In music, counterpoint is the relationship between voices that are
harmonically interdependent (polyphony) yet independent in rhythm and
contour. It has been most commonly identified in the European
classical tradition, strongly developing during the Renaissance and in
much of the common practice period, especially in the Baroque. The
term originates from the
1 General principles 2 Development 3 Species counterpoint
3.1 Considerations for all species 3.2 First species 3.3 Second species 3.4 Third species 3.5 Fourth species 3.6 Fifth species (florid counterpoint)
4 Contrapuntal derivations 5 Free counterpoint 6 Linear counterpoint 7 Dissonant counterpoint 8 See also 9 References 10 Further reading 11 External links
It is hard to write a beautiful song. It is harder to write several individually beautiful songs that, when sung simultaneously, sound as a more beautiful polyphonic whole. The internal structures that create each of the voices separately must contribute to the emergent structure of the polyphony, which in turn must reinforce and comment on the structures of the individual voices. The way that is accomplished in detail is ... 'counterpoint'.
Some examples of related compositional techniques include: the round
(familiar in folk traditions), the canon, and perhaps the most complex
contrapuntal convention: the fugue. All of these are examples of
Species counterpoint was developed as a pedagogical tool in which
students progress through several "species" of increasing complexity,
with a very simple part that remains constant known as the cantus
Note against note; Two notes against one; Four notes against one; Notes offset against each other (as suspensions); All the first four species together, as "florid" counterpoint.
A succession of later theorists quite closely imitated Fux's seminal work, often with some small and idiosyncratic modifications in the rules. Considerations for all species The following rules apply to melodic writing in each species, for each part:
The final must be approached by step. If the final is approached from
below, then the leading tone must be raised in a minor key (Dorian,
Hypodorian, Aeolian, Hypoaeolian), but not in Phrygian or Hypophrygian
mode. Thus, in the
And, in all species, the following rules govern the combination of the parts:
The counterpoint must begin and end on a perfect consonance.
First species In first species counterpoint, each note in every added part (parts being also referred to as lines or voices) sounds against one note in the cantus firmus. Notes in all parts are sounded simultaneously, and move against each other simultaneously. Since all notes in First species counterpoint are whole notes, rhythmic independence is not available. In the present context, a "step" is a melodic interval of a half or whole step. A "skip" is an interval of a third or fourth. (See Steps and skips.) An interval of a fifth or larger is referred to as a "leap". A few further rules given by Fux, by study of the Palestrina style, and usually given in the works of later counterpoint pedagogues, are as follows.
Begin and end on either the unison, octave, or fifth, unless the added part is underneath, in which case begin and end only on unison or octave. Use no unisons except at the beginning or end. Avoid parallel fifths or octaves between any two parts; and avoid "hidden" parallel fifths or octaves: that is, movement by similar motion to a perfect fifth or octave, unless one part (sometimes restricted to the higher of the parts) moves by step. Avoid moving in parallel fourths. (In practice Palestrina and others frequently allowed themselves such progressions, especially if they do not involve the lowest of the parts.) Avoid moving in parallel thirds or sixths for very long. Attempt to keep any two adjacent parts within a tenth of each other, unless an exceptionally pleasing line can be written by moving outside that range. Avoid having any two parts move in the same direction by skip Attempt to have as much contrary motion as possible. Avoid dissonant intervals between any two parts: major or minor second, major or minor seventh, any augmented or diminished interval, and perfect fourth (in many contexts).
In the following example in two parts, the cantus firmus is the lower part. (The same cantus firmus is used for later examples also. Each is in the Dorian mode.)
Short example of "First Species" counterpoint ( play MIDI (help·info))
Second species In second species counterpoint, two notes in each of the added parts work against each longer note in the given part. Additional considerations in second species counterpoint are as follows, and are in addition to the considerations for first species:
It is permissible to begin on an upbeat, leaving a half-rest in the added voice. The accented beat must have only consonance (perfect or imperfect). The unaccented beat may have dissonance, but only as a passing tone, i.e. it must be approached and left by step in the same direction. Avoid the interval of the unison except at the beginning or end of the example, except that it may occur on the unaccented portion of the bar. Use caution with successive accented perfect fifths or octaves. They must not be used as part of a sequential pattern.
Short example of "Second Species" counterpoint ( play MIDI (help·info))
Third species In third species counterpoint, four (or three, etc.) notes move against each longer note in the given part.
Short example of "Third Species" counterpoint ( play MIDI (help·info))
Three special figures are introduced into third species and later added to fifth species, and ultimately outside the restrictions of species writing. There are three figures to consider: The nota cambiata, double neighbor tones, and double passing tones. Double neighbor tones: the figure is prolonged over four beats and allows special dissonances. The upper and lower tones are prepared on beat 1 and resolved on beat 4. The fifth note or downbeat of the next measure should move by step in the same direction as the last two notes of the double neighbor figure. Lastly a double passing tone allows two dissonant passing tones in a row. The figure would consist of 4 notes moving in the same direction by step. The two notes that allow dissonance would be beat 2 and 3 or 3 and 4. The dissonant interval of a fourth would proceed into a diminished fifth and the next note would resolve at the interval of a sixth.
This is an example of a double passing tone in which the two middle notes are a dissonant interval from the cantus firmus. A fourth and a diminished fifth.
This is an example of a descending double neighbor figure against a cantus firmus.
This is an example of an ascending double neighbor figure against a cantus firmus.
Fourth species In fourth species counterpoint, some notes are sustained or suspended in an added part while notes move against them in the given part, often creating a dissonance on the beat, followed by the suspended note then changing (and "catching up") to create a subsequent consonance with the note in the given part as it continues to sound. As before, fourth species counterpoint is called expanded when the added-part notes vary in length among themselves. The technique requires chains of notes sustained across the boundaries determined by beat, and so creates syncopation. Also it is important to note that a dissonant interval is allowed on beat 1 because of the syncopation created by the suspension.
Short example of "Fourth Species" counterpoint ( play MIDI (help·info))
Fifth species (florid counterpoint) In fifth species counterpoint, sometimes called florid counterpoint, the other four species of counterpoint are combined within the added parts. In the example, the first and second bars are second species, the third bar is third species, the fourth and fifth bars are third and embellished fourth species, and the final bar is first species.
Short example of "Florid" counterpoint ( play MIDI (help·info))
Contrapuntal derivations Since the Renaissance period in European music, much contrapuntal music has been written in imitative counterpoint. In imitative counterpoint, two or more voices enter at different times, and (especially when entering) each voice repeats some version of the same melodic element. The fantasia, the ricercar, and later, the canon and fugue (the contrapuntal form par excellence) all feature imitative counterpoint, which also frequently appears in choral works such as motets and madrigals. Imitative counterpoint spawned a number of devices that composers use to give their works both mathematical rigor and expressive range. These devices include:
Melodic inversion The inverse of a given fragment of melody is the fragment turned upside down—so if the original fragment has a rising major third (see interval), the inverted fragment has a falling major (or perhaps minor) third, etc. (Compare, in twelve tone technique, the inversion of the tone row, which is the so-called prime series turned upside down.) (Note: in invertible counterpoint, including double and triple counterpoint, the term inversion is used in a different sense altogether. At least one pair of parts is switched, so that the one that was higher becomes lower. See Inversion in counterpoint; it is not a kind of imitation, but a rearrangement of the parts.) Retrograde Whereby an imitative voice sounds the melody backwards in relation the leading voice. Retrograde inversion Where the imitative voice sounds the melody backwards and upside-down at once. Augmentation When in one of the parts in imitative counterpoint the note values are extended in duration compared to the rate at which they were sounded when introduced. Diminution When in one of the parts in imitative counterpoint the note values are reduced in duration compared to the rate at which they were sounded when introduced.
Free counterpoint See also: Free Composition From a historical perspective, the didactic strict counterpoint was used for musical training purposes from the Renaissance to the present day, but was never employed in practice. Broadly speaking, due to the development of harmony, from the Baroque period on, most contrapuntal compositions were written in the style of free counterpoint. This means that the general focus of the composer had shifted away from how the intervals of added melodies related to a cantus firmus, and more toward how they related to each other. Nonetheless, according to Kent Kennan: "....actual teaching in that fashion (free counterpoint) did not become widespread until the late nineteenth century." Young composers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Schumann, were still educated in the style of "strict" counterpoint, but in practice, they would look for ways to expand on the traditional concepts of the subject. Main features of free counterpoint:
All forbidden chords, such as second-inversion, seventh, ninth etc., can be used freely in principle of harmony[clarification needed] Chromaticism is allowed The restrictions about rhythmic-placement of dissonance are removed. It is possible to use passing tones on the accented beat Appoggiatura is available: dissonance tones can be approached by leaps.
Linear counterpoint from Igor Stravinsky's Octet Play (help·info). Note the C major ostinato and frequent dissonances and accidentals, including F♯.
Linear counterpoint is "a purely horizontal technique in which the
integrity of the individual melodic lines is not sacrificed to
harmonic considerations. "Its distinctive feature is rather the
concept of melody, which served as the starting-point for the
adherents of the ‘new objectivity’ when they set up linear
counterpoint as an anti-type to the Romantic harmony."  The voice
parts move freely, irrespective of the effects their combined motions
may create." In other words, either "the domination of the
horizontal (linear) aspects over the vertical" is featured or the
"harmonic control of lines is rejected."
Associated with neoclassicism, the first work to use the technique
is Igor Stravinsky's Octet (1923), inspired by
J. S. Bach
Counter-melody Hauptstimme Polyphony Voice leading
^ Laitz, Steven G. (2008). The Complete Musician (2 ed.). New York,
NY: Oxford University Press, Inc. p. 96.
^ Klaus-Jürgen Sachs and Carl Dahlhaus. "Counterpoint." The New Grove
Kurth, Ernst (1991). "Foundations of Linear Counterpoint". In Ernst
Kurth: Selected Writings, selected and translated by Lee Allen
Rothfarb, foreword by Ian Bent, p. 37-95. Cambridge Studies in
An Introduction to Species Counterpoint
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Canon Catch English cadence False relation Fugue Imitation Ricercar Round Subject Voice Voice leading
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