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The Study of Counterpoint: From Johann Joseph Fux's Gradus Ad Parnassum Paperback – June 17, 1965
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From the Back Cover
The most celebrated book on counterpoint is Fux's great theoretical work Gradus ad Parnassum. Since its appearance in 1725, it has been used by and has directly influenced the work of many of the greatest composers. J.S. Bach held it in high esteem, Leopold Mozart trained his famous son from its pages, Haydn worked out every lesson with meticulous care, and Beethoven condensed it into an abstract for ready reference.
About the Author
Alfred Mann was a musicologist, former conductor of the Cantata Singers, editor of a new full score of Handel's Messiah, and a contributor to The Musical Quarterly and other scholarly periodicals.
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One method of playing keyboard is right hand plays melody, left plays chords. This is different!
Here, right hand plays melody. Left hand plays, note for note, a counterpoint melody. The examples given are short. e.g. 11 note melody and eleven note counterpoint melody. You play both at the same time.
The Reason: If you come up with a melody you like, that's 'catchy', the counterpoint melody adds a new dimension. Not a second dimension, like you'd think. IMHO, this is like skipping to 'The Fifth Dimension.' Not 1 plus 1 = 2, more like 1 plus 1 = 127! Very cool.
Try the short example on page 36 or 37 and see if you're not completely astounded.
The book explains the rules and methods for deriving the counterpoint from the melody. The remainder of the book explains 2 notes against one, 3 against one, etc. The first 40 or so pages are worth the price of the book.
Unlike some keyboard practice materials, this is fun. Also, learning the very first example (page 36?) which takes 10 minutes, makes a newbie sound _profound_
I know that in my own writing, I now see many places where my ear has lead me to follow many of these rules (and also many places where I have completely ignored, butchered, broken, and smashed them). These rules and tendencies continue to guide, if not dictate, much of contemporary composition.
And if you're still not convinced, the dialogue is so extremely, ridiculously over-the-top as to make reading it an enjoyable experience purely on an entertainment basis! Gotta love 18th century Europe.
At one point in the text, Aloysius pretty much says it all: "These lessons are not worked out for actual use but for exercise. If one know how to read one need no longer bother with spelling; similarly, the species of counterpoint are given only for purposes of study."
I have been working out of this book (which is really an excerpt of a larger book called _Steps to Perfection_) with a private tutor for a year, and it has been a difficult but rewarding experience. Essentially, the species provide a platform to learn how to compose concurrent melodic lines. Each following species builds upon the knowledge of the previous. Rules that begin absolute slowly become contextual. While the book's original title is anachronistic, the program within encourages steps towards the understanding of basic tonal principles that have formed the foundation of the grand tradition of western music.
I'd recommend keeping an open mind about the rules. These are treated as the "rules," but are expected to be broken with time and experience. After all, the rules are no more than the collected general tendancies of the great composers.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Fux's book provides an introduction to composition based upon the limitations--and, accordingly, the beauty--of the human voice. This book does not deal with the embellishments and ornaments possible on all instruments.
More caveats: One, I would recommend studying this book with an experienced teacher. It's like a beginning yoga text: basic, but someone with experience will put things in perspective. Two, the exercises, especially for three and four voices, are difficult and require commitment and discipline. (Again, like yoga.) There is no need to rush through the exercises. Three, Fux's book should be part of an integrated tonal curriculum that at least includes four-part writing and ear-training.
And Fux's book is hardly the last word even on counterpoint! At the very least, study 18th century and 20th century counterpoint, because those broad styles used Fux's treatise as their basic foundations. Those who criticize this text do so because it does not immediately apply to modern music situations. But they often fail to see how the text fits beautifully within the broad spectrum of composition. This book reflects the basics of tonal architecture. No more, no less