salzer and Carl Schachter. I probably should have posted this before I purchased the book and committed to working from it  but I was wondering if anyone is familiar with this book. Thanks.

RichardMc

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Re: Counterpoint in Composition
« Reply #1 on: June 23, 2012, 07:55:50 AM »
One aspect of working with texts such as this that I especially enjoy is the idea of starting with something very simple, such as a two or three part exercise, and developing that into something more complex.  I like this organic approach.  The downside, however, is that their approach is tonal and I'm not sure yet how to extend this to more contemporary methods. 

RichardMc

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Re: Counterpoint in Composition
« Reply #2 on: June 23, 2012, 09:00:38 AM »
Thanks for the reply.

winknotes

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Re: Counterpoint in Composition
« Reply #3 on: January 08, 2013, 08:55:23 AM »
I was looking through the threads here to see if anyone had any book recommendations and this was the only book mentioned for counterpoint. 

Does anyone have any suggestions on practical books for composers for studying counterpoint with more modern examples?  I'm looking at the piston book for example.  Another that looks promising is "Counterpoint and How to use it in your Music" by John Collins. 

Any thoughts? 
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Michel.R.E

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Re: Counterpoint in Composition
« Reply #4 on: January 08, 2013, 09:13:57 AM »
my opinion: don't learn counterpoint in the hopes of "adapting it" to contemporary harmony.

learn classical, tonal counterpoint, all the way through (it's not a 2-month stint of home study, trust me).
in doing so, you will go from 2-part whole note against whole note (and TRUST me, you WILL find it very difficult at first), to 4-part mixed counterpoint.

There are 5 types of counterpoint (called species), and each must be learned with the three voice layouts (ie: 2 part, 3 part, and 4 part).

The 5 species are:

1st species: whole note against whole note

2nd species: two half notes, against the whole note of your cantus firmus.

3rd species: four quarter notes against the whole note of the cantus.

4th species: the counterpoint is created by writing half notes against the whole note cantus, but the half notes are tied from beat 3 to beat 1, and should create as many suspensions as possible. (in other words, it's as if you wrote a whole note against whole note counterpoint, then shifted it over by 2 beats... except it HAS to work.)

5 species: florid counterpoint, which is close to "free counterpoint". in it, you include elements of all of the previous species, but add the occasional pair of 8th notes (only on beats 2 or 4, and only once per measure).

you do ALL of this in 2 voices.
then you start all over again and do it in 3 voices.
and then you start all over again, again, and do it in 4 voices.


By this point, you should have assimilated SOME of the functions and features of classic tonal counterpoint that CAN be useful in non-diatonic modes.

You will find yourself checking lines against lines when you are writing any type of music, not just contrapuntal. you will find yourself giving more care to non-melodic lines in denser textures.

you will also find that you are finding with considerably more ease material to "counter" any of your themes. you will start to find immense pleasure in slipping in little suspensions, brief moments of very melodic counterpoint, and most of all, you will find that you are avoiding clunky cadences that start and stop right on a beat. This last one is the greatest tool for creating fluidity in your music. Strict species counterpoint is violently allergic to squareness (despite the very nature of some of it).
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winknotes

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Re: Counterpoint in Composition
« Reply #5 on: January 08, 2013, 09:38:16 AM »
What you say makes complete sense and is ultimately what I want to get out of my study in counterpoint.  I don't simply want to write a half-assed fugue and claim that I know counterpoint and that's that.  I've always been told but never completely understood the ramifications of such study in non contrapuntal forms, so I believe what you say. 

To that end then, short of doing some private study with an individual do you have any recommendations on a book that can at least get me started?  I suspect the Fux book is what you'll suggest. 
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Michel.R.E

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Re: Counterpoint in Composition
« Reply #6 on: January 08, 2013, 09:52:33 AM »
professor Alan Belkin is FRIGHTENING as a counterpoint teacher...

he would stand up, and start writing notes on the blackboard. obviously some sort of fugue subject.
then he'd transpose it a bit further and make any necessary adjustments for real/tonal answer, while talking to the class.
he's fill in the countersubject while talking to us, explaining what he was doing as though he were just tossing notes at the board.

within a minute or two, he'd have the entire exposition of a 4-part fugue on the board, done in one fell swoop.

it was like watching those Vegas acts where the guy makes a painting by tossing paint at a huge canvas then suddenly turning it upside down and VOILA! a painting of Mount Rushmore (or whatever).

I had the great pleasure of doing counterpoint and fugue with professor Belkin for 3 years.
I STILL think he's scary!
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Jamie Kowalski

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Re: Counterpoint in Composition
« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2013, 10:12:35 AM »
Belkin sounds like the George Koltanowski of the counterpoint world.

Jamie Kowalski

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Re: Counterpoint in Composition
« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2013, 11:02:56 AM »
I would also like to say that Michel's post about learning counterpoint is great advice. The fact that counterpoint relies entirely on traditional tonal harmony does not make it any less important to study.

Especially relevant to the original question:
Quote
You will find yourself checking lines against lines when you are writing any type of music, not just contrapuntal. you will find yourself giving more care to non-melodic lines in denser textures.

you will also find that you are finding with considerably more ease material to "counter" any of your themes. you will start to find immense pleasure in slipping in little suspensions, brief moments of very melodic counterpoint, and most of all, you will find that you are avoiding clunky cadences that start and stop right on a beat.

This is absolutely on the mark. Somewhere in the vast collection of ideas that makes up the world of traditional counterpoint lie the seeds for contemporary adaptation -- but I believe it is more of a learned intuition that is difficult to articulate. After the lessons have become second nature, one can get an innate sense of a passage's contrapuntal weight and "validity" even if there is no possible mapping of traditional rules to the style of music in question.

There are times when I am composing when I am very conscious of using that part of my brain that is soaked in Fux. I am not directly applying any of the lessons, but I am filtering my work through the part of me that has a strong general sense of what it means to be "contrapuntal."

Michel.R.E

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Re: Counterpoint in Composition
« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2013, 11:35:38 AM »
Thank-you Jamie.

yes, I think that to actively "seek out" books on applying counterpoint to contemporary harmony may, in the end, be less productive than simply soaking it all in in its "old fashioned" manner.

the thing is that what YOU find usable as far as incorporating counterpoint into your music may not be what someone else finds usable.

whatever your own harmonic system is may not be able to apply the principles in the same manner as someone whose harmonic system is completely different.

As an example: using tone-rows would make applying counterpoint principles difficult as the notes under that system tend to be predetermined, leaving little room for adaptation and adjustment to "fit" any sort of contrapuntal application. I think the only things that would work would be the proscription against parallel octaves and some of the rhythmic principles.

« Last Edit: January 09, 2013, 01:19:55 PM by Michel.R.E »
"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"

RJB54

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Re: Counterpoint in Composition
« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2013, 12:20:09 PM »
As an example: using tone-rows would make applying counterpoint principles difficult as the notes under that system tend to be predetermined, leaving little room for adaptation and adjustment to "fit" any sort of contrapuntal application. I think the only things that would work would be the proscription against parallel octaves and some of the rhythmic principles.

That depends on the serial approach. If you are following the strict Schoenbergian serial approach, what Michel said is definately true; however, if you are following the Bergian approach it is not.

As I have mentioned in other threads, a big reason Berg has been looked down on by many was that he did not follow Schoenbergian orthodoxy. In fact, his treatment of tone rows, and the incorporation of non-serial entities in his compositions are a big factor in the acceptance of at least 3 of his serial compositions, the Lyric Suite, Lulu, and the Violin Concerto to become part of the standard repetoire.

In Berg's serial world he applies various techniques to the serial material which allows him to often incorporate aspects of strict counterpoint.

Many state that his popularity is due to his including diatonic (tonal) materials and approaches but, the reality is that rather than incorporating diatonic/tonal/harmonic procedures in his serial pieces, he actually is incorporating somewhat expanded strict counterpoint, which creates an aura of diatonicism without utilizing tonal harmonic progressions.

The emotionalism that can be found in many passages of Lulu and the Violin Concerto are not achieved by inserting diatonic harmonic progressions and melodies into a serial context, but by treating the relationships between the serially derived notes with the rules of strict counterpoint both in terms of vertical and horizontal dissonance relationships.

How can this be?

In the beginning of Volume 1 of Heinrich Schenker's 2 volume Counterpoint (a book on counterpoint I highly recommend) he discusses what he viewed as the increasingly incorrect view of and teaching of counterpoint. I won't do him the disservice of attempting to praphase what he writes except for the idea that in his view counterpoint was to be completely abstract and have nothing to do with harmony. In other words the purpose of counterpoint is to teach the student the abstract intervalic relationships between notes and why certain relationships are better than others without any reference to keys and the harmonies related to those keys. But, in his view, over the course of the 19th Century more and more harmony was incoporated into counterpoint resulting in the end that what was being taught as counterpoint was actually harmonic voice leading rather than counterpoint.

This pure, abstract, strict, contrupuntal environment is where Berg operates much of the time which is why even in the most strictly serial passages there is that whift of tonality in his music.
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altasilvapuer

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Re: Counterpoint in Composition
« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2013, 12:20:21 PM »
For curiousity, at what (exceedingly general) point do you think you started feeling somewhat comfortable in your study, Michel, Jamie, and others?  I don't mean that you had mastered it, but that you felt like you at least knew enough about what you were doing that you could actually learn.

There is an old saying above oboists (The name of its progenitor escapes me, at the moment), that one cannot begin to truly learn to make an oboe reed, until one has made a "tub-full" of reeds.  That is, only when one has made enough reeds that they could fill a hypothetical bathtub to its brim does a student have a great enough wealth of experience to really start applying principles and learn why they're doing certain things.

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« Last Edit: January 08, 2013, 12:22:43 PM by altasilvapuer »
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Michel.R.E

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Re: Counterpoint in Composition
« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2013, 12:28:34 PM »
in my case, my counterpoint studies covered many years (decades, actually), but I finally "got it" after a year or so of rather intensive study under Professor Belkin. This included group classes in species counterpoint, private lessons in counterpoint, and private lessons in fugue (all part of my graduate program at the time).
"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"

RJB54

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Re: Counterpoint in Composition
« Reply #13 on: January 08, 2013, 12:50:51 PM »
This is one area of composing which you really can't teach yourself. I know that no matter how had I work at it I will never be able to match what would be learned in a classroom setting being taught with a (hopefully) good instructor flogging the ideas into you and not letting you get off easy.
Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST.
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Michel.R.E

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Re: Counterpoint in Composition
« Reply #14 on: January 08, 2013, 12:52:29 PM »
the difficulty with teaching yourself counterpoint is that if you don't know what errors to look for, you simply won't see them.
no matter how complete a book may be, until you've actually assimilated the information completely, you are not in a position to find your own errors.
"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"