Sunday, January 01, 2006

Convertible Counterpoint IV

Happy '06 everybody. I managed to survive the hectic gigging of the last two days of aught-five without incident, but I was asleep by 11:00PM last night, so I didn't "ring in" the new year. No problemo, as I don't drink alcohol anymore anyway, and hanging out with drunken revelers just doesn't hold the same appeal for me that it used to. Thank goodness I was just the opening act at last night's New Year's Eve party, becasuse by 9:30 PM I was toooooast, and was having quite a bit of trouble actually, you know, performing: Lots of little brain-fade errors going on, but a drunk crowd is a happy crowd, so it really wasn't much of an issue. When I saw the main act arrive, I actually just quit mid-song and packed up: I was pooped. I ordered dinner (Free!), ate, came home, and crashed like a high-rise imploding. I seldom ever sleep any more than five hours at a stretch (Afternoon naps rock!), but I slept an entire eight hours last night, and awoke feeling like a million quatloos. I'm betting most in Alpine are nursing hangovers right now, but not moi. Once I quit drinking entirely, it was no more than a month before I felt better than I had since my teenage years, and just the thought of beer now makes me wince. You never say never about these kinds of things, but due to "career goals" I'm planning to wait for New Year's Eve of '07 before I treat myself to some Krug Champagne and Chimay Ale (Thoughts of which decidedly do not make me wince). Anyhoo...

I'm going to reprint Taneiev's entire introduction in two parts, complete with musical examples (Actually transcribing these into Encore and hearing them ought to be a huge plus: I'm going to do that with all the examples in the book), because getting a firm grasp on the elemental concepts is absolutely required. It's 11:15 AM CDT here right now, so it will be interesting to see just how long this takes. I'm going to launch my Studio TVR TV display, stuff it in the corner of my monitor, and spend the rest of the day here at the keyboard. I refuse to even touch a guitar today (Cool! "The Bourne Supremacy" just started!).


by Serge Taneiev

The art of counterpoint has passed through two eras: That of the strict style, which attained its highest development in the sixteenth century (Palestrina and Orlando Lasso), and the period of the free style, of which the crowning achievements are found in the works of Bach and Handel. The differences between the contrapuntal writing of these two eras are to be found both in the nature of the melodies themselves and in the character of the harmonies formed by these melodies in combination.

Strict counterpoint, developed on the basis of the so-called ecclesiastical modes, was a pre-eminently vocal style that had not been exposed to the kind of influence that instrumental music later exerted, antedating such influence, it attained to complete self-fulfilment. Strich counterpoint excludes everything that presents difficulty to voices singing without instrumental accompaniment. Melodies in the strict style show evidences of their origin in the chants of the Catholic Church - they exhibit many characteristics of these early canticles. They are strictly diatonic, are written in the ecclesiastical modes, and in them are no progressions of intervals that are difficult of intonation, such as sevenths, ninths, augmented or diminished intervals, &c.
[I am actually looking forward to learning how to write more closely to this style, as all of my work thus far has been in free style harmonic counterpoint, and in instrumental idioms. - Ed.]

The basis of multi-voice counterpoint of the strict style is of course the two-voice texture. Two-voice counterpoint is subject to the rules governing the progression of intervals, these being employed in a way that for the normal hearing is the most simple and natural. A knowledge of the rules of simple counterpoint in the strict style is essential in order to understand the present work, though this is not the place to explain them. In strict writing the rules of two-voice counterpoint apply also to more intricate polyphony. With a few exceptions it is observable that in a multi-voice combination each voice together with every other forms correct two-voice counterpoint.; that multi-voice counterpoint is an association of several two-voice combinations, as a result of which is obtained a series of varied consonant and dissonant harmonies, foreign to contemporary harmony and often sounding strange to us. Although isolated harmonies may be classified under the heads of certain chords, the term "harmony," in the sense in which it is used in the music of today, is not applicable to the old contrapuntal style. Harmony in the strict sense is not subordinated to the requirements of our modern tonal system, in which a series of chords is grouped around a central tonic chord: a system that in the course of a composition allows the tonic to be shifted (modulation), and groups all secondary tonalities around the principle key, besides which the tonality of one division influences those of others, from the beginning of the piece to it's conclusion.

In the harmony of the strict style there is no such dependence of some parts upon others, or of what may be called harmonic action at a distance. Only in the perfect cadence, where as a result of the ascent of the leading tone to the tonic the gravitation of dominant to tonic harmony is temporarily brought about, can be seen the embryo of our present tonal system. Aside from such cadences the strict style does not present a series of harmonies that are unified in this sense; key-continuity may be entirely absent, and any chord may follow any other, on a strictly diatonic basis.

In music of the Polyphonic Period - essentially vocal - coherence was provided first of all by a text. But besides the text - an external factor not belonging to the domain of music - the works of the period possessed another - purely musical - resource, by which took on coherence and unity; a resource all the more valuable inasmuch as harmony did not as yet possess the unifying power that it subsequently acquired. This was imitation: the recurrence of a melody in one voice immediately after its presentation in another. The result of this use of a single melody that appeared in different voices was to distribute the thematic material equally among all of them, giving to the whole a high degree of coherence. An imitating melody often entered before the preceeding melody had closed, and then did not end until still another imitation had begun, a process that served to knit still closer the contrapuntal texture.

For two or more centuries the working-out of imitative forms in the strict style received much attention from composers. There arose many different phases of this device; imitations on a given voice and without it, canonic imitation, imitation in contrary motion, augmentation, diminution - forms that in the course of time culminated in the highest contrapuntal form of all - the fugue. From the introducing of one melody in all voices it was natural to take a further step and apply the same process to two melodies at once; hence double imitation, double canon, double fugue. At this transference to different voices of two melodies simultaneously the question must have come up as to the possibility of changing their relationship at the successive recurrences, and thereby from an original combination to obtain another, the derivative. Thus the origin of complex counterpoint, i.e. the obtaining of derivative combinations, also came in the era of the strict style.

In multi-voice music melodic and harmonic elements are subject to the influences of the time and to the nationality and individuality of composers. But the forms of imitation, canon and complex counterpoint - either as actualities or as possibilities - are universally valid; they are independent of such conditions, capable of entering into the plan of any harmonic system and adaptable to any melodic idiom. The idea is prevalent that the old contrapuntalists of the Flemish Schools exhausted the resources of imitation, especially as regards the canonic forms, but in reality they worked out completely only a few of them; the rest received only incidental treatment or were not touched upon at all. The outstanding merit of the Flemish composers was that they invented these forms and from them developed a flexible and efficient system of technical proceedure.

Arising in the era of the strict style, these forms survived without material change until the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century, when under the powerful influence of instramental music they were enriched by acquisitions up to that time had constituted mere technical virtuosity.
["mere technical virtuosity": I like that. - Ed.]; also by harmonic, figurative and other elements that in the preceeding era had been absent. This free counterpoint of the time of Bach and Handel, essentially the same as our own, was sharply distinguished from the counterpoint of former times, and it's subsequent development naturally contained its own elements. The new counterpoint was not based on the ecclesiastical modes but upon the present major-minor tonal system. [Well, The Bourne Supremacy is over. Time out while I channel-surf for another show. Ah. Rounders is next. Believe I'll take a lunch break. - Ed.] Not only in instrumental but also in vocal melody progressions are found that are difficult of intonation for voices and which are unconditionally forbidden in the strict style, such as leaps of sevenths and of augmented and diminished intervals, figuration based on dissonant chords, chromatics and other resources unknown to the older order.

The harmony of the free style is no less sharply distinguished from that of the preceeding era. The free style enables entire groups of harmonies to be consolidated into one organic whole and then by means of modulation to dissect this whole inot factors that are totally interdependent. This characteristic, absent in the former harmony, provided the conditions for the development of the free forms of instrumental music that appeared at the end of the eighteenth and during the first half of the nineteenth century. This new tonal system made possible the writing of works of large dimensions that possessed all the qualities of effective structural style that did not have to be reinforced by texts or by immitative forms
per se, but contained within themselves the necessity for the later. By degrees this system widened and deepened and its spreading circle embraced newer and newer resources and laws governing the relations between remote harmonies. Such were the broad horizons opened up for harmony; the creative activity of Beethoven then appears, and he, by a further expansion od the modulatory plans as they stood at the end of the eighteenth century, showed how much variety of key-relationships a composition could exhibit, both in its larger and smaller aspects.

Superseding the ecclesiastical modes, this tonal system was in turn affected by a new one that tended to endanger key-sense by the substitution of a chromatic for a diatonic basis; this lead to a transformation of musical form. Applying the principle that by the use of chromatic progression any chord may follow any other, and pushing it too far, is likely to compromise key-relatinship and to exclude those factors by which the smaller units of form are grouped and amalgamated into one organic whole. Neither did the harmony of the strict style, in which any chord could follow any other, though on a diatonic basis, exhibit the characteristics of tonality and form as now understood. The new harmony, as it now stands and which Fetis called "omnitonal," is inimical to the logic of tonality and form; the chief difference between the old and the new is that the diatonic basis is replaced by the chromatic. Omnitonal harmony, though adding to the resources of composition, at the same time lacks the virility characteristic of the diatonic method. To remain for a time in one key, as opposed to more or less rapid modulation, the contrasts afforded by passing gradually to a new key, with a return to the principle key - all this, by contributing to the clearness of long movements and enabling the listener to comprehend their forms, has little by little disappeared from music since the time of Beethoven and far more rapidly since the beginning of the twentieth century.
[The original reads "...has little by little disappeared from contemporary music," but as this was written in 1906 it can hardly be considered a violation of the author's thought to bring the statement up to date. - Tr.] The result has been the production of small works and a general decline in the art of composition. Unity of construction appears with less and less frequency. Works are written not as consistent organisms but as formless masses of mechanically associated parts, any of which might be replaced by others. [Amen: Insights like these are why I mark the end of the tradition at 1915, when Taneiev died. - Ed.]

As for the music of today, the harmony that has gradually lost it's virility would be greatly benefited by the strength that the contrapuntal forms can infuse.
[Bingo. - Ed.] Beethoven, who in his later works reverted to the the technical methods of the old contrapuntalists, sets the best example for composers of the future. The music of today is essentially contrapuntal. Not only in large orchestral works, where the abundance of independent parts often results in obscurity, or in opera, where leitmotifs are worked out contrapuntally, but even in pieces of insignificant dimensions, can counterpoint be employed to the greatest advantage. The study of free counterpoint is therefore indespensible for the technical training of composers, but because of its melodic and harmonic intracacy it cannot be studied first. The foundation must be laid by counterpoint of the strict style, more accessible because of it's simplicity. The preliminary steps as regards shifting counterpoint is the subject of the present work.

The term "complex" is used for that kind of counterpoint in which an original combination of melodies yeilds one or more derivatives. The term does not refer to the complexity that results from the union of many voices, nor to the complexity of their melodic or rhythmic features. The essential mark of complex counterpoint is the possibility of obtaining from an original combination of melodies a new one, the derivative.

To be continued...

I'm on the edge of my seat!


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