Module 9: Imitative Polyphony
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|E.E. Cummings, "Five",
after all white horses are
-e. e. cummings
|E.E. Cummings, "Five",
if i have made, my lady, intricate
-e. e. cummings
|Questions on musical works
(Before answering the following questions, you may find it helpful to review Reading 1, the Sonic Glossary entry "Imitative Polyphony.")
For each of the musical works:
Is more than one melody imitated over the course of the work? (In the case of the Amir Arjomand work, the word "melody" is broadly defined.) If so, how are the melodies after the first one introduced?
How many voices participate in each round of imitation? (In cases where you can't decide on an exact number, make guesses.) In the examples by Josquin and Amir Arjomand, does the number of voices have any significance for the text that is imitated?
After all the voices enter, does the texture stay the same or does it change?
Is imitation of some kind always going on, or does it come and go?
Are the "points of imitation" (times when imitation happens) systematically deployed? That is, can you predict when the next one is going to happen?
Does a melody that is imitated come back later? If so, is it somehow modified or transformed when it comes back?
1. Imitative Polyphony
A musical texture featuring two or more equally prominent, simultaneous melodic lines, those lines being similar in shape and sound.
Polyphony is usually divided into two main types: imitative and non-imitative. Either the various melodic lines in a polyphonic passage may sound similar to one another, or they may be completely independent in their rhythm and contour. If the individual lines are similar in their shapes and sounds, the polyphony is termed imitative; but if the strands show little or no resemblance to each other, it is non-imitative. Each of these types may also mix with or succeed one other in a musical passage.
In contrast to the independence of the musical lines in non-imitative polyphony, imitative polyphony allows the members of a polyphonic texture to share audible features of the melodic material, as they echo portions of it among the various parts. Although imitative polyphony may appear in music from a variety of cultures, it is particularly prominent in Western European art music. Similarly, although it appears in medieval compositions from as early as the 13th century, imitative polyphonic textures were especially exploited in music from the later Renaissance and the Baroque periods, from approximately 1500-1750. In the following example of imitative polyphony--a vocal composition from the Renaissance written by Josquin des Prez--each of the four voice parts begins successively with the same musical phrase. This opening phrase begins alone in the highest of the parts, and then works its way down to the lowest voice in the texture. Each of the entering voices thus imitates its predecessor as it presents its material [Example 1: Josquin, Ave Maria, Virgo Serena, stanza 1].
But significantly, after each of the parts has sung its opening phrase, it does not resort to accompanying material; instead it continues to spin further melodic phrases that are also taken up by each member of the ensemble in turn. As a result, each of the four participants in this texture retains its musical identity and interest throughout this section of the piece--they all are thus truly polyphonic. And, since each of the parts also recalls the others with similar sounding material, the polyphonic texture is imitative. The same principles of sharing musical material among the various melodic lines can be heard in these two selections from instrumental compositions by the Baroque composer J.S. Bach. As in the previous example, each part enters individually with a similar musical phrase, and then continues to act as an important participant as the piece progresses. The first example shows the procedure in an orchestral context [Example 2: J.S. Bach: Third Orchestral Suite, "Overture"]. The second demonstrates imitative polyphony in a piece for solo harpsichord, played by a single performer. [Example 3: J.S. Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, Fugue no 2 in C minor (opening)]
Summary: Polyphony may be imitative or non-imitative, depending on how closely the various musical lines resemble each other. If the individual lines are similar in their shapes and sounds, the polyphony is termed imitative; but if the strands show little or no resemblance to each other, it is non-imitative. Each of these types may also mix with or succeed one another in a musical passage. Imitative polyphony is associated particularly with Western music from the later Renaissance and the Baroque periods.
2. Zarlino ÷ The Art of
...The voice that begins the
fugue, whether strict or free, is called the guide, and the voice that
follows it is called the consequent. When these voices are separated from
one another by a minim or semibreve rest, or certain other rests, the
resulting fugues are the most intelligible because of the proximity of
the parts to one another. The ear comprehends their relationship best
when the voices are close together in time, and for this reason composers
strive to keep them so, if possible, in fugal writing. But constant practice
of this close imitation has resulted in such a common idiom that a fugal
pattern cannot be found that has not been used thousands of times by various
|3. Marpurg's Abhandlung
von der Fuge (Paper on Fugue): Imitation and fugue in general
1. The restatement of a subject by use of the same tones in the same part is called repetition. The restatement of a subject by use of different tones in the same part is called transposition. The restatement of a subject through repetition in different parts is called imitation...
3. The alternating use of one subject in various parts may occur not only at the unison but also at all other intervals. Hence there are eight general species of imitation [corresponding to eight standardized sizes of interval]...
4. ...an imitation in similar motion is that kind of imitation in which one voice answers the other, using the same direction of interval progressions; an imitation in dissimilar or inverted motion is that kind of imitation in which the ascending intervals in the preceding part become descending in the following part, or vice versa...
6. In some instances of imitation, the second part will follow the first part, using changed note values. If this occurs with increased note values, for example with notes twice the original value, so that eighth notes become quarters and quarters become half notes [i.e. twice as long, twice as slow], it is called imitation in augmentation. If it occurs with decreased note values, for example with notes half their original value, so that half notes become quarters and quarters become eighth notes, it is called imitation in diminution.
10. All the kinds of imitation which have been discussed are either periodic or canonic.
a) Periodic imitation is that form of imitation in which the part which follows uses only a short portion of the opening part...
b) Canonic imitation is that form of imitation in which the part which follows uses the melodic line of the opening part, note for note throughout. [A round, such as "Row, row, row your boat," involves canonic imitation.]
11. Periodic imitation in all its kinds and species may be used in two ways:
a) Incidental periodic imitation, which, according to the judgment of the composer, may occur here and there in various instrumental and vocal compositions, such as solo sonatas, duets, trios, quartets, concertos, symphonies, cantatas, and arias.
b) Formal periodic imitation, which restricts the imitative use of a basic subject by certain rules to certain places. Such a composition, which is based on a definite theme imitatively developed in various voices under certain rules in a continuous, uninterrupted manner, is called a periodic fugue.
12. Thus there are two major categories of fugues, namely canonic and periodic. This treatise encompasses both categories. We shall follow common usage, however, and call the canonic fugue simply canon and the periodic fugue, simply fugue.
13. Since a fugue can be written with two, three, four, or more parts, we have to distinguish between two-part fugues, three-part fugues, four-part fugues, and fugues for more than four parts.
14. In all fugues five characteristic elements are to be distinguished:
a) The first or opening statement, or the theme: phonagogos in Greek; dux, thema, subjectum, vox antecedens in Latin; sujet in French. All of these terms refer to the basic melodic line with which the fugue opens.
b) The answer or second statement: comes, vox consequens in Latin; risposta or conseguenza in Italian; reponse in French. These terms refer to the repetition of the opening melodic line as it appears in another voice transposed to a higher or lower register.
c) The exposition: repercussio in Latin. This term applies to the arrangement by which the opening statement and the answer are alternately heard in different registers [i.e., high and low]. It is often wrongly used to designate the answer.
d) The counterpart or counterparts [sometimes referred to as countersubject]. These terms are used for the free melodic writing in the parts which are placed against the fugal theme.
e) The episodes. This term refers to the portions which serve as connection between the different expositions while the theme is not used.
15. A fugue, the characteristic elements of which are properly arranged according to the rules, is called a regular fugue. A fugue in which these elements are not so arranged but rather are arbitrarily handled is called an irregular fugue. There are different kinds of irregular fugues, distinguished according to the various ways in which one consideration or another may be followed. No special instructions are needed in this respect, since it is easier to depart from the rules than to follow them. Irregular fugues have often appeared under the title caprice in the keyboard literature. On the other hand, regular fugues were often given the name caprice by Frescobaldi, Froberger, d'Anglebert, and other masters of their time. In such a case, the term was applied to fugues written on a theme using short note values, so that the entire composition showed rather quick movement. During this period, a composition entitled fugue was allowed slow and deliberate rhythmic movement only...
16. A regular fugue is either strict or free, according to the treatment of the theme.
a) A strict fugue is a fugue which deals throughout its course with almost nothing but the theme. The theme will reappear immediately after the first exposition, if not in its entirety at least in various components. From the theme, or from the counterpart which is set against the answer which repeats the theme, are derived all other accompanying melodic lines and all episodes by either abbreviation, augmentation, diminution, change of rhythm, or the like. All these forms of the original thematic material are then logically combined in harmonic treatment. If such a strict fugue is carried out at length, and if it contains a number of contrapuntal artifices, such as various kinds of imitation, double counterpoint, canonic writing, and modulations, it may be given the Italian name ricercare or ricercata ÷ a fugue showing utmost skill, a master fugue. Such are most of the fugues of J. S. Bach.
b) A free fugue is a fugue which does not deal with the theme throughout. The theme or its various components do not appear at all times, though rather often; and whenever the theme is relinquished, the techniques of imitation and transposition are applied to a short, well-chosen secondary subject which is related in character to the theme or its counterpart, but not necessarily derived directly from them. Such are most of the fugues by Handel.
Questions on readings
Reading 2: Gioseffo Zarlino
After laying the basic groundwork of counterpoint in Chapters 1 and 27 (and in many other chapters not included here), Zarlino discusses in Chapter 51 the issue of the time delay between imitative entries. How well do the works in this module satisfy Zarlino's preferences?
Reading 3: Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg
In the fugue by Bach, can you locate the five elements listed by Marpurg in point 14? Can you locate them in the movement by Bartok, which is also considered a fugue? Is the Bach fugue a strict fugue or a free fugue, according to Marpurg's distinction in point 16? (Put another way: Marpurg claims that Bach's fugues are mostly strict fugues. Is he right about this one?) Is the Bartok fugue strict or free?