Inside the Music | Counterpoint | Early Baroque | Classical
The term ‘counterpoint’ is derived from the Latin contra punctum (‘[note] against note’). It is generally understood to refer to a technique of composition in which continuous lines move (horizontally) against each other, as opposed to chordal writing, in which the sound can be thought of in vertical blocks. Strictly speaking, these two types of writing are called polyphony (‘many sounds’) and homophony (‘same sound’); chordal considerations are not absent from polyphony, nor melodic ones from homophony.
The sacred vocal works of Palestrina, in which each voice plays an equal role in the musical structure, are often described as one peak of the contrapuntal art, while, at the end of the Baroque era, J. S. Bach represents another. Bach’s fugues are the most obvious examples of his contrapuntal skill, but equally skilful is the counterpoint between voice and accompaniment in the arias of his vocal works, or the illusion of contrapuntal lines in his works for solo instruments, particularly in the suites for unaccompanied cello.
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