Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Inversion Canon on a Fux Cantus

I decided to make a canon from the first cantus firmus (the assigned melody against which one writes a countermelody) in Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum, one of the most famous melodies in the history of counterpoint pedagogy.

Maggi and I had a couple of business meetings in Boston -- so, the half-hour train ride from Salem became my "limiting factor" today.

Here's the process:

1) I wrote out the Fux cantus and its inversion.
2) I tested the canonic possibilities at various time intervals (how much later the following voice enters) and harmonic intervals (the pitch distance between the voices)
3) I completed the simple canon below and sketched some other ideas that may bear fruit later.

The canon that I offer today is a canon in inversion at the 6th. I gave the inversion to the dux (Latin for "leader") and the original cantus to the comes ("attendant" or, if you wish "follower").

The result is a simple canon in a Fuxian 1st species (voices moving in the same rhythm). I've annotated the score to explain how I wrote it.

A word about languages: You may notice a fair amount of Latin here. Most of the early counterpoint treatises were in Latin, including the Fux, which, after all, was the most influential of them all. Therefore much Latin terminology creeps into the discourse. Eventually, I'll put together a glossary but, for now, I'll try to define them as we go.

Gradus ad Parnassum -- "Steps to Parnassus" Fux's text is notable for the gradual steps that make up his method of teaching.

Even the word "counterpoint" comes from Latin originally:
punctus contra punctum -- "point against point" (point=note, or in some usages"melody")

The word "canon" however, comes from the Greek KANĂ“N meaning "law."

Tomorrow, I'll look at another canon derived from Fux's cantus.

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