Organist and Master of the Choirsters of Westminster Abbey; Professor of Harmony and Counterpoint at the Royal College of Music; Examiner in Music for the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London, Durham, and the Victoria University; Gresham Professor of Music.

My best thanks are due to Sir John Goss, for kindly allowing me to insert several examples, written in 1864, when I was receiving instruction from him in counterpoint; to H. Keeton, Esp., Mus. Doc., Organist of Peterborough Cathedral, for Examples 121, 122, 127; and to James Higgs, Esp., Mus. Bac., Hon. Sec. of the Musical Association, for many valuable suggestions.

~ J. F. B.

The Cloisters,
Westminster Abbey,
March, 1878.

This digital edition is by Brian Bondari.

To say that the musical primer Counterpoint by J. Frederick Bridge lacks popularity as a counterpoint text is a gross understatement. Indeed, I had never heard of it before stumbling across it on during the summer of 2017. So what is the reason for updating and digitizing a textbook that's over 130 years old?

For starters, the usual suspects for university-level textbooks on Counterpoint typically cost in excess of $100. These textbooks are updated infrequently and rarely come with supplementary materials, such as workbooks and audio CDs/DVDs. Having taught Counterpoint numerous times now, I always feel large twinges of guilt every time I list one of these books as required on my syllabus.

And since we are talking about contrapuntal rules and guidelines from the sixteenth century, the subject matter itself does not change. There's no reason why a textbook from the late nineteenth century on Renaissance-era counterpoint could not remain relevant today, especially if some of the vocabulary is updated.

These two considerations led me to search for a suitable public-domain text for teaching sixteenth-century counterpoint. What I wanted was a concise text with plenty of musical examples, and that is what I found in Bridge's Counterpoint. Likely, this particular text is not suitable as a sole textbook for a course on sixteenth-century counterpoint, 1) but could very well serve as a supplementary text. And having chosen the current text, what, then, to do with it?

This digital edition is not meant to be a mere recreation of the original. Had that been the case, I would have simply posted a link to the PDF for my students to use. And speaking of which, the original PDF is just a scan that some kind soul created and posted online with no attempt at updating. The format of a scanned PDF is rigid: the formatting is unchangeable, text search does not work, etc. Instead of a digitally remastered version of the original, I wanted to create a new edition that accomplished two main goals:

1. Updated structure, formatting, and vocabulary

Structure: While Bridge's text is organized into chapters (which I left untouched), the content of each chapter is broken into numbered paragraphs, turning each chapter into a kind of large, organized list. I have omitted the paragraph numbers for this edition and have instead imposed appropriate headings, such as “Rules 1–5”, Rules 6–10“, and so forth. Each chapter now also has a wiki-style Table of Contents menu with links one can use to swiftly navigate through the headings within each chapter.

In the original edition, Bridge made frequent references to specific paragraphs (e.g. “see par. 87”). In place of this cumbersome structure, I have replaced these references with easy-to-access footnotes containing the entire referenced text, plus a link to the specific chapter from which the reference came.

Formatting: This new, digital edition should display beautifully on any computer, tablet, smartphone, or e-reader. The text should flow well, images automatically change size to fit the screen, and the contents are easy to search and bookmark.

Vocabulary: Here is an area where I acted with some restraint. Since we are talking about a textbook written in the nineteenth century, I did not wish to “modernize” Bridge's writing style, which is decidedly old-fashioned, but makes for charming reading. The bulk of my updates in this area revolve around making the text more readily understandable by American music students. For instance, whenever Bridge, who was English, talks about crotchets 2), minims 3), or consecutives 4), you should see a footnote with the American equivalent, as I have illustrated here. My other changes to the original text have been minimal, and mainly serve to facilitate the removal of paragraph number references as previously mentioned.

2. Updated musical examples, complete with media players

Updated musical examples: There are 129 musical examples in this book, each of which I digitally recreated with the Lilypond typesetting program. Despite being a heavy Finale™ user for many years, I used this opportunity to gain familiarity with the open-source Lilypond program, which has two significant advantages over commercial, graphical programs. First, Lilypond creates beautiful output with no additional tweaking. Secondly, and more importantly, with a little knowledge of scripting languages, one can harness the power of scripts to automate tasks that would take numerous hours in a commercial program like Finale. For instance, my typical workflow when creating this edition was to create a separate Lilypond text file for each example (per chapter). When completed, I simply ran a single script that did the following for all those new examples:

  • Created cropped images in a resolution of my choice
  • Created a MIDI file for each example
  • Rendered that MIDI file into WAV
  • Converted that WAV file into both MP3 and OGG formats
  • Uploaded the newly created images and audio files to my webserver

My script can run in mere seconds, saving me hours of potential work. If, in the future, I want to change the resolution of the images or the bitrate of the audio files, I simply have to change a couple of variables in the script and then re-run it.

Digitizing all the musical examples also provided me the opportunity to clean up some issues with the original scan, such as notes that were difficult to read.

Media players: The main advantage, however, is in the addition of media players beneath each musical example. Textbooks on music, even so-called “modern” ones, lack the ability to play the musical examples straight from the page. Usually the process of hearing a musical example in a textbook involves fumbling with a CD/DVD, logging into a specific web portal from the publisher, or just giving up and searching YouTube.

No longer. Now students can study an example and listen to it straight from the page. There's something satisfying about a 100+ year-old textbook in the public domain receiving a modern facelift, both in looks and in function. Indeed, this feature gives it a significant advantage over newer sixteenth-century counterpoint texts, at least from a functional perspective.

The best way to access this book on a computer, tablet, or smartphone is to view the online version, which will automatically adjust to fit your screen. Start here with the Table of Contents.

You can also read this book by downloading an EPUB, which is viewable on an e-reader (Nook, Kobo, etc) or on any computer/smartphone/tablet with an e-book app. The EPUB format supports audio, but your individual e-reader may not, so I cannot make any guarantees as to the functionality of the e-reader version. I have personally tested it with Apple iBooks, and it works fine.

EPUB download: Counterpoint_Bridge.epub (52 MB)

Naturally, my best thanks are due to Sir J. Frederick Bridge for the 1878 version of his text, without which this new edition would not be possible. Additionally, I express my gratitude to my friend Jonathan Kulp at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, who served as the inspiration for this project. 5) Thanks, Jon!

And finally, I am also thankful for my wife Katrina's enduring patience and kind replies of, “Yes, Daddy is still working….” in response to our kids' endlessly repeating question:

Is Daddy still playing on the computer?

~ B. B. B.

Trinity University,
San Antonio, Texas
July, 2017.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

I have my eye on Counterpoint, by G. A. MacFarren as a potential primary textbook for a future editing project.
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Kulp has selflessly created numerous free resources relating to music theory and music history.
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