Counterpoint is a Piece of Cake: Renaissance Improvisation in a Modern University Course (In honorem Petri N. Sutoris)

Frauke J├╝rgensen

Renaissance counterpoint was for a long time a mainstay of university and conservatoire music degrees, aimed primarily at the composer and musicologist: a time-intensive subject, it has recently has fallen out of favor in increasingly broad curricula with a more diverse student body. Traditionally, counterpoint was taught using rule-based methods that were developed long after the musical style itself. Peter Schubert’s textbook Modal Counterpoint, Renaissance Style (2005) was seminal in returning to the theoretical and pedagogical sources of the period, although the underlying approach was still modern, species-based. More recent research (including Schubert) has revealed pedagogical approaches of the Renaissance, which were based in improvisation techniques that were taught to children. These techniques are also time-intensive, limiting their wholesale applicability in a short course in the context of a modern university. This article demonstrates how selected exercises based on historical improvisation techniques can be blended with a species-based approach to address a fundamental problem encountered in a time-constrained course: familiarity with the stylistic treatment of consonance and dissonance.