THE CONTRAPUNTAL FORMS
WHEN the layman learns that counterpoint is simply part-writing, he takes the statement lightly. The student, however, who has been through a course in the heart-breaking rules that govern the leading of the parts, appreciates the fact that counterpoint is an important branch of music. The composer finds a knowledge of counterpoint almost indispensable; and the reader will remember that Schubert planned a thorough course in this branch just before his untimely death.
While composers in the harmonic style make use of counterpoint in a passing way, and allow suggestions of it to strengthen their works, there are also certain contrapuntal forms that are wholly independent of the harmonic style. Counterpoint is the science of combining melodies, instead of supporting a melody by chords.
Counterpoint is classified into five different varieties. In the first order, the different parts show note against note. In counterpoint of the second order, two (or sometimes three) notes of discant (accompanying part) are used for each one in the cantus firmus (fixed theme). The third order shows four notes against one. The fourth variety consists of syncopated counterpoint, in which each note of the discant begins when a note of the cantus is half done. The fifth variety, florid counterpoint, makes use of all the preceding kinds in a single composition.
Good examples of counterpoint as used in harmonic works may be found in the last part of the first section of the slow movement in Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, and also in the latter part of Wagner "Tannhäuser" March, where fairly rapid and regular bass notes are used against the return of the first theme, in chords. Counterpoint of the third order is suggested by both examples.
When two voices, or parts, are written in counterpoint, it is possible for the composer to make them of such a nature that they can be transposed as a whole with reference to each other, and made to
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Publication information: Book title: The Book of Musical Knowledge:The History, Technique, and Appreciation of Music, Together with Lives of the Great Composers, for Music-Lovers, Students and Teachers. Edition: Enlarged. Contributors: Arthur Elson - Author. Publisher: Houghton Mifflin. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1927. Page number: 366.