Sunday, March 28, 2010


There are some things you only see and hear clearly in those moments when you are alone. And only recently have I had enough solitude to look and listen. And the result? After many many months of silence, I feel as though I have something to write again in my terribly neglected blog.

I have been thinking of baroque music, specifically, of counterpoint.

Most generally, counterpoint is multiple lines of music each of which are different and independent but sound "good" when played together.

When music students study "species counterpoint", there are myriad rules to follow - specifics of how melodies are resolved and so forth. It's an exercise involving highly defined structures. And one of the most overarching "rules" is that the focus is on the individual melodies and the interaction among them rather than on the harmonies produced when played simultaneously.

But when independent melodies are played at the same time, it's inevitable that multiple notes will sound simultaneously. And those vertical elements are chords - harmony. It's impossible to write simultaneous lines without producing harmony; it's impossible to write harmonies without producing a horizontal "melody." Finding a good balance between the two dimensions (vertical and horizontal) is one of the hardest things to do when writing counterpoint.

Put it this way, it's hard enough to write ONE beautiful melody. Now imagine writing multiple beautiful melodies that all sound good when played together.

This is one of the many reasons Bach is so brilliant. His counterpoint doesn't merely find a good balance between the harmonies and the melodies - it is a profound synthesis of the two dimensions. The individual melodic lines remain beautiful and complex and fascinating, and yet all together, the harmonics are rich and produce a beautiful "line" in and of themselves.

I can't help but think of how this could be applied to personal relationships. It's all too easy for one melody to dominate, and the other melody to get simplified to the point where it becomes mere harmonic "back up". And that can be beautiful too. But it's not counterpoint. The beauty of counterpoint lies in the interaction of independent melodies, each beautiful and worthy in its own right. Counterpoint requires discipline, adherence to a myriad of complicated rules, and... grace. But I hope, not the genius of Bach.

1 comment:

MomVee said...

Welcome back, dear. A triumphant return.