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Re: Contrapunct; polyphony; Beatles etc


> It's sort of
> like an oasis.  And what does Bach put there?  He puts some rests into the
> bass line to change the character and lighten the texture!  Very cool.

It can also be simply beautiful. Two pieces came to my mind almost
immediately when I read your words.

Fugue from Sonata for Violin Solo #1. Measure 14. This where the theme is
once again clearly stated in the upper most voice. I can only speak about
this fugue from a guitarist's standpoint though--I play the transcription on
guitar and (the way I play it,) this restatement carries a direct contrast
to the strong V-i cadence that preceded it. It's such a sweet passage that
seems to foreshadow dense counterpoint (which does occur eventually.)

The other piece is the fugue from WTC II in B minor. From the beginning to
measure 35, the fugue seems to gather all this density, especially with all
those trills. At measure 29 to 35, the bass has some kind of 16th-note pedal
which makes the overall sound even more dense. When Gould gets to measure 36
(with an anacrusis from measure 35), all that stress before measure 36
suddenly is alleviated--lifted (IMHO). I always feel this moment (which is
also when the fugue goes from B minor and F# minor and a whole modulation of
minors to D major) to be one of the sweetest passages in music, thanks to
Gould. (For me, the harpsichord can not sing with that timbre; yet, the
harpsichord and organ are my favorite instruments.)

Happy Thanksgiving, all of you.

Steven Lin

----- Original Message -----
From: Bradley Lehman <bpl@umich.edu>
To: Baldwin, Daniel <baldwin@baermarks.com>; <f_minor@email.rutgers.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, November 24, 1999 3:04 PM
Subject: Re: Contrapunct; polyphony; Beatles etc

> Daniel asked:
> >So -- any composition with at least two independent voices would be
> >considered polyphonic,
> Yes
> >and a composition with only two voices (each of which
> >is independent) would be considered contrapuntal,
> Yes; the classic technique in counterpoint classes is to take a
> single line melody (a "cantus firmus", meaning you're not allowed to
> its notes) and then to invent a new second line against it which follows
> contrapuntal rules.
> An internet search for "species counterpoint" will give you some nice
> >but a piece with 3 voices
> >(2 of which are independent and one of which is not) would be polyphonic
> but
> >not contrapuntal,
> Well, sort of halfway contrapuntal because of the two independent
> >and a piece with 3 voices, only one of which is
> >independent, would be monophonic?
> >Or is there yet another category for
> >pieces which have only one voice, period?
> Monophonic music is one unaccompanied line, most typically plainchant.  A
> piece with one important part plus some essentially harmonic other parts
> homophony.  (If it's sung, all the singers have the same words at the same
> time moving at the same speed.)
> >And what about "rounds," like Row
> >Row Row your Boat, which have 3 voices, all of which are repeating the
> >melodic material, but at staggered intervals, in such a manner that they
> >interweave harmonically?  Is it considered contrapuntal, or even
> polyphonic?
> >Or is this the simplest form of canon?
> Yes, yes, and yes.  (Unless you're Glenn Gould, who claimed that in
> elementary school he preferred to change the key and/or the speed to make
> "Row, row, row your boat" more interesting...the piece does have only one
> harmonic center, after all, and becomes rather dull....)
> >And how does fugue enter into all
> >this? Perhaps a fugue is a complex canon in which material is repeated at
> >different times in different voices, but the voices are always running
> >independently of each other so that there is polyphony and counterpoint
> >well.
> Yep, you've got it.  Fugue is essentially a loosely constructed canon
> the voices don't all have to have the same material, though they share
> of it.  It also usually has quite a few sections called "episodes" where
> main subjects are absent for a while.  This is often to give space for
> modulation to a new key, or perhaps just to change the mood briefly.
> Contrapunctus 7 in the Art of Fugue is a remarkable case: it normally
> between four and five minutes, but there is only one episode (and then a
> free coda at the end).  The subject is there *all the time* in some voice,
> at some speed, except for those three measures of episode.  It's sort of
> like an oasis.  And what does Bach put there?  He puts some rests into the
> bass line to change the character and lighten the texture!  Very cool.
> >
> >P.S. It seems to me (from the vantage point of the serious but musically
> >untrained listener) that quite a bit of Mozart's  music  is monophonic.
> Er, homophonic if all the voices are of similar timbre (say, all strings,
> all voices, or all basset horns) and moving simultaneously in support of
> main melody.
> Or a texture of melody plus accompaniment is sometimes called heterophony.
> The voices are different from one another (different instruments, or
> different patterns) yet they work together, and some are more important
> others.  As I tried to point out, but didn't describe very well, usually
> least the main melody and the bass still conform to basic rules of
> counterpoint.  Contrary motion, motion at different speeds, avoidance of
> many parallels, etc.
> Pick a Baroque sonata for a solo instrument: the composers generally
> parts for only the soloist and the bass players, and then the continuo
> improvises any other filler parts which fit the needs of the specific
> performance.  The two notated parts still stick to the contrapuntal rules.
> Skillful continuo players then add third, fourth, or even fifth lines
> occasionally against these two, in addition to playing a more
> chordally-based accompaniment some of the time.  Variation of the texture
> interesting; too much of an unchanging texture gets dull.  It's a reaction
> from moment to moment, adding what seems to be needed.  (In a sense this
> what rock band members are essentially doing, too, though there is less
> emphasis on linear motion and they are less likely to have studied
> Renaissance/Baroque counterpoint!)
> My description of polyphony (with example of rock song) before was maybe a
> little confusing, sorry; it usually refers to an ensemble of similar types
> of voices or instruments, where all the voices have a similar sound except
> for pitch.  That's automatically true on a keyboard, too, as long as the
> texture really is separate lines rather than chord fillers.
> >Thus, at least when considered only from the standpoint of counterpoint,
> >is less complex than most rock music.
> Nah.  Mozart's music is more contrapuntally complex than rock music.
> except when he's doing it deliberately badly, as in his "A Musical Joke"
> also known as the "Village Musicians' Sextet."  There he does bad things
> mock the hack composers who never learned harmony, form, or counterpoint!
> But pick any of Mozart's other chamber music.  He says more musically with
> three or four lines, all contrapuntally solid, than any rock band I can
> think of.
> >But of course that only begins to tell
> >the story -- there is far greater complexity in the other musical values
> >(harmony, rhythm, and overall structure, including sonata form). Maybe
> >Gouldians find it difficult to appreciate Mozart because it requires a
> >process of weaning one's ears off the expectation of counterpoint
> >it is certainly does characterize some portions of Mozart's output), and
> >attuning them to these other values.
> I'd say Gouldians find it difficult to appreciate Mozart because Our Hero
> told us that Mozart was lousy.  It took me at least five years to get over
> that idea and to realize that Glenn Gould was almostly completely wrong
> there.
> >Also, even when Mozart's music is
> >contrapuntal (such as 4th mvt of Jupiter symphony, or 3rd mvmt of 19th
> piano
> >concerto), the counterpoint is  deftly sketched in to achieve the desired
> >effect in the overall structure, rather than being the defining
> >characteristic of the music. Mozart was a master of the economy of means.
> He
> >achieved complexity and lightness at the same time.
> Agreed about the economy of means in general; there's not much extraneous
> junk in it, though he did maybe "phone in" some of those Alberti basses.
> But I'd say his music is contrapuntally written *most of the time* (except
> in the piano works).  The symphonies, operas, sacred works, and chamber
> music are thoroughly contrapuntal, with parts weaving in and out all the
> time.  Our problem is that we're too culturally conditioned by other types
> of music to listen for only one thing at a time, rather than hearing many
> parts of the texture at once.  (Remember the "Mozart makes you smarter"
> campaigns of the past few years?)  A section of a piece doesn't have to be
> fugato to be contrapuntal; it's just that the counterpoint is more
> obvious there.
> But I agree with you that Mozart was great at suggesting things without
> having to make his music only one way or another at any given moment.  He
> learned that from J S Bach, Handel, CPE Bach, JC Bach, Haydn, etc.
> Bradley Lehman
> bpl@umich.edu

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