counterpoint, in music, the art of combining melodies each of which is independent though forming part of a homogeneous texture. The term derives from the Latin for “point against point,” meaning note against note in referring to the notation of plainsong. The academic study of counterpoint was long based on Gradus ad Parnassum (1725, tr. 1943) by Johann Joseph Fux (1660–1741), an Austrian theorist and composer. This work formulates the study of counterpoint into five species—note against note, two notes against one, four notes against one, syncopation, and florid counterpoint, which combines the other species. Countless textbooks have followed this method, but since the early 20th cent. several theorists have based their courses in counterpoint on a direct study of 16th-century contrapuntal practice. The early master composers of contrapuntal music include Palestrina, Lasso, and Byrd. Polyphonic forms were later given a most brilliant and sophisticated expression during the baroque era in the works of J. S. Bach. See also polyphony; imitation.
See W. Piston, Counterpoint (1947); H. Searle, Twentieth Century Counterpoint (1954).
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