Four-Part Counterpoint

If the rules of three-part counterpoint are not so severe as those of two-part counterpoint, there is yet greater reason why they are still less rigid with respect to the counterpoint now in question; and relative to which, there will be found, even among the most-classical composers (particularly in Palestrina), such instances as might seem at first sight, monumental faults, or at least too great licenses; but the different difficult positions in which these passages occur, and the frequent use these masters have made of them, prove that these passages are only thus arranged, under favor of an abatement of severity in the rules; which abatement, as has been observed, accrues in proportion with the increased number of parts: thus, these examples, which at first sight appear faulty, eventually pass into authorities.

The chords of 1-3-5 1) and of 1-3-6 2) being composed of three members 3) only, it is necessary to double one of these members in four-part counterpoint; thus in the root-position chord, all its members may be doubled alternately, according to the position of the upper parts, but the octave and the third should be doubled more frequently than the unison or the fifth. If one or other of these chords be employed when incomplete – which is permitted, and which is often indispensably necessary – it is then requisite to double two of them, or triple one of them, an expedient to which recourse should be had only in perplexing situations.

Observation – The employment of the unison in the present order, should be avoided as much as possible, especially between the upper parts, where it is sometimes tolerated. It is permitted between the two under parts, provided this permission be not abused, and that it be employed only after having attempted every means of avoiding it. It is open to no reproach, with regard to all the parts in the first bar, as well as in the last.

In the same way, all the members of the first-inversion chord may be doubled; but the preference should be given to doubling the third, rather than the others. Experience, and the application of this rule, will instruct the pupil how to select with taste the member of each chord which it will be most advisable to double.

Observation – It would be difficult to assign a positive reason for the preference to be given towards one member of a chord rather than to another, in doubling it. It seems, however, that by doubling the third more frequently than the other concords, a more-harmonious combination is attained, and that a considerate choice in these doublings imparts more or less elegance and natural grace to the melody of each part, besides leading to the avoidance of defective procedure between one part and another.
Examples of different aspects of the common chord, and of the chord of the sixth complete; or incomplete by doubling one of their members

These two chords will have more or fewer different aspects, according to the pitch of the note in the lowest part. It is for this reason, and because of the particular movement in each part, that there is a difficulty in employing the complete chord in each bar.

It should be so contrived, that the parts are neither too distant from one another, nor too near – especially towards the under part; above all, the employment should be avoided, as much as possible, of several successive thirds between the tenor and the bass. Endeavour must be made, to keep the parts at a medium and appropriate distance from each other.

Observation – When the parts are too nearly brought together towards the under part, the produce a dull and heavy effect; when they are too much dispersed, by being too distant from each other, the effect produced is feebly and indefinite.

As was done in two-part and three-part counterpoint, so in the present order, from time to time, may be done – especially when the case absolutely requires it – with regard to allowing an upper part to pass below an under part, for the space of two or three bars at the utmost. This method may effect the avoidance of many faults, and may induce an easy melody in the parts.

Two octaves, and two fifths, in succession, by direct movement, are invariably prohibited between any of the parts. But two fifths are tolerated, by contrary movement in the three upper parts between each other, and in the two middle parts with the bass. They are sometimes tolerated between the two extreme parts, but the permission must not be abused; it is when other means have been in vain attempted, that they may be employed.

It is permitted to pass to a perfect concord 4) by direct movement in the two middle parts between each other, and in these same parts relatively to the soprano and to the bass. This permission does not extend to the two extreme parts, unless its exercise is absolutely needful to avoid the commission of a greater fault.

The complete common chord should be employed at the first bar; but if this restriction creates a defective flow of melody in all the parts when passing to the second bar, and even to the third, it would not be wrong to commence with the incomplete chord. This permission may even be extended to the employment of the same sound in all the parts, with the understanding that this method shall better suit the procedure of the parts, with respect to what follows.

Examples of this latter disposal

All that has been just said may serve also to establish the relation of the last bar with the one that precedes it, and with the one which comes before that; and the examples above-cited may be so applied.

Observation – By the aid of the rules in this order, and with the assistance of the precepts set forth in two-part and three-part counterpoint, the pupil may, after having gone through the exercises in the first order, proceed to the second, and then to the third, without need of additional rules. By examining the following examples, it will readily be perceived, that all which has been hitherto said, respecting the three first orders, is quite sufficient.

understood as root, third, then fifth from the bottom upward
understood as a “first-inversion” chord – a third and a sixth above the lowest note
unique notes
  • cherubini_counterpoint_and_fugue/four_part_counterpoint/first_order.txt
  • Last modified: 2018/07/20 03:33
  • by brian