I created this group hoping there is some interest in writing contrapuntal music. If so, I hope this group will generate some active discussions.

I recently came across a series of really excellent lectures on YouTube by Giovanni Dettori. They are here:


I am only an amateur musician. Although I am thus not an expert I am writing contrapuntal music. I am sure that there are many mistakes and I would be happy to have criticism of anything by myself that I post.

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6 years ago

Fugue subjects used at the Paris Conservatoire

Starting from page 87 of the following document https://ia801700.us.archive.org/5/items/solfegerhythmiqu00elwa/solfegerhythmiqu00elwa.pdf
one can find a digitized version of an old booklet containing a plethora of fugue subjects used at various exams and competitions during the 19th century at the Conservatoire.

While the musical quality of these themes may vary, they all offer certain problems to solve - to find the correct tonal answer, to create a good countersubject, to construct the canonic stretto etc. Some of the themes are rather easy to work out, some of them are fiendishly difficult.

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6 months ago

"500 Fugue Subjects and Answers" (Marchant) - Google Books and in reprint (Higgs and Prout URL's, too!)

For those learning to write fugues, or better fugues, the construction of appropriate fugal answers ("You just present the subject in the dominant key" is RARELY the "right answer", as it were —) is a subtle and difficult discipline, whose traditions, rules, and guidelines are not readily inferrable from a study of, say, the Well-Tempered Clavier. The public domain 19th century fugue primers of James Higgs (https://archive.org/details/fuguehig00higguoft) and Ebenezer Prout (https://archive.org/details/fuguepro00prouuoft) (both online-viewable in full) provide detailed instruction with copious examples from repertoire, viz., in their respective "Answers" chapters.

In any case, I have just discovered this Google Books "edition" of Arthur Marchant's 1892 (Novello) "500 Fugue Subjects and Answers -- Ancient and Modern" (i.e., 17th to 19th centuries) here: https://books.google.com/books?id=G25VAAAAYAAJ . As you can see at "Get this book in print", inexpensive ($20) facsimile reprints are readily available, but I have had mixed luck with similar editions (smudged, missing index, etc.). The Google Books "edition" allowed me to page through the entire volume, including its TOC and appendices. (Update update: for those outside the US, Philip Daniel has posted a copy of this at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BynfBbgK-wD7RnlYajFqWlI1V0k/view?usp=sharing - apparently Google works hard to restrict Google Books outside the US -- so use his copy -- but also check out the two works above, not so restricted). BTW, Marchant cites and credits Higgs.

As you can see from that table of contents, Marchant classifies the subjects structurally, most importantly in their use of tonic and dominant scale-steps and harmonies, the key factors in the design of answers. He also frequently highlights particular issues pertaining to each subject/answer pair.

No one attempting to write fugues consonant with examples in repertoire, and the expectations they create, should be unaware of this information, and Marchant's compendium, and Higgs' and Prout's primers, open clear paths to it.

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10 months ago

"Unpacking the Box" in Frescobaldi’s Ricercari of 1615 - Massimiliano Guido and Peter Schubert

I recently came across some links on renaissance composition/improvisation I'd like to share.
The following are didactic videos (divided into 3 parts) of two scholars, Guido and Schubert, taking the role of student and teacher respectively, and playing out a dialogue.

part 1: http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.14.20.2/guido_schubert_examples.php?id=0
part 2: http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.14.20.2/guido_schubert_examples.php?id=1
part 3: http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.14.20.2/guido_schubert_examples.php?id=2
source: http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.14.20.2/mto.14.20.2.guido_schubert.html

ricercare by Frescobaldi similar to the one played in part 3:


An academic paper on contrapuntal improvisation at the keyboard in the same vein by Guido:

This paper goes over my head, personally, because of the antiquated music notation used, but I think the gist of it is that for improvisation, a fixed fingering is selected then transposed across intervals so that certain fingers always correspond to consonances, and certain fingers always correspond to dissonances. This way contrapuntal patterns are cemented in muscle memory.

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7 months ago

From a culture that abbhors polyphony

Might be construed as slightly off-topic, but there is a recent (20th century) tradition in China of arranging folk songs for a large orchestra of traditional instruments, and some of this repertoire has been appearing on this site. I find it extremely interesting how the orchestral setting and triadic harmonies are clearly built on the western model, but the approach to counterpoint is completely different; parallel fifths abound, and the fourth is not treated as dissonant. It's not for want of qualifications either, as the arranger of the piece below was a career conductor and is regarded as a national treasure.

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a year ago

Early cadence formulas

Just found this great little webpage that showcases some medieval and renaissance cadences. Not the whole story of course, but I thought you baroque lovers might be interested to see where your V-I came from, and maybe get some inspiration from them (I love the double leading tone cadence in particular). It's just such a shame that the phrygian cadence did not survive the tonal revolution at all...


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3 years ago

BWV 830 Partita Gigue "appropriate" interpretation?

Bach had a tendency of writing music sheets in a haste. Thus he had a habit of "abusing" notations which eventually became very cryptic for our modern eyes.
For example, the sheet for the gigue of BWV 830 partita is notorious for interpreting.
Since Bach often used dotted notes for triplets, the piece must be played as such. But it is easier said than done.

I would like to redo my interpretation http://musescore.com/user/13172/scores/130635 and change into triplets, but the task will be overwhelming and I feel at a loss where to begin (or, what to do).
I will appreciate any advise on this.

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3 years ago

Some MuseScore tricks

There are various things I learned over time using MuseScore to write contrapuntal music. I'm going to list some of them.

In writing contrapuntal music it is very useful to be able to mute the parts one at a time and listen to them individually. If something doesn't sound right, you can determine which part needs to be rewritten this way. It is also useful to be able to play at different tempos. As a psychological point, if you have written to something and you listen to a small portion of it repeatedly at different tempos, sometimes something better will occur to you. Muting and unmuting parts can be a part of this process.

Sometimes something will sound acceptable at high speed but unacceptable at low speed. In this case it is a judgement call whether you need to rewrite. If you analyze it you may find something wrong, a dissonance or parallel fifths or something. Anyway, fiddling with the tempo gives you a different way of hearing the same music.

Lots of time something that has been written can be improved, so I do a lot of rewriting. If you decide to rewrite a few bars, don't delete them. Instead, insert a few empty bars and rewrite the music. When you are satisfied, go back and delete what you don't want.

One point is that if there are several parts, you should always create a separate track for each of them. It is a mistake to write one part in the bass staff of a piano and the other in the treble. The reason is that you can't mute them individually. Instead, create two pianos, and delete the bass staff of the top one and the treble staff of the bottom one. This leaves cruddy looking braces on the left, but you can delete those.

It is very useful to add a track, or to, to be deleted later, where you can do scratch work. You can mute or unmute the track as needed and ultimately delete it. For example in writing in an imitative or fugal style, you might paste a copy of the subject into this track near where you are working, where you can cut and paste it into the permanent part of the score.

Or to give a completely different application of such "scratchwork" staves, suppose you come to a modulation, or harmonically complex portion of the score. You can lay down a few chords in the scratch tracks, and since you can mute or unmute each track, you can play the parts individually against the proposed harmonization, or against each other, with the harmonization turned on or off. If you find yourself in a remote key, you may want to put down some chords to figure out how to get home before actually writing the music.

Use of the scratch tracks is not limited to the above suggestions. Somehow they seem to come in handy a lot. I make them a different instrument, e.g. electric piano.

I find it useful to switch to landscape mode and legal paper using
Layout -> Page Settings when actually working, then turn of the Landscape mode and switch to letter paper when the piece is done. This way you can see more bars at a time. I also stick in line breaks so the most relevant part of the score is in view at a given time. These of course get deleted when they are no longer needed.

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6 years ago