MUS 311 Counterpoint

A. Introduction, Chapter 1

Return to Home Page

Return to MUS 311 Menu

  1. The term counterpoint originated when, in earlier times, dots were used instead of modern notes.  Ergo, one used to call a composition in which point was set against, or counter to, point, "counterpoint."

  1. One of the earliest treatises on the subject is Gradus ad Parnassum (Steps to Parnassus) (pub. 1725) by Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741).  It includes materials on intervals, scales, fugues and various stylistic trends of the day.  The greatest portion was devoted to lessons in counterpoint.

  1. Strict counterpoint (16th century):  refers to Fux's approach, where there is a cantus firmus in whole notes, against which another voice is written using one of the various species.  The basic exercises are not intended to involve a metrical pulse, and harmonic implications do not enter in.  The emphasis is on vertical intervals and on the motion  of the added voice in relation to the C.F.; about these aspects there are some rather severe restrictions.

  1. Free counterpoint:  based on 18th-century instrumental models and is not concerned with those restrictions that apply specifically to the 16th-century style.  Free counterpoint often makes use of exercises in the species, but in a modified way that involves a sense of meter and harmonic implications.  (This course deals with the 18th-century approach to counterpoint.)

  1. Species:  method of teaching counterpoint known mainly through Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum.  Fux distinguished five species (different ways of adding contrapuntal voice-parts above and below a given C.F.):  

  • Note against note (1st species)

  • Two notes against each note of the C.F. (2nd species)

  • Four notes against each note of the C.F. (3rd species)

  • Notes in syncopated position (4th species)

  • Florid counterpoint, consisting of a combination of the other species and progressions in eight notes (5th species) (Harvard Dictionary)


Return to Home Page

Return to MUS 311 Menu