Textures and Counterpoint

  • Tutor: Dr Neil Sorrell
  • Level: C/4 (1st year students), I/5 (2nd year students), H/6 (3rd year students)
  • Module codes: MUS00025H, MUS00036I, MUS00036C

Aims and content

To find a fresh and exciting approach to a topic often thought intimidating and arid. To stimulate the imagination (and hopefully boost confidence, partly through the removal of any distinction between ‘composers’ and ‘non-composers’, ‘singers’ and ‘non-singers’, and other barriers) by selecting some of the contrasting and often highly dramatic ways in which counterpoint has been put to use. To explore the variety of counterpoint and concomitant textures in Western art music and one or two other musical cultures in the world, disentangling such terms as polyphony and heterophony.  The Project will be hands-on, trying out some of the textures in performance, and written exercises, leading to the acquisition and refinement of specific musical techniques and extension of modes of thinking. While the emphasis will be on traditional Western techniques over as wide a historical span (from the Middle Ages, through Bach and Beethoven to the present) as allowed in the time, there will be a consideration of their place in the rather unusual context of folk vocal polyphony and instrumental ‘heterophony’ (notably from Southeast Asia).

Assessment

  • Option 1: 100% composition (with written commentary, c.500-1,000 words)
  • Option 2: 75% composition (with written commentary, c.400-750 words); 25% performance of your own work, original or arranged/edited.
  • Option 3: 75% composition (with written commentary, c.400-750 words); 25% essay (approximately 1,500 words).

Reading and listening

You are not required to read these before the Project as it may help to go through the principal techniques first in class.

  • Bullivant, Roger (1971): Fugue (London: Hutchinson).  
  • Dickinson, A. E. F. (1979): Bach's fugal works : with an account of fugue before and after Bach (Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press).
  • Heinrich, Adel (c1983): Bach's Die Kunst der Fuge : a living compendium of fugal procedures, with a motivic analysis of all the fugues (Lanham, MD : University Press of America).
  • Searle, Humphrey (1954): Twentieth Century Counterpoint: a guide for students (London: E. Benn).
  • Walker, Paul (2000): Theories of fugue from the age of Josquin to the age of Bach (Rochester, NY ; Woodbridge, UK : University of Rochester Press. Eastman studies in music 1071-9989 ; v. 13).   

Listening (only a selection from the music planned for the Project):

  • Byrd: 4-part Mass          
  • Purcell: String Fantasias and In Nomines
  • Bach: The Art of Fugue, The Musical Offering, B Minor Mass and ‘the 48’
  • Mozart: (Adagio and) Fugue in C minor (K. 546), Requiem, Jupiter Symphony
  • Beethoven: Grosse Fuge Op.133, C# minor quartet Op.131, ‘Hammerklavier’ sonata Op.106, sonata Op.110, 3rd, 7th and 9th Symphonies
  • Brahms: 4th Symphony
  • Bartók: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta

Learning outcomes

By the end of the taught part of the module all students should:

  • understand the basic principles of fugue;
  • acquire and extend techniques of manipulating musical material;
  • increase awareness and mastery of a cornerstone of Western tradition and gain some insight into the richness and variety of musical textures around the world.

First years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes A1-A6 & A9-A10

Second years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes B1-B6 & B9-B10

Third years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes C1-C6 & C9-C10