MUS 311 Counterpoint

C. Principles of Two-Voice Counterpoint, Chapter 3

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Guidelines for successful 18th-century two-voice writing:

  1. Each line must be individually well-written.
  1. Voices must work independently in terms of rhythmic motion/direction, yet be unified to the point of creating a convincing musical work.
  1. The combined lines must imply a satisfactory harmonic progression, vertically.
  1. The horizontal line should not be sacrificed, however, at the expense of vertical harmonies.
  1. Consonance should predominate. Consonant intervals are:  3, 6, 8, sometimes 5.  Dissonant intervals are TT, 2, 4, 7.
  • Essential interval:  both notes belong to the harmony implied.
  • Unessential interval:  at least one note is nonharmonic (before resolving)
  1. In general, when two chord tones of a triad must be chosen, it is preferable to omit the 5th of the chord, unless the 5th is in the melody (duh).
  1. Usual Harmonic Successions:
  • IV-V, V-IV6
  • ii-V-I, ii-I64 (you know! second inversion, not "sixty-four" ... can't produce the symbol correctly here)
  • Bass should move stepwise with vi6 and iii6
  1. Use of the 6/4 (second inversion) chord:
  • In cadences: I64-V-I
  • As a passing chord
  • In chord repetition (same chord, different inversion--precedes or follows 6/4 chord)
  • As an embellishing chord
  • The bass of a 6/4 chord should move by step.  Exceptions:  in the cadential progression ii-I64, and in chord repetition.
  • The II64, III64 and VI64 chords (in M or m) should normally not appear in contrapuntal writing.
  1. To be consistent with the harmonic style of the 18th century, authentic cadences must employ one of the following successions:
I(6)-IV-V-I I(6)-ii(6)-(I64)-V-I I(6)-(I64)-V-I
  1. The dominant chord always occurs in root position in authentic cadences.
  1. Counterpoint continues in at least one voice when non-final cadences occur throughout the course of a work.
  1. The Perfect 4th, in terms of implied harmony, is usually considered to be "unessential":
  • Often functions as 4-3 suspension
  • If an essential interval, may imply a 6/4 chord where inappropriate
  • Occasionally occurs "essentially" on a weak beat, or with a short time value, such as an arpeggio.

  1. The bass notes of the iii6 and vi6 chord should be approached only as passing sounds with the bass moving stepwise to and from the chords.

Things to avoid (like the plague) in two-voice writing:

  1. Parallel unisons and octaves (gives the effect of reducing two voices to one), and parallel fifths (implies parallel triads, foreign to this style).
  1. In general, 1, 5 & 8 should not be approached by similar motion.
  1. Avoid doubling the leading tone of the key, or the 3rd if it occurs on a strong beat.  Doubling the 3rd is okay if it occurs in a passage of contrary, stepwise motion.
  1. When a pattern of frequent harmonic change has been established, lack of a change of bass disturbs directional flow.

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