Counterpoint in Five, Six, Seven, and Eight Real Parts

By the term real parts, is understood, several parts proceeding together, each possessing a distinctive melody of its own.

It has already been observed, that, in proportion as the number of parts increases, the austerity of the rules lessens. It is therefore necessary to pre-admonish, that in the different orders about to be discussed, unisons are tolerated, as well as two fifths, by contrary movement, even between the two extreme parts; notwithstanding, much reserve should be displayed in the employment of these licenses. Two-fifths, by direct movement, are likewise tolerated, when the one is perfect and the other imperfect, as in the leaps of a major sixth.

In counterpoint in seven or eight parts, the two lower parts may proceed from the unison to the octave, and from the octave to the unison.

It is appropriate to mention here, that in florid counterpoint from five to eight parts, when two, three, or four parts only are made to proceed at once, the same strict precepts hold good, which were laid down in two-part, three-part, and four-part counterpoint; it is only when five, six, seven, or eight parts proceed together, that any abatement of severity in the rules comes into operation.

There are two methods of composing in eight parts: the first, is by placing two trebles immediately after one another, and the contraltos, the tenors, and the basses, in the same order. The second is by dividing the eight parts into two choirs, each composed of four parts, viz: a treble, a contralto, a tenor, and a bass. These two separate choirs should be combined in such a way, as that one of the two may proceed alone, in order that the two may alternately interrogate and respond; then, the choir which is silent while the other proceeds, should take up the point before the other comes to a close, in order that they may conclude by proceeding together. Thus, the two basses may also enjoy the privilege indicated in the above example, of proceeding from the unison to the octave.

The ancient authors, when they composed for two choirs, took care to render the harmony complete in each choir; as much, at least, as the nature of the subjects they treated, and the disposal of the parts would allow. They imposed this obligation upon themselves, on account of the distance which frequently separated the choirs, and in order that the auditors who might chance to be situated nearer to one choir than the other, might receive a more-agreeable impressions, from hearing the harmony complete. At the same time, this conditions is not strictly indispensable.

The old masters have written compositions for as many as six choirs at once 1). Much skill and attention are requisite in overcoming all the difficulties which result from so numerous a combination; but everything may be accomplished by diligent labour, joined with a flexible organization.

When four-part counterpoint shall have been sufficiently studied, the pupil should advance progressively, through counterpoint in five, six, seven, and eight parts, commencing by note against note, on a given cantus firmus, and then by writing, on this same cantus firmus, florid counterpoint in all the parts, without going through all the detail of minims 2), crotchets 3), and syncopations. The habit should be acquired, in writing for five voices, of using now two trebles, now two contraltos; then two tenors, or two basses; for six voices, now two trebles, or two contraltos, then two trebles, two tenors, or two basses, etc. For seven voices, the same alternations, until composition in eight parts is attained, where each voice is alternately doubled.

Here follow examples of given canti firmi, for composition in five, six, seven, and eight parts; first in note against note, and then in florid counterpoint. The cantus firmus may be placed in whichever part is preferred; nevertheless, in the assemblage of so many parts, the cantus firmus might become indistinct, were it placed in one of the middle parts. The effect will therefore be better, if the cantus firmus is placed in one of the extreme parts. But the pupil will do well, for the same of practice, to place it also in one of the middle parts, in order that he may acquire the habit of vanquishing all sorts of difficulties.

Example for five voices – Note against note

Example for five voices - Florid counterpoint

Example in six voices – Note against note

Example in six voices - Florid counterpoint

Example in seven voices – Note against note

Example in seven voices – Florid counterpoint

Example in eight voices – Note against note

Example in eight voices – Florid counterpoint

Observation – The penultimate bar of Example 136b presents a method of employing the suspension, to which the particular attention of the pupil is drawn. The two parts marked with a cross (+) form simultaneously the suspension and the suspended concord. The second soprano sounds the fourth above the bass, which is prepared and resolved according to rule; while the second tenor sounds the third (above the bass). The only method of judiciously employing these two intervals, one of which seems to exclude the other, is shown properly in this example: the part which forms the suspended discord must pursue its regular course, while the other should contain the concord in a series of ascending notes by conjunct movement, without stopping on the concord. This rule equally applies to the sixth struck with the seventh, the octave with the ninth, etc. It should be observed that these two parts ought always to be placed in two different octaves; the concord should never have the suspension in the second, but instead in the ninth, or in the seventh. It is needless to add, that the employment of this method is only tolerated in composition for a large number of voices – as many as seven or eight parts.

Example for two choirs, in florid counterpoint, without a cantus firmus

All the examples here given, present a view of the manner in which counterpoint should be treated, according to the number of parts employed. It will be seen, in the examples of note against note, that unisons are not to be avoided in certain cases, any more than direct movement between extreme parts, for passing to a perfect concord 4). This likewise holds good in the examples of florid counterpoint; but, as in this order there are more means at command for the proper disposal of the parts, than in the other, it should be so contrived, that when the unisons are unavoidable, to introduce them only in the unaccented part of the bar. The classical ancient masters always paid attention to this, especially when composing for more than four parts.

They have often exceeded this number; one example is Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg's canon for 24 choirs – that is to say, for 96 voices.
quarter notes
  • cherubini_counterpoint_and_fugue/counterpoint_in_five_six_seven_and_eight_real_parts.txt
  • Last modified: 2018/07/21 21:04
  • by brian