Counterpoint (Bridge)

The first attempts at combining parts to be performed simultaneously, about which anything definite is known, resulted in what was called Diaphony or Organum, the part to be accompanied (corresponding to our subject or cantus firmus) being termed Principalis, and the accompaniment, Organalis. This accompaniment consisted of fourths, fifths, and octaves, some one of these intervals being continued throughout, either above or below, and sometimes both above and below, the principalis.

Various innovations on these crude forms, both as regards intervals and motion, were made from time to time, developing about the end of the eleventh century into what was termed Descant. This was a great step forward, for while diaphony was generally “note against note” — the organalis moving throughout in similar motion, and at the same interval (i.e. in fourths, fifths, or octaves) — in descant, notes of various value, contrary motion, and even accidentals were used. The principalis was now termed the tenor (from teneo, “I hold”), this part as it were holding the subject and controlling the descant, as the organalis was now termed. This was added according to numerous rules depending upon the progression of the tenor. Descant in its turn gave way to Counterpoint (see Definitions), the word contrapunctum instead of descant being first used by a celebrated musical theorist of the fourteenth century, Jean de Muris. The term and functions of the tenor in like manner were supplanted by the Cantus Firmus. This frequently consisted of some fragment of ecclesiastical music, hence it was called the “plain-song,” although secular themes were sometimes adopted as Canti Firmi even of music for the Church. Counterpoint was written in the old Church modes, and its laws, constantly improving as they were, governed the art of musical composition up to nearly the end of the sixteenth century. From this time rapid strides in the direction of modern tonality were made, and counterpoint having become closely associated with artificial devices, a new art gradually sprang up by which a melody could be accompanied without special reference to the inter-relation of the parts. This was called Harmony, of the development of which we are not, of course, treating. In England and in some other countries it became customary to teach harmony only, or at any rate before counterpoint. To a certain extent a reaction has set in, and many eminent musicians 1) now urge that counterpoint should be taught with, and made the basis of, harmony. The author has, however, in conformity with the more usual method of teaching, presupposed some slight knowledge of harmony ; and with this view he has ventured to use, without strictly defining them, a few technical terms familiar to those who have thus studied.

There is no doubt that the study of counterpoint is most beneficial, exercising the powers in many directions not altogether covered by the study of harmony, particularly in the important matter of part-writing. It will be seen that the essence of counterpoint lies in the equal interest which should belong to each part added to the canto fermo. This should be specially kept in mind in note against note and florid counterpoint, which are, after all, the species of most artistic value, since the others, though most useful as steps between the elementary form of note against note and the developed form of florid, are in them selves of less value as music. Our feeling for modern tonality need not necessarily be violated, since canti firmi free from ambiguity of key can be chosen. This point has been kept in view in writing the examples in the following pages, and the author trusts this will be accepted as his apology for using, for the most part, original examples, instead of inserting the well-known ones of Fux and other writers. It has been his desire to reconcile the spirit of ancient counterpoint with the feeling for modern tonality, and to put before students examples which they may readily understand and imitate.

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1)
“The modern student should master the laws of counterpoint, and so approach the fundamental or massive harmonic school by the path of history.” — Six Lectures on Harmony, by G. A. Macfarren, p. 35.
  • bridges_counterpoint/introductory_observations.txt
  • Last modified: 2018/06/13 09:23
  • by brian