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counterpoint,in music, the art of combining melodies each of which is independent though forming part of a homogeneous texture. The term derives from the Latin for "point against point," meaning note against note in referring to the notation of plainsongplainsong
the unharmonized chant of the medieval Christian liturgies in Europe and the Middle East; usually synonymous with Gregorian chant, the liturgical music of the Roman Catholic Church.
..... Click the link for more information. . The academic study of counterpoint was long based on Gradus ad Parnassum (1725, tr. 1943) by Johann Joseph Fux (1660–1741), an Austrian theorist and composer. This work formulates the study of counterpoint into five species—note against note, two notes against one, four notes against one, syncopation, and florid counterpoint, which combines the other species. Countless textbooks have followed this method, but since the early 20th cent. several theorists have based their courses in counterpoint on a direct study of 16th-century contrapuntal practice. The early master composers of contrapuntal music include PalestrinaPalestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da
, c.1525–1594, Italian composer whose family name was Pierluigi; b. Palestrina, from which he took his name. Palestrina represents with Lasso the culmination of Renaissance music.
..... Click the link for more information. , LassoLasso, Orlando di
, 1532–94, Franco-Flemish composer, b. Mons, also known as Orlandus Lassus or Roland de Lassus. Lasso represents the culmination of Renaissance musical art. At age 12, he entered the service of Ferrante Gonzaga, viceroy of Sicily.
..... Click the link for more information. , and ByrdByrd, William,
1543–1623, English composer, organist at Lincoln Cathedral and, jointly with Tallis, at the Chapel Royal. Although Roman Catholic, he composed anthems and services for the English Church in addition to his great Roman masses and Latin motets.
..... Click the link for more information. . Polyphonic forms were later given a most brilliant and sophisticated expression during the baroquebaroque,
in music, a style that prevailed from the last decades of the 16th cent. to the first decades of the 18th cent. Its beginnings were in the late 16th-century revolt against polyphony that gave rise to the accompanied recitative and to opera.
..... Click the link for more information. era in the works of J. S. BachBach, Johann Sebastian
, 1685–1750, German composer and organist, b. Eisenach; one of the greatest and most influential composers of the Western world. He brought polyphonic baroque music to its culmination, creating masterful and vigorous works in almost every musical
..... Click the link for more information. . See also polyphonypolyphony
, music whose texture is formed by the interweaving of several melodic lines. The lines are independent but sound together harmonically. Contrasting terms are homophony, wherein one part dominates while the others form a basically chordal accompaniment, and monophony,
..... Click the link for more information. ; imitationimitation,
in music, a device of counterpoint wherein a phrase or motive is employed successively in more than one voice. The imitation may be exact, the same intervals being repeated at the same or different pitches, or it may be free, in which case numerous types of variation
..... Click the link for more information. .
See W. Piston, Counterpoint (1947); H. Searle, Twentieth Century Counterpoint (1954).
(1) A type of multivoiced music in which all voices are of equal significance; in the 20th century it is more often called polyphony. One form is successive counterpoint, or the repeated introduction of voices of polyphonic structure with the altering of the interval between them (harmonic counterpoint) or the point at which they begin in relation to each other (linear counterpoint), as well as the combination of these methods (two-part counterpoint). In invertible counterpoint the interval of the voices is transposed.
(2) In a polyphonic composition, the melody that is sounded at the same time as the theme.
(3) In the narrow sense, multivoiced music in which each sound in one voice is answered by a sound in another voice that is introduced simultaneously and is of the same value.
(4) One of the main divisions of music theory; known as polyphony in the USSR.