New Options for Teaching Counterpoint

Artikel 26.07.2013 14:23

Western music theory can be applied to any religious context.

When I was studying in New York for my Bachelor's degree in composition, I often felt a little uneasy about how music theory and counterpoint were taught. I was certainly not the only Jewish student - in fact Christians might have been in the minority in those classes - yet our examples for theory were taken almost exclusively from the genre of music written for the Church. Whenever anyone made a reference to sacred music, it was almost always Catholic sacred music (unless it was by Bach or Brahms or Mendelssohn, whose religious music transcended their Protestantism). Music that I considered sacred - music written for Jewish ceremonial purposes - was hardly recognized as part of the repertoire, let alone used or performed.

I decided only a short time ago that this needed to change. In the last few months I've been involved in producing a new edition of the famous collection Hashirim Asher liSh'lomoh - The Songs of Solomon - the collection of what one may call "spiritual madrigals" by Salamone de Rossi of Mantua, first written in 1623. I made two versions of this edition: one for singers (to sing at any appropriate occasion), and one in Rossi's original clefs. The latter I am slowly publishing here, for the sake of music theory instructors. No longer does a counterpoint teacher need to ask a student to trust Palestrina and Lassus to dictate the rules of theory - the student can be shown that these rules could apply to any place, even the synagogues and Sabbath tables of Italian Jews. Rossi was also a friend of Monteverdi's, and had clearly studied a wide range of polyphonic music (including the obscure motets of Gesualdo), and he was one of the innovators of the Italian Baroque era. So it is only natural that his music should be used as examples for how counterpoint and harmony work.

I invite music teachers everywhere to reacquaint themselves with this great collection, which I am publishing myself. There are over 30 motets, and one will have the option of downloading them individually or as a complete set. First come the 3-part motets, and more pieces for more voices will follow soon.


Alain Lefebure

culminated roman christian period,therefore the study of a very specific time and style.
This method produced great composers: Bach,Mozart,Beethoven,Weber,Schumann and so on who used it to make other styles of music. That might explain why the academic teaching praises this method,which is not the case in France that favors more recent methods with the same imperfection.
Difference between catholism and protestantism is less obvious in counterpoint than in harmony,after Rameau's theories.

By including various cultures,contemporary music is kind of returning to the origin.-Just like what you are doing. Congratulations for looping the loop.

Remember,teaching and composing are often diverging, especially in fugue study where stupid advocations make the great J.s Bach faulty!

Despite many teachers awareness of these abnormalities,nothing changes.
Best regards.

Alain Lefebure

Hi,rebellious friend
I understand your first student feeling which is shared by many students
whatever their religion. However, I'm afraid your afterward thought processes
went in the reverse order of the music history.
Modern music,I mean the one that succeed to the ancient greek music, more
academically named Western music, was ,in my opinion,clearly born from
Christianity to serve its own religion but, beside few greek remains as
pythagorean intervals,the main musical basis of western music stem from Judaic
and Byzantine sources which yield Gregorian chants;The only european
characteristic herein being the Latin language.
Later on, a very slow integration of european celtic sources,as third and
sixths intervals,resulted in counterpoint emergence.So, what you had been taught
(I presume Fux-Jeppensen) is a gathering of relatively late (about 1000 years
time of western music)sparse and various materials ,adapted to a pre-tonal music
700 years later at the culminated roman christian period,the

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