MUS 311 Counterpoint

K. Three-Voice Counterpoint, Chapter 11

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There are various possibilities with 3-voice counterpoint:

  1. Movement in voices may be more or less evenly distributed.  When one voice has a longer value, either or both of the other voices keep the motion going.  All three voices seldom move in shorter values at the same time, except for a few beats as a relief from constantly alternating motion.

  1. Two voices may be paired rhythmically, while the third voice takes a different rhythmic pattern.
  1. Rhythmic patterns may first occur in paired voices (1 & 2), then the pairs may shift to the rhythm of the third voice, while the third voice takes over the rhythm of the upper voices.
  1. Second and third voices may assume a somewhat accompanimental role to an ornate melody in the top voice.
  1. Occasionally, each of the three voices may move in a rhythmically distinct pattern.
  1. A chorale melody may be accompanied by voices moving in much faster values.

In that the listener hears the outer voices more readily, these tend to receive greater compositional concern.  The inner voice, however, should be written so that it is as interesting and independent as possible.

Harmonic Considerations:

  1. Triads can be fully outlined.  Chromatic harmonies (e.g., altered 7th chords) are more feasible.
  1. Ties:  Often in 3-voice counterpoint, one voice will be tied into the next beat while the other two voices move, accentuating their independence.
  • The tie may be harmonic or nonharmonic (dissonant).
  1. Suspensions may occur, created by ties or note repetition.
  • In 3-voice counterpoint, suspensions are described in terms of the intervals between the bass and the suspended voice.  If the suspension is in the bass, then it is described in terms of the outer voices.
  • Suspensions into the third of the chord are stronger than those that resolve to the fifth.
  • When a suspension resolves by half step to the third of a chord, the note of resolution should not be doubled in any octave.  If the suspension resolves by whole step, the note of resolution may be doubled.

General Guidelines for 3-Voice Counterpoint:

  1. There are times when linear reasons result in two voices sharing the same chord tone, either in unison, or an octave or two apart.
  1. Three-note vertical combinations that contain no third are ruled out.  The third is necessary to define color quality.
  1. On occasion, proper motion of individual voices demands a doubled fifth, in which case the root must be omitted.  (These situations usually involve stepwise contrary motion in the outer voices.)
  1. Although tripled thirds and fifths are avoided, the tripled root may be used at the beginning or end of an exercise.
  1. In 3-part writing, the P4 now becomes usable as a stable interval between the upper two voices (1st inversion).  It is still unstable, however, when occurring between the bass and either of the upper voices (2nd inversion).

Seventh Chords

  1. One note must be omitted in 3-part, 1:1 counterpoint.  Most often it is the fifth.
  • Rarely is the third omitted.
  • Do not omit both the third and the fifth.
  • The root may be omitted, implying a viio chord.  (Sonorities implying a viio6 are strongest.)
  1. Nondominant seventh chords are easily implied and usable in 3-part writing.
  1. Parallel 5ths are still to be avoided in general.
  • One exception is: going from a o5 to a P5 in the top two voices, which is permissible.  These 5ths, however, must not be used in the outer voices.  (The ear hears the outer voices more readily.)

Middle Voice:

  1. Repeated notes are permissible in the middle voice where a change of note is awkward or impossible.
  1. The middle voice may be written on either the upper or lower staff, depending on which pitch notation is more convenient.
  1. Unlike the restrictions of 4-part writing, it is sometimes necessary to have more than an octave between the upper voices for brief periods.
  1. An objective in 3-voice counterpoint is independent writing for each of the lines, and not mere harmonic successions.  Play each voice separately to test for independence.

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