Every once and a while, I sit back an try to examine who I am as a composer. Some of the questions I may ask myself are:
- Am I creating music that is meaningful?
- Will anyone want to listen to my music when I am gone?
- What is the missing ingredient?
For a long time now, I have known at least one answer to the last question – what is the missing ingredient? For me, this is obvious.
I am missing a serious grounding in counterpoint.
The Problems I Face When Learning Counterpoint
My problem? I normally start the journey to counterpoint, and then I find I don’t really finish it, because of several reasons.
- I usually end up getting stuck on just deciding whether I should be trying to learn 16th century counterpoint or 18th century counterpoint, or any other century for that matter. There seems to be, at least at first glance, big differences in the treatment of both of these types of counterpoint.
- Being alone in my venture (i.e. not having an in person teacher), I go back and forth on which books to use and read. This can be a devastating issue if you are like me, and tend to switch books every ten seconds. I probably am reading about 6 different books at anyone time. This prevents me from focusing.
- Most devastating, is that I tend to spend more of my time learning counterpoint, by reading and thinking, instead of doing. By this I mean I am not getting down to business and doing the exercises.
But now I have gotten to the point, where I don’t see anyway forward without buckling down and really learning counterpoint. I feel like I have hit an emotional wall when it comes to my composing. I can imagine what is over the wall – a land full of new possibilities and understanding.
So to correct my own problems, I am going to proceed as follows:
I will be starting off with 16th century counterpoint. In particular, I will be learning counterpoint in the style of Palestrina. In connection with the second problem, my main book will be Counterpoint: The Polyphonic Vocal Style of the Sixteenth Century, by Knud Jeppesen. The reason for choosing this book is because:
- It has been around for a while
- Seems to have stood the test of time
- Most importantly, it is connected directly with a particular composer’s style. I will elaborate on this in a later article.
Because I can’t help myself, I also have two other books. These are really just for reference, to try and answer questions that may be raised or not clear from Jeppesen’s book. These are Gradus ad Parnassum by Johann Fux and A Practical Approach to 16th Century Counterpoint by Robert Gauldin.
One last thing before we continue our journey. I am a firm believe in setting goals. These goals must be clear with a tangible end product. If they are not, then you can easily forget why you are moving towards that goal and eventually fall off the band wagon. So here is my goal:
I would like to write a Mass in the style of Palestrina.
Will you join me on my journey?