Three-Part Counterpoint

In the order 1) about to be discussed, what has been said with reference to the analogous one, in two-part counterpoint, must be borne in mind; since the same laws serve here as a guide. It remains but to indicate the manner in which a third part during syncopation is to be introduced.

It has been already said – and it is necessary to repeat it here – that in the system of strict counterpoint among the ancients, the syncopation, or discord 2), is but a suspension of the concord 3). On this principle, it follows, that the syncopation does not destroy the nature of the chord in which it is placed, but that it merely suspends a consonant member of that chord. Consequently, the discord 4) must descend gradually on the concord 5) it has suspended, after having been prepared by another concord 6), forming part of the preceding chord. The other parts, therefore, should be, at the moment of the syncopation, in concord 7) with the resolution of the discord 8).

Example without syncopation

Example with syncopation

It is seen, by this latter example, that the two other parts are always the same, whether the syncopation be employed, or not; and that while being struck with the discord 9), they naturally form a concord 10) with its resolution.

Observation – What has been said in the preceding rule, in reference to the syncopation placed in one of the two upper parts, equally affects the syncopation placed in the lower part. Nevertheless, if certain precautions be not taken, objectionable points might arise, and such faults as are about the be placed beneath view of the pupil, from the commission of which he must escape with skill and discernment.

Suppose, for instance, a succession of syncopations, such as this:–

First form

Leaving out the syncopations, this second form is the result

According to the system that discords 11) are but suspensions of concords 12), the result offered by the second form is faulty, in consequence of its presenting a succession of fifths, which is forbidden. Although this result is defective, the first form is not so, according to the authority of the Classics, who made no scruple of employing syncopations in this manner, affirming that the discord 13), in this case, saves the fifths which result. It is true, that they never employed so prolonged a succession of discords 14) of this sort; but however that may be, their opinion appears to me erroneous, notwithstanding that custom has sanctioned it; for, on the principle that the discord 15) is a mere suspension of the concord, it should not destroy the nature of a chord, it can only suspend the effect: but since the classics have pronounced judgement, we must of course submit. Not being able, therefore, to denounce a sanctioned error, the least that can be done is to endeavour to use it rarely, in difficult dilemmas, and only to take advantage of this disposal of a syncopation during two bars at most, avoiding a longer succession of them.

The following example is in the same class with the preceding one; subject to the same objections, and to the same needful precautions.

These same classical authorities, who have given their approval to the examples of syncopation above-cited, condemn a succession of discords in the procedure here stated.

The more perfect concords 16) are (in their parlance), the less harmonious they are; and discords 17) prepared by concords 18), such as the octave or the unison, cannot save the objectionable point which is the result. This objectionable point is striking; since, by leaving out the syncopations of Example 101, there will be a succession of octaves between the two outer parts.

The amount of all this, is, that discords 19), according to the Classics, and notwithstanding the severity of this kind of composition, may save consecutive 20) fifths, but they can never save consecutive 21) octaves.

In this order 22), all the discords 23) may be employed; viz:–

  • the discord 24) of the second
  • that of the fourth
  • that of the seventh
  • and that of the ninth.

The discord 25) of the second should be accompanied by the perfect fourth; and can occur only in the lowest part.

There are cases, where the discord 26) of the second may be accompanied by the fifth; this manner is even more in conformity with the true principles of strict counterpoint, which prohibits, in some measure, the employment of the imperfect fifth – an interval not avoided in Example 103.

The discord 27) of the fourth should be accompanied by the fifth; and this discord 28) may occur in the middle part, or in the higher part.

The discord 29) of the seventh should be accompanied by the third, and resolved upon the sixth; it can only occur in either of the two upper parts.

The discord 30) of the ninth should be accompanied by the third, and resolved upon the octave; it may be placed in the middle part, and in the higher part.

When by the nature of the given cantus firmus, by the progression of the harmony, or by the disposal and manner of singing the parts, it would be impossible to syncopate, either with or without the discord 31), without falling into reprehensible defects, syncopation may be dispensed with altogether, or a half-rest in the middle of the piece, and even an entire rest at the commencement, may be adopted.

It is known that discords 32) must be prepared, and resolved, by concords 33). There are circumstances, however, where a discord 34) can be prepared and resolved by another discord.

These combinations can only take place when the lower part sustains the same sound during several bars in succession; and provided the first discord 35), marked *, be prepared by a concord 36), marked **, be resolved by another concord 37); all which occurs between those two extremities may be either consonant or dissonant, alternately, without following the prescribed rules, upon condition, however, that the un-syncopated part determines the harmony. This sustained sound in the lower part, is called a pedal.

Another example

By this method, even in the middle of the given cantus firmus, were it impossible to syncopate otherwise, the pedal might be employed during two or three bars, if the cantus firmus allows for it.

The penultimate bar should have – if the cantus firmus allows for it:

  • the discord 38) of the seventh, when the cantus firmus lies in the lower part
  • the discord 39) of the fourth, when the cantus firmus lies in the middle part (or in the higher part)
  • and the discord 40) of the second, when the syncopations are placed in the lower part.

Here is the example of a lesson, which may server as a model to the pupil, when he essays the present order 41):–

After the pupil has gone through this exercise, he may mingle the second and third orders 42) with the present, by placing the cantus firmus alternately, in each part, and adopting either of the other two orders 43) for the other two parts.

1) , 22) , 41) , 42) , 43)
2) , 4) , 8) , 9) , 13) , 15) , 24) , 25) , 26) , 27) , 28) , 29) , 30) , 31) , 34) , 35) , 38) , 39) , 40)
3) , 5) , 6) , 7) , 10) , 37)
11) , 14) , 17) , 19) , 23) , 32)
12) , 16) , 18) , 33)
20) , 21)
consonance), and the last discord ((dissonance
  • cherubini_counterpoint_and_fugue/three_part_counterpoint/fourth_order.txt
  • Last modified: 2018/06/20 16:42
  • by brian