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The Fort Hill Press




A. M. S. and P. L. A.


On the subject of " Counterpoint," as that term is generally understood, this book does not profess to be an exhaustive treatise. Rather is it intended, as a practical textbook, to deal with the principles of free part-writing and to offer suggestions for the cultivation of such a musical instinct that wherever polyphony * is desirable in composition the various parts shall be made interesting and truly melodious. It seems to the writer that at the present day the import of the word counterpoint is largely historical. Certainly the rules still in vogue in the majority of the books on counterpoint are those which were practised when music was under the influence of the old modal system, was written almost exclusively for voices, and long before the principles of rhythm and of tonality, so deeply implanted in our modern instrumental music, had come into existence at all. Moreover in these textbooks there is little to stimulate the imagination of the student or to develop a broad musical judgment. The subjects given, with their heterogeneous and unrhythmic collection of whole notes, seem at best merely to furnish opportunities for the acquisition of a rudimentary power of selection. But this selecting and grouping of the various chord-factors in the most effective way have already been taught the student during his course in harmony, when that subject has been properly taught, that is, without a servile dependence upon the figured-bass system. In fact, whoever has been writing free exercises in harmony under competent instruction has also been writing counterpoint of a certain kind; that is, he has been making the separate voices as varied and melodious as possible.† Every one will recognize the great discrepancy in style between the counterpoint of the textbook and that of a Mozart String Quartet, a Beethoven Symphony, or even the contrapuntal accompaniment of a Franz song. There must of necessity be some difference; one is an exercise for the young student, the other the work of mature genius. Nevertheless the difference should be one rather of degree than actually of kind. In both exercise and work of creative imagination should be found the broad principles of all musical art; there should be life, spontaneity and freedom, and all the voices, whenever possible, should say something, except where a confessedly homophonic style is being used. In music, of all arts, the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." Hence the writer has no sympathy with the arbitrary division of counterpoint into two classes, strict and free.


*That is, music in many independent parts.

† Since the time of J. S. Bach there is no reason for considering harmony and counterpoint as separate and unconnected subjects; each is indissolubly bound up with the other.

That is, where there is one chief melody, and the other voices are frankly subordinate, furnishing merely an accompaniment.

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