Counterpoint (from Lat. contrapunctus, from contra punctum: ‘against note’; Fr. contrepoint; Ger. Kontrapunkt; It. contrappunto)
- Klaus-Jürgen Sachs
- and Carl Dahlhaus
(from Lat. contrapunctuscontra punctum: ‘against note’Fr. contrepointGer. KontrapunktIt. contrappunto)
A term, first used in the 14th century, to describe the combination of simultaneously sounding musical lines according to a system of rules. It has also been used to designate a voice or even an entire composition (e.g. Vincenzo Galilei's Contrapunti a due voci, 1584, or the contrapuncti of J.S. Bach's Art of Fugue) devised according to the principles of counterpoint. (See also Polyphony, §I.)
The theory of counterpoint, which existed by about 1330, developed from the older theory of discant, but differs from it in ways that a comparison of the two makes clear. The technique of discant occurs in two distinct forms. Works dealing with ‘interval succession theory’ (‘Klangschritt-Lehre’) merely list possible single progressions of an added voice for all usual successive intervals of the cantus, considering only the consonances of unison, octave, 5th (and occasionally 4th); for example: ‘If the cantus ascends by a 2nd and the opposed part begins at the octave, then the opposed part descends by a 3rd and forms [with the cantus] a 5th, or descends by a 7th and coincides with the cantus’ (...