Summer ad Parnassum

Since I’m not teaching this summer, I started a list of all the things I’d be doing to fill the void my students have left behind. This list happens each summer and typically includes a Herculean exercise regimen and learning a programming language. And sewing. And composing all those pieces I told people I would write “when the summer comes around and I have time again.” Naturally, these things don’t happen. I get some sewing done, maybe ring modulate some sine waves in SuperCollider, and then late August is upon me.

I have a better project this time. I’m teaching counterpoint next semester and after a very disheartening search for textbooks I decided to use Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassum. Long story short on the textbook search: this is a 1 semester counterpoint class and will be populated mainly by music performance majors. The texts that currently exist are period specific, much too expensive, or do silly things like exclude printed musical examples of any kind. The course will be 50/50 writing and analysis so between the Fux and IMSLP I should be all set on source materials.

I love species counterpoint. Love. It. When I was transitioning from “broken pianist” to “burgeoning composition student” I wandered into the university library looking for counterpoint books. I had heard that composers needed to study it but didn’t really know what that meant. In the happiest accident of my life, I instinctively picked up the Salzer/Schachter Counterpoint in Composition and started working through it.

So now I’m actually reading the Fux for the first time. I’ve owned a copy for years but have never actually worked through it cover to cover. I read through the two-part writing section while giving theory finals and find the book rather charming. I especially enjoy this quote:

“…why I should be doing so [writing about  music] just at this time when music has become almost arbitrary and composers refuse to be bound by any rules and principles, detesting the very name of school and law like death itself.”

That is an awesome statement coming from 1725. Ranks right up there with Artusi’s bashing of Monteverdi in the 1600s. I also love Aloys’ reservation that Joseph might only be interested in studying composition because “perhaps the hope of future riches and possessions induces you to choose this life?” That is money, right there, I tell ya.

Anyhow, I’m going to work through this book this summer. Naturally, I shall blog about this. I’ll include my work and let all (both) of you critique and comment as much as you can stand. I also encourage you to play along. If there are Tumblr sites for Hipster Ariel, Hot Chicks in Batman Shirts, and Cats Where They Don’t Belong, then surely we can geek up the joint with some species counterpoint!

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