Results 1 to 15 of 15

Thread: Counterpoint as the hardest skill

  1. #1
    Banned
    Join Date
    Dec 2018
    Posts
    1,267
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Counterpoint as the hardest skill

    Counterpoint like in Mahler's 6th is incredibly hard and taxing to compose, I think it requires much more praise and recognition.

    How exactly does one enhance the beauty of a melody without robbing it of its beauty? Brahms wrote that the principal melody and its counterpoint must be equal in beauty if herd on their own, to produce anything worthwhile. Why is it that modern film scores have such mediocre counterpoint?

    It must be that it's too time consuming, and perhaps not widely appreciated enough by the common mind to be worthy of consideration in a money oriented business...

    I think great counterpoint is what makes a piece lasting and intellectually stimulating, and we're sadly lacking it with the music of today. I believe structural, rather than harmonic complexity, is the way to the future.

  2. Likes Larkenfield liked this post
  3. #2
    Banned
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    15,970
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    139

    Default

    "Harmonic" thinking is really just a short-hand way of blocking-out compositions, seeing them in terms of block-like chord sequences.
    Song form, as in a separate melody above chord changes, called homophony, has one dominant melody line, usually sung.
    True counterpoint (or polyphony) would have two equally important voices. It is not merely the "enhancement" of a principle melody; so Brahms was right on that particular point.
    Since melodic identity depends more on rhythm, it would seem that the "rhythmic gestalt" produced by the lines would be of prime importance.

  4. Likes N/A, EdwardBast liked this post
  5. #3
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2013
    Posts
    5,306
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    8

    Default

    In the U.S., higher education in theory is harmonocentric. The practical training in undergraduate theory courses has traditionally begun with writing four part harmonizations of simple melodies, ostensibly taking the chorales of J.S. Bach as models. The principles of voice-leading, which are the basis of good counterpoint, are covered along the way, but they tend to be treated in an offhand way, with just enough emphasis to forestall the most obvious and grievous errors. They are taught proscriptively — don't write parallel 5ths and octaves, don't cross voices, etc. — rather than presciptively. One learns how not to produce abysmal voice-leading, rather than how to write good counterpoint. Actual courses in counterpoint, which might correct these deficiencies, tend to be left for the third and fourth year and in many institutions such courses are elective rather than required. It is little surprise that undergraduate harmony exercises rarely look anything like Bach's chorales, because Bach wasn't harmonizing, he was writing four part counterpoint.

    I've seen several teachers try to overhaul undergraduate theory programs by beginning with 16thc counterpoint, moving on to Baroque counterpoint, and only after some mastery of voice-leading is gained, taking up four-part writing. But I haven't seen it done successfully. Renaissance voice-leading and counterpoint, which is the basis of part writing well-into the 20thc, is just too foreign to your average undergraduate music student. The influence of popular musical culture abets the harmoncentric model, since its notated material often takes the form of lead sheets and fake books with chords and melody.

    Anyway, to address the OP: I'm not sure it's just a matter of difficulty. The meager contrapuntal interest of much film music is likely due to do a number of pervasive cultural phenomena and habits of education as well.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Dec-19-2018 at 17:47.

    Your frogs make me shudder with intolerable loathing and I shall be miserable for the rest of my life remembering them.
    — Mikhail Bulgakov, The Fatal Eggs

    Originality is a device untalented people use to impress other untalented people and to protect themselves from talented people.
    — Basil Valentine

  6. #4
    Senior Member Haydn70's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2017
    Location
    Los Angeles area
    Posts
    856
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    EdwardBast's post was very interesting to me in this regard:

    About 30 years ago I got a full-time, temporary job at a college, teaching, among other things, the first two years of music theory. I was hired just a few weeks before the fall term started so I had to take over, so to speak, the current set up...no time for me to do things my way. And that set up was: the first term of theory was 16th century counterpoint. This was a bit of shock to me as I didn’t take that course until my second year of theory studies, after I had taken a year of tonal harmony. In fact the prerequisite for taking that class was at least two semesters of tonal harmony.

    Anyway, the rationale (as I was told) was that starting theory students with 2-part modal counterpoint would be easier and more manageable for them than 4-part tonal harmony. I disagreed (keeping my disagreement to myself as I had no choice/voice in the matter anyway) and couldn’t imagine it working well. And I felt that it didn’t. As EdwardBast stated:
    Renaissance voice-leading and counterpoint, which is the basis of part writing well-into the 20thc, is just too foreign to your average undergraduate music student.
    As for mediocre counterpoint in current film scores, one reason is that increasingly the industry is using "converted" rock musicians who do not have the training. As for those composers from the past (recent and distant) who DID have the training...
    Last edited by Haydn70; Dec-19-2018 at 18:43.
    “If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art.”

    Arnold Schoenberg

  7. Likes BaroqueKing liked this post
  8. #5
    Senior Member Haydn70's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2017
    Location
    Los Angeles area
    Posts
    856
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by 1996D View Post
    Brahms wrote that the principal melody and its counterpoint must be equal in beauty if herd on their own, to produce anything worthwhile.
    Exactly. And the same principle applies to 3, 4, 5-voice counterpoint...each of the parts should be satisfying if played on their own.
    Last edited by Haydn70; Dec-19-2018 at 18:48.
    “If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art.”

    Arnold Schoenberg

  9. #6
    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2017
    Location
    Sedona
    Posts
    4,272
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    4

    Default

    I wonder how much four-part writing is included in the study of counterpoint taught today, if it’s taught at all. In the past, it was also taught to sharpen and organize the mind as one of the greatest pleasures and challenges in music. Why? Because everything had to fit together without it sounding like a jumbled mess, not only linearly but harmonically.

    I think it bears mentioning that counterpoint suggests an equal value between the different lines, parts that carry relatively equal weight, such as the beauty and integrated harmony of what Bach and Mozart wrote. If there’s not relative equal value in the parts, that may indicate contrast but not necessarily counterpoint.

    The study of counterpoint starts at the very least with the writing of two equal lines or melodies that are somehow related or are somehow reacting off each other on relatively equal terms. That’s the beginning of counterpoint. But the problem is that it’s now considered relatively unfashionable or old-fashioned and I doubt if younger students are as interested in it, not only because it might be considered old-fashioned but because it requires more talent or interest than they may have.

    I consider true counterpoint inspired and not simply worked out intellectually like a dry exercise. That was Mozart’s genius, because the five-part counterpoint in his Jupiter Symphony sounds effortless, flowing, elegant, stunning, and inspired—that all the parts were integrated so skillfully that it did not sound labored or intellectually contrived. I believe that Bach loved counterpoint because it represented the highest order and sense of harmony in the universe—what older composers considered a reflection of The Music of the Spheres. It’s too bad that more composers and listeners don’t look into that, because it was very important at the time and the planets still revolve around the sun in the same way now that they did then as a source of inspiration.

    By Brahms... Full of marvelous counterpoint:



    It’s a strange irony that counterpoint has often been used far more noticeably in jazz than it seems inl modern contemporary classical music, at least as far as I’ve heard. It can be found in the improvised counterpoint between Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck that requires great listening and sensitivity, and also in the remarkable jazz album with Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan:

    Last edited by Larkenfield; Dec-20-2018 at 13:25.
    "That's all Folks!"

  10. #7
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Posts
    8,733
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    2

    Default

    Most of the musicians I know talk derisively about Gradus ad Parnassum. But I know someone who teaches a course on Fux who says it’s like doing a soduku or crossword, good fun for the brain of someone so inclined, but maybe not very poetic.

  11. #8
    Banned
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    15,970
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    139

    Default



  12. Likes Mandryka, Larkenfield liked this post
  13. #9
    shirime
    Guest

    Default

    Counterpoint is an important skill but far from ‘the hardest.’ Harmony and counterpoint have very precise systems of analysis and a lot of music theory discusses the relationships and sonority between pitched nite. I would argue that it is a lot more difficult to get a good handle in orchestration and writing effectively and idiomatically for instruments, how they blend and contrast with one another and how different acoustic spaces affect how they sound. You can learn counterpoint with nothing but a pencil and piece of paper, but you can’t learn orchestration that way.

  14. Likes Larkenfield liked this post
  15. #10
    shirime
    Guest

    Default

    I’ll add to what EdwardBast is saying above just with my own anecdote from studying music. The course I took in Australia began with plainchant, then introduced two voices together, then introduced three voice donor iTunes.* The emphasis was always on the linearity of each voice and how they worked in relation to one another vertically. Once we could write a a renassiance style 3 voice counterpoint exercise we began on 4 part writing.

    *Leaving this in because it’s just too funny. I meant to type ‘three voice counterpoint’ but I was on my phone and walking and not really looking at what I was typing.
    Last edited by shirime; Dec-21-2018 at 21:45.

  16. #11
    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2017
    Location
    Sedona
    Posts
    4,272
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    4

    Default



    Counterpoint suggests order while orchestration suggests color, texture and timber. Counterpoint does not mean that everything ends up sounding like Bach or Mozart. But it does suggest something in the manner of conscious organization that some listeners appreciate and enjoy.
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Dec-21-2018 at 23:02.
    "That's all Folks!"

  17. #12
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2013
    Posts
    5,306
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    8

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by shirime View Post
    Counterpoint is an important skill but far from ‘the hardest.’ Harmony and counterpoint have very precise systems of analysis and a lot of music theory discusses the relationships and sonority between pitched nite. I would argue that it is a lot more difficult to get a good handle in orchestration and writing effectively and idiomatically for instruments, how they blend and contrast with one another and how different acoustic spaces affect how they sound. You can learn counterpoint with nothing but a pencil and piece of paper, but you can’t learn orchestration that way.
    I must voice a contrary view: One can learn effective orchestration by ear without ever even picking up paper and pencil. Experience listening in situ and a sonic imagination are enough. And I assume you are referring to the systematically studied and taught varieties of counterpoint, in the styles of the 16thc and 18thc? What about 19thc and 20thc counterpoint? Mastering counterpoint like that practiced by Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Bartok and Schnittke, to name a few, is a virtually inexhaustible field of study.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Dec-22-2018 at 03:13.

    Your frogs make me shudder with intolerable loathing and I shall be miserable for the rest of my life remembering them.
    — Mikhail Bulgakov, The Fatal Eggs

    Originality is a device untalented people use to impress other untalented people and to protect themselves from talented people.
    — Basil Valentine

  18. #13
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    Posts
    423
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    There is no such thing as universal "counterpoint" rules. Modern composers mentioned in this thread would be regarded as making ugly music and breaking all the rules by the old Italian composers...

    The idea that all melodic material is of equal importance is not true and our ears don't work this way too.
    Creating busy polyphonic textures is also a very bad recipe for any commercial music (like film soundtracks).

    The worst thing in counterpoint is the way they teach it with the species and they are pretty useless in a practical compositions unless someone is composing very slow church hymns or similar, because of how important is the rhythm factor. Rhythm theory in general is the least developed and most controversial aspect of music. Until last century it was developed on a primitive level in Western art music.

    Counterpoint styles sound often too mathy for the general public, but the interesting moment is that you can't use math for them, because sometimes you need to break the rules, that's why there is no good autocomposing fugues, canons etc software, despite the rules of some classical books being implemented in some software packages. There were some analyzes on compositions of Palestrina and Bach , counting the times they breaks voice leading rules; you can't teach computers good taste, I guess.

    If someone is interested, check Robert Morris' articles on graph theory, canons and voice leading (his comments on atonal vs "Renaissance" voice leading are also interesting). G. Mazzola gives all allowed note successions (modelled after Fux) and has some other theories based on some symmetries of 12 ET (I personally found his modulation theory for more impressive )

  19. #14
    Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2018
    Location
    London, UK
    Posts
    60
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Very interesting discussion. I worked my way through the early parts of Schoenberg's Preliminary Exercises in Counterpoint, and it was certainly educational. Anyway, there is still some pretty good counterpoint being written these days. The following piece came to mind in this context...


  20. Likes Larkenfield liked this post
  21. #15
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2013
    Posts
    5,306
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    8

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by BabyGiraffe View Post
    There is no such thing as universal "counterpoint" rules. Modern composers mentioned in this thread would be regarded as making ugly music and breaking all the rules by the old Italian composers...
    There are universal principles, beginning with independence of line. The modern composers adapted traditional laws of voice-leading to new systems of harmonic progression. Of course Italian baroque composers wouldn't get it because they would be oblivious to the intermediate steps between their era and the 20thc.

    Quote Originally Posted by BabyGiraffe View Post
    Creating busy polyphonic textures is also a very bad recipe for any commercial music (like film soundtracks).
    Nonsense. Complex music is perfectly appropriate and effective for some scenes with complex visual effects and for many other scenes where characters are dealing with complex puzzles and problems. Every style has its place.

    Quote Originally Posted by BabyGiraffe View Post
    The worst thing in counterpoint is the way they teach it with the species and they are pretty useless in a practical compositions unless someone is composing very slow church hymns or similar, because of how important is the rhythm factor. Rhythm theory in general is the least developed and most controversial aspect of music. Until last century it was developed on a primitive level in Western art music.
    This sounds like a typical complaint of disgruntled undergrads. The species approach is and has always been good pedagogy for those beginning to study counterpoint. Of course practical composition is more complex than beginning counterpoint exercises. This criticism is meaningless.

    Your frogs make me shudder with intolerable loathing and I shall be miserable for the rest of my life remembering them.
    — Mikhail Bulgakov, The Fatal Eggs

    Originality is a device untalented people use to impress other untalented people and to protect themselves from talented people.
    — Basil Valentine

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •