Saturday, May 28, 2005

Miscelaneous Musings, Three

With the Ars Nova movement, music enters the Renaissance, and a riotous explosion of compositional activity lead by some very talented men occurs. The revolution in music around 1430 was so profound and so complete that Johannes Tinctoris was inspired to write in his Liber de arte contrapuncti. of 1477 that only compositions written "in the last 40 years" are worthy to be listened to. He then goes on to list a veritable Who's Who of famous early Renaissance composers: John Dunstable (c.1390-1453), Gilles Binchois (c. 1400-1460), Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474), and their brilliant pupils Johannes Ockeghem (1420-1497), and the estimable Antoine Busnois (c.1430-1492), among other luminaries of no less stature. This music proved to be so seminal and so enduring that we have preserved for us to this day copies of some of Ockehgem's works in J.S. Bach's hand, which he undoubtedly studied in great detail as was his habit with composers whom he revered.

It should be noted that practice was still ahead of theory at this time, and in fact theory would ever after be in a reactionary mode struggling to explain the genius of the men who were leading the Secular Humanist movement in the arts throughout the Renaissance and beyond right down until modern times. In the last century, for example, the rules governing the music of Palestrina were so well understood and precisely enumerated that computer programs were written that could create quite convincing Palestrina-style compositions. This illustrates a point that I think is essential if a musician wants to really understand composition: There are rules that theorists retroactively formulate to explain the style of a certain composer or school of composers, and there are underlying laws that govern musical motion that are the irreducible essence of a certain compositional approach, such as counterpoint, which I am considering now.

In my previous posts I have presented the first of the underlying laws governing musical motion in counterpoint: 1) No parallel perfect consonances, and 2) Unrestricted parallel imperfect consonances. I was also careful to show the descent of those laws from implications present in the Natural Harmonic Overtone Series. This is important to understand, because in my musico-religious philosophy, Everything Musical is a Reflection of Nature. Conversely, everything I object to and am critical of in music can be proven by these methods to be unnatural, and in the kindest possible terminology, the creators of those works of anti-music were at the very least passively ignorant of the implications of nature in art. It is my hope that I will be able to prove well enough to satisfy the open minded that these men were in actual point of fact willfully ignorant and dispensed with natural considerations with malice.

One last item: In my previous discussion concerning problems with the perfect fourth, I mentioned that per the rules of harmonic voice leading, parallel perfect fourths were acceptable in three or more voices so long as the bass was not involved, and this is true. The laws governing musical motion in harmony are subtly different than contrapuntal rules, so when a composer uses parallel perfect fourths in counterpoint, what he is doing is borrowing from another set of rules governing a different kind of musical motion. I arrived at the irreducible rules one and two above by regarding as an inherant property of correctly written counterpoint that it is invertible at the octave. In so doing, I arrived at the ultimate in elegant solutions, and one that dispenses with needless confusion in teaching counterpoint when harmonic motion laws are confused with contrapuntal laws. Now, I don't claim to have come up with this on my own, but many different theorists that I have studied over the past twenty-seven years contributed to these conclusions. As we shall see later when we address the laws governing harmonic motion, teaching that subject via voice leading rules is not the correct way to reach an understanding of the subject, because the real law that governs harmonic motion is that of circular permutations of the chord's member tones: Clockwise or counterclockwise circular permutations for triads, and clockwise, counterclockwise or crosswise permutations for seventh chords. So far as I am aware, nobody except Joseph Schillinger has ever described this phenomenon in a theoretical treatise.


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