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I've begun reading the Alfred Mann translation of Fux's "Steps to
Parnassus". No later than the second page, there is dialogue between
Aloys. - "...the four rules in the preceding book?"
Joseph. - "I believe I know all of this."
[Ed. - ("I insert here the conclusion of the First Book, to which Fux
What is this first book? Who authored it?
Hello, there, and this book is indeed a quick set of rudiments
including some rules for progressing from one consonance to
another. As I recall:
(1) One progresses from a perfect to another perfect concord by
contrary motion (or sometimes oblique motion) rather than parallel or
(2) One progresses freely from perfect to imperfect concord, with all
varieties of motion available.
(3) One progresses freely from imperfect to imperfect concord.
(4) One progresses from imperfect to perfect concord by contrary (or
sometimes oblique) motion, at least as a general norm.
[A check of a text suggests that these are substantially what Fux says]
Anyway, these are general guidelines applying most consistently to
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I know that Gradus ad Parnassum lays down some exceptionally strict
rules about counterpoint. Did Palestrina write similarly prescriptive
rules for creating melodies, or Cantus Firmus?
Actually, I'm not sure about "exceptionally strict" -- Fux gives a
kind of early 18th-century perspective on what he regards as "the best
of 16th-century technique" for developing techniques that can be
applied to current styles (c. 1725), also. In Fux's view -- and this
is important, and a big controversy in early 18th-century German music
theory -- modern music of the time is still based on the system of
modes, albeit with some innovations and licenses. Other people are
arguing that a system of 24 major and minor keys is the basis for
modern technique, with quite a lot of excitement in the 1710's on this
The modern developments are emphasized in Fux's later sections of
_Gradus ad Parnassum_, where he discusses liberties with the taking of
dissonances, for example, and the technique of fugue.
As for Palestrina himself, he seems to teach mostly be example, indeed
setting a standard for a "severe style" where dissonance is ever so
finely regulated, in comparison with lots of 16th-century practice
(sacred and secular). There is an interesting letter he wrote, in one
of Jeppesen's books, to a noble and student of his about certain
points of counterpoint, which Jeppesen takes in one passage to counsel
a preference for avoding certain progressions where a sixth moves to a
fifth by similar motion (something that sort of ties in with Fux's
general guidelines for moving between consonances).
There are lots of 16th-century counterpoint manuals, and these show
how the rules were being viewed at the time. Gioseffo Zarlino's
_Musical Institutions_ of 1558, and more specifically the Third Book
on counterpoint, is probably the most important text, with lots of
people borrowing or quoting from him.
Some of the rules and methods found in Fux seem to come from the epoch
around 1600, with Girolamo Diruta and Adriano Banchieri presenting
things like certain types of counterpoint (note against note, two
notes against one, consonant or dissonant suspensions, four notes
against one, florid combinations of these) that become a basis for the
species approach, and axioms about how to move from a perfect to
another perfect consonance, or imperfect to perfect, etc.
Of course, some of the rules of counterpoint are much older: the term
"counterpoint" (or _contrapunctus_, originally meaning a simple
two-voice style with "point against point" or note against note) seems
to date around 1300.
Diruta makes an interesting distinction between "observant"
counterpoint, a stricter variety about thing like approaching perfect
consonances by contrary or oblique rather than similar motion, and
"common" counterpoint, which allows licenses like similar motion to a
perfect consonance as long as direct parallel perfect consonances are
avoided (a standard rule holding consistently in "serious"
compositions starting by around 1450). The idea is that observant
counterpoint is most elegant to compose, but "common" counterpoint is
easier to improvise at a keyboard, for example.
People like Thomas Morley (1597), the author of a fine treatise called
_A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music_ with large portions
devoted to counterpoint (also known as descant) and composition, note
certain liberties like the practice in some Italian styles of "hitting
an octave on its face" -- that is, approaching an octave by similar
motion. Morley disapproves it, and cautions his students not to
imitate this kind of "less observant" style, as Diruta might call it,
but his criticism illustrates how tastes or degrees of "contrapuntal
correctness" could vary.