What Is Counterpoint? #MusicMonday

One of the greatest, weirdest little book genres are those encyclopedic accountings of how songs came to be. There are no less than four books like this on The Beatles. They’re fun because The Beatles a tremendously entertaining group of Liverpudlians who are also some of the greatest pop musicians of all time. That’s why a simple question like “Where did the idea for the song Blackbird come from?” can lead to Bach’s Bourrée in E minor and the great mysteries of counterpoint.

Here’s more from the indispensable Ethan Hein:

Counterpoint is a musical technique that combines two or more independent melody lines. It’s one of the characteristic sounds of Western classical music. Bach wrote a ton of it.

In Western classical composition, counterpoint is governed by strict rules, but it is also possible to create it through improvisation or intuition. For example, in Dixieland jazz, the clarinet and trombone improvise counterpoint around the trumpet melody.

If you want a truly great exploration of counterpoint that ends up in the paradoxical worlds of M.C. Escher and the infinite explorations of Gödel, check out Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstader.

More from Ethan Hein


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