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Counterpoint is a musical device where two or more melodic phrases occur simultaneously. The term comes from the Latin punctus contra punctum (note against note). A note moves against another note when the interval between those two notes either grows or shrinks. By definition, chords occur when multiple notes sound simultaneously; however, this effect is considered incidental. Counterpoint focuses on melodic interaction rather than harmonic effect. The composer Johann Sebastian Bach frequently wrote music using counterpoint.

Generally, such music created from the Baroque period on is described as counterpoint, while music created prior to Baroque times is called polyphony. Hence, the composer Josquin Des Prez wrote polyphonic music.

Homophony, by contrast, features music where chordss or intervals play out the melody without working the notes against each other. Most popular music written today use homophony as a dominant feature within the music.

The fugue offers perhaps the most complex contrapuntal convention used today in music. Other examples include the round and canon.

Counterpoint is one of the most essential means, in musical composition, for the generation of musical ironies; a melodic fragment, heard alone, may make a particular impression, but when heard simultaneously with other melodic ideas, or combined in unexpected ways with itself, as in canon or fugue, surprising new facets of meaning are revealed. This is a means for bringing about development of a musical idea, revealing it to the listener as conceptually more profound than a merely pleasing melody.

Table of contents
1 Species counterpoint
2 Contrapuntal Derivations
3 Dissonant counterpoint
4 External links

Species counterpoint

Johann Fux published Gradus ad Parnassum, a work published in 1725 intended to help teach students how to write counterpoint. In this, he describes five species.

In first species counterpoint, a note simply works against another note. The two notes are played simultaneously, and move against each other, also simultaneously. The species is said to be expanded if one of the notes is broken up (but repeated).

In second species counterpoint, two notes work against a longer note. The species is said to be expanded if one of the shorter notes varies in length from the other.

In third species counterpoint, four notes move against a longer note. As with second species, it is expanded if one of the shorter notes vary in length from another.

In fourth species counterpoint, a note is held while changing note move against the holding note, creating a dissonance, followed by the holding note changing to create a subsequent consonance as the changing note holds. Fourth species counterpoint is said to be expanded when the notes vary in length from each other. The technique requires holding a note across the beat, creating syncopation.

In fifth species counterpoint, sometimes called florid counterpoint, the other four species of counterpoint are combined within the melody.

A common misconception is the belief that counterpoint is equal to these five species, and that anything that does not follow the strict rules of any of the species is not counterpoint. Although much music of the common practice period generally adheres to the fifth species, this is not true. Fux' book and its concept of "species" was purely a method of teaching counterpoint, not a definite set of rules for it.

Contrapuntal Derivations

Since the Renaissance period in European music, most music which is considered contrapuntal has been written in imitative counterpoint. In imitiative counterpoint, two or more voices enter at different times, and when entering each voice repeats the same musical phrase. The fantasia, the ricercar, and later, the fugue (the contrapuntal form par excellence) all feature imitative counterpoint, which also frequently appears in choral works such as motets and madrigals. Imitiative counterpoint has spawned a number of devices that composers have turned to in order to give their works both mathematical rigor and expressive range. Some of these devices include:

Dissonant counterpoint

Dissonant counterpoint was first theororized by Charles Seeger, who formulated it as counterpoint but with all the rules reversed. First species counterpoint is required to be all dissonances, and consonances are "resolved" through a skip, not step. Seeger was not the first to employ dissonant counterpoint, but was the first to theorize and promote it. Other composers who have used dissonant counterpoint, if not in the exact manner prescribed by Charles Seeger, include
Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Carl Ruggles, Dhane Rudhyar, and Arnold Schoenberg.

External links