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#1150406 - 09/09/07 02:26 PM Another Fux question - Harmosis, SuperL?  
Joined: Jul 2007
Posts: 337
ZeroZero Offline
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ZeroZero  Offline
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I am trying to decipher Fux and am getting a bit bogged down in the theory of his time - the nomoclature and the way music was thought about in his time.
Could someone give me an overview of the way that harmony was thought of in this day? Just the basics - for the purpose of Fx.
For example I understand counterpoint was based on modes - but no locrian mode and that the perfect fourth was called something else - sometimes the "devil in musica". A basic overview to act like a kind of preface...

I am seeking to convert historical theoretical concepts from the language of Fux, into something pragmatic expressed in modenr terms

Maybe someone can provide me with some pointers about how not to get confused withthe language?

I know my jazz modes, but not absolutely certain about the Church modes of Fux, I know that the major minor thinking about harmony was not developed in FUx's time, but not sure of the detail

All I really want to do is learn Counterpoint for my own use in composing and not from a particularly historical perspective. I want to be able to use the rules for myself, learning rudiments first - in a pragmatic way.

Maybe this is a lot to ask! But hey this is a good forum!



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#1150407 - 09/09/07 03:09 PM Re: Another Fux question - Harmosis, SuperL?  
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The short answer to your question is that harmony was not thought of in his day. The idea of chord progressions was foreign to baroque writers. The horizontal aspect was far more important than the vertical.

Something that people often miss about counterpoint is that it doesn't focus on the vertical - it's more a set of principles by which multiple horizontal lines fit together.

From that, one principle you might take is that the musical lines must compliment each other, not match. Watch design shows on television - the idea is that colors compliment; mix reds and browns and yellows, don't just use a bunch of different reds. That's the problem I see most often in people just starting out with counterpoint.

"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

#1150408 - 09/09/07 04:17 PM Re: Another Fux question - Harmosis, SuperL?  
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Harmosis Offline
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Well, by the time of Fux (1660-1741), harmony was certainly thought of! Tonality was well established. The harmony of Fux's day was the harmony of the Baroque composers like Bach and Handel. Fux's counterpoint is very much concerned with the vertical, not just the horizontal, as his rules of dissonance and consonance attest, not to mention his introduction of the harmonic triad in three-part counterpoint.

In his Gradus Ad Parnassum, Fux was attempting to put forth the style of Palestrina for pedagogical purposes, but he had placed in some contemporary idioms, that were not of Palestrina, in the treatise, possibly without being aware of it. The point of the book is learning counterpoint, but not necessarily modal counterpoint. In fact, Albrechtsberger disposed of the modal aspect of Fux’s cantus firmi, using a tonal approach for his students (which include Beethoven).

Fux’s book is not one for learning the style of Palestrina or the Ecclesiastical modes; it is for learning good voice leading and the treatment of dissonances.

#1150409 - 09/10/07 01:57 AM Re: Another Fux question - Harmosis, SuperL?  
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Zero, the language barrier can definitely be a problem when wading through these Theory treatises. I would suggest you go to your local University library, go to the music section and look up the term "modes" in the New Grove Dictionary of Music. The New Grove is the most authoritative source for music terms, etc in English. Also, you might want to invest in the Harvard dictionary of Music. Many of these terms will be in there as well, although the entries are less exhaustive than the New Grove.

By the way, the perfect fourth was not called the devil in music, it was referred to as a diatesseron. I don't remember if Fux uses that term or not, can't remember off the top of my head. If he is using this terminology, then you also might need to know these: Perfect 5th is diapente, Octave is diapason. The devil in music is the tritone, referred to by early theorists as "the interval which can not be sung" (rough English translation) and also as "mi contra fa" (e.g. "mi" of the C hexachord and "fa" of the F hexachord).

I agree with Harmosis that vertical harmony was certainly in practice in 1725 when the Fux treatise was written. It was not however understood quite like we do today. Rameau's 1722 treatise really began to clarify contemporary compositional practice in theoretical terms. It was really this treatise that opened the door to our modern understanding of traditional theoretical thought. For an understanding of the historical context within which Fux was writing his treatise, I refer you to an introduction of an old paper I wrote a few years back in a History of Theory class. I have included the exerpt below . . .

The significance of Fux’s 1725 contrapuntal treatise Gradus ad Parnassum may only be fully understood within the historical and musical context within which it was written. In the preface to his English translation entitled The Study of Counterpoint, Alfred Mann traces the relevant history of musical theoretical compositional thought leading to and surrounding Fux’s Gradus. The earliest studies in “counterpoint” were quite different in nature to what Fux proposes in his treatise. As Mann explains, the phrase from which we derive the English word “counterpoint” is “punctus contra punctum,” and was itself a derivative of the concept of “discantus,” originally connoting a part writing procedure that left no room for improvisational freedom, but whose rhythm was strictly measured “note against note.” The first appearance of the word “contrapunctus” is in the treatises of the fourteenth century, associated with the generation of Johannes de Garlandia, Johannes de Muris, and Philippe de Vitry, and understood to be an important concept in the compositional practice of the Ars Nova. With the development of polyphony in the fifteenth century by the Burgundian and Flemish masters, the complexity of counterpoint began to be fully exploited, consequently causing a need for clear theoretical explanation of this “New Art.” The first to systematize contrapuntal procedures was Johannes Tinctoris, whose 1477 treatise on counterpoint distinguishes between note against note (which he terms “simple”) and one note against two or more (which he refers to as “diminished.”) A generation or so later, as compositional masters such as Palestrina and Willaert were continuing to develop the compositional possibilities of counterpoint within their own social and musical framework, Gioseffo Zarlino further codified the “rules” of contrapuntal composition, basing his ideas on the practice of Willaert (with whom he studied). Zarlino’s contrapuntal treatise outlines specific details defining consonances and dissonances, and regulating the manner in which these should be treated. Because of his influence as maestro di cappella of St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice (one of the most prestigious musical positions in Italy), Zarlinos “rules” seem to have been generally accepted in his generation. This conventional understanding of how tones are to be treated in counterpoint was challenged at the turn of the following century, as Claudio Monteverdi’s fifth book of madrigals came under attack in 1600 by Zarlino’s student Giovanni Artusi. Artusi took issue with Monteverdi’s use of unprepared dissonance with “incorrect” resolution, claiming that Monteverdi had violated the established rules of counterpoint. Monteverdi’s reply was simply that there was a “practice other than that taught by Zarlino,” and that this music constituted a style of its own. This new approach of compositional practice ushered in by Monteverdi continued for the next hundred years without clear definition of any rules within which it was governed. In 1722, the French theorist Jean-Phillippe Rameau attempted to define this new music based on theoretical grounds. Rameau’s new ideas regarding harmony would consequently lead to a new fundamental musical distinction between harmony and counterpoint. As Rameau’s treatise took the initial steps in explaining new compositional practices relating to harmony, clearly defined procedures for writing contrapuntally in the new style were as yet undefined. It is in this context that Fux, finding himself in a musical “torrent rushing precipitously beyond its bounds” attempts to stop the compositional “unrestrained insanity” by writing a method book for young composers to learn in a sequential fashion. Fux uses the contrapuntal style of Palestrina as a model for the “rules” in the treatise, and through the form of dialogue, Aloysius (Palestrina) takes his student Joseph (presumably Fux himself) through a series of lessons in contrapuntal writing, correcting his mistakes and answering theoretical questions along the way. Significant is the fact that Fux chose Palestrina as the compositional model for the style, and equally significant is the choice of Latin in which to translate the work. As one whose intent is to “make laws,” Fux covertly calls on the authority of the Roman Catholic Church to do so. Working in Vienna, the seat of the Habsburg Empire, Fux represents the authority of the church. He uses Palestrina (a Roman Catholic composer of high regard and most widely known for his masses) and the choice of the Latin language (the official language of the Catholic Church) in order to strengthen the force of his authority in making these new laws.

#1150410 - 09/10/07 07:05 AM Re: Another Fux question - Harmosis, SuperL?  
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ZeroZero Offline
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thanks for the replies vguys - yes it was thde tritone! I shall study them

#1150411 - 09/10/07 07:14 AM Re: Another Fux question - Harmosis, SuperL?  
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Is english your first language? I don't see anything about the language of Fux (in translation) that is challenging. Other than a few terms which may not be understood at first but are explained.
Obviously it is not written as a textbook, it is a dialogue.

Also what is it particularly about the "theory" that you are being bogged down by? It is not a theory book.

I would suggest re-reading the chapters several times. Are you doing the exercises so you can apply what you are learning?

Just read the book and forget everything you know about music, other than intervals. It is really a simple book. Can you articulate your difficulty with it a little more precisely?

working on:
Goldberg Variations
#1150412 - 09/10/07 04:40 PM Re: Another Fux question - Harmosis, SuperL?  
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ZeroZero Offline
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ZeroZero  Offline
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Read up about modes, church modes and so forth, got a smattering (only) of knowledge of the state of music theory in Fux's time, and this has helped me with understanding what Fux is NOT saying, which really helps.
It seems, as you allude to SuperLocrian, the conceptual foundation for music was entirely different, so Fux is not able to say - "OK lets resolve this Tritone to a Dominant" and stuff like that.

JW - Yes my first language is English. Language has changed a lot since Fux wrote this work. YOu say Fux is simple - short it is, but not simple - profound too I guess. What I am having trouble with is ditinguishing what may have been custom in Baroque, from a more objective approach to what works in modern counterpoint. Dont get me wrong though - I HAVE gained quite a few insights from Fux, I am just posting the unsolved problemette's here - thats all!

I have taken to reading Kent Kennon simultaneously with the Fux - maybe this will help

Thanks for all your help guys - it really HAS helped, appreciated


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