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date: 20 August 2019

Counterpoint (from Lat. contrapunctus, from contra punctum: ‘against note’; Fr. contrepoint; Ger. Kontrapunkt; It. contrappunto)locked

  • 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.)

Klaus-Jürgen Sachs

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’ (...

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