An Intersection of Counterpoint and Harmony

Robert Gauldin

I would like to begin by isolating a particular problem that has frequently arisen in my tonal or Baroque counterpoint class. Following the composition of diatonic first-species counterpoint to a given chorale cantus, I then relax the usual Fuxian restraints by permitting the occasional use of note-against-note chordal dissonance, adhering to the general soprano-bass guidelines in the chorale chapter of the Salzer-Schachter Counterpoint in Composition and in the Bach's own settings of chorale tunes. At the same time, applied dominants are introduced to expand the harmonic vocabulary and provide either transient tonicizarions within the phrase or full-fledged modulations at the cadence. Nevertheless, I find that students are frequently reluctant to abandon their former diatonic settings - settings that may limit the melodic possibilities of the counterpointing voice. They tend to overlook the technique of scale-degree reinterpretation, whereby scale steps of the original key may function as different degrees in related transient tonicizarions. Nor are students always aware of latent sequential possibilities existing in the cantus part that may be realized in the other voice. The application of these procedures opens up new and different melodic vistas in the counterpointing voice that were not formerly feasible in strict diatonic settings. Some examples of these techniques, which are part and parcel of Baroque chorale harmonizations, are illustrated in Example 1. The first phrase of the cantus tune O Haupt voll Blut (in the upper voice) is accompanied by a note-against-note setting in the bass; figured bass symbols denote the implied harmonies. As we inject various tonicizations or harmonic sequential patterns, the bass voice begins to assume radically different melodic shapes. While some of the outer-voice settings are Bach's, others are original.