Assignment 1

  1. For the first part of the assignment, I was asked to fulfill a few exercises, following the rules of the 16th-century counterpoint-music. The Cantus (first voice) is always in the lower part (except for the last exercise).

Species 1


Species 2


Species 3


Species 4


Species 5


For the second part of the Assignment, I was asked to discuss the following phrase of Igor Stawisky and furthermore reflect on my progress during the course unit:

The more constraints one imposes, the more frees one’s self”

In my former musical education, I came across the basic rules of the 16th Century counterpoint already, nonetheless, I haven’t had the opportunity to look the structure of it in detail yet.

In order to learn about the rules of the counterpoint I was introduced to the “Species Counterpoint”, which is a form of learning the rules of counterpoint created by Joseph Fux. This slow process, or step learning, really helped to understand the structure of the counterpoint. In order to do the species exercises I copied a few of the most important rules of the list I was given in my own words. After writing them I found it helpful to try and compare the exercises with all the points in the corresponding list of rules again. Even though the idea of writing a counterpoint might sound quite simple, in my opinion especially the fourth species, which works purposely with syncopated dissonances witch are being resolved at the end make it very interesting.

To refer to the quote given at the beginning: I found it gave a certain comfort, having to stick to all these rules, but still being able to decide on a few small things, e.g. by how many degrees the pitch goes up or down. I usually find it much harder to think of a melody, which may or may not fit to another one, with only thinking about what might sound harmonic and what doesn’t.

If I were given an exercise where I had to write a cantus firmus and with a counterpoint for up to four voices, I would start with a simple short melody, which had one peak point. With every new voice added one after the other) I would use imitational counterpoint and try to place the entrance were the voices would follow all the rules of species 1 to 4. I can assume, that it will be harder to harmonise everything with every new voice, and one might have to do an adjustment at one or the other passage, whereas I could try and fit in some of the counterpoint patterns I learned about for the third species.

The compositional technique of the counterpoint generally has the advantage, that, for western sounding ears, an open phrase is always closed. The rules outline that there is only allowance for one single peak point which the piece will be working towards to, so it will be placed near the end. Furthermore, anything on a downbeat will be harmonised, except for the in species four introduced syncopated dissonances. Those dissonances, nonetheless, are always being resolved in harmonic “answering” chords again, which is satisfying to hear. All of those features will make a piece sound complete and due to a usage of more than one voice still high in variety.

Despite all of that, I would refer to the adage “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder”, meaning in this context, that the value of using such strict rules as they’re used for the counterpoint could vary from person to person. I personally would say it depends on the type and genre of the music. As already mentioned, I really enjoyed composing with the species counterpoint, due to it being really fast, efficient and pleasant sounding. Furthermore, one could even apply some of those rules to pop-music or even some types of Jazz, meaning that the basic harmonic structure of a piece should still be considered in order to build the fundamental structure any piece should have to be recognised again. It’s therefore ironic to say, that for example the music of the impressionism (Stawinsky’s epoch), mostly didn’t follow any harmonic rules or even turned them around, which created a new set of rules in itself.