[Smt-talk] Gradus ab Parnasu

Stephen Soderberg hyperchord at me.com
Mon Jan 27 06:05:13 PST 2014

OK, I lied, so you'll all be relieved to know that I'm not tutoring anyone. The attachment was an actual exercise, but no one will meet its author as a freshman in class next year. My imaginary "student" is Henry Cowell & the example is Exercise 1 from his Notebook. It was lifted from an excellent dissertation I happened to be reading last week, "Substituting a New Order": Dissonant Counterpoint, Henry Cowell, and the Network of Ultra-Modern Composers (2010) by John Spilker (available on-line: http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/etd/1605/) -- hat-tip to John, wherever you are!

For those few here who might not know what dissonant counterpoint is and need a quick capsule summary to catch up in case your students ask, think of the "Opposite George" episode from Seinfeld and apply it to Fux. Consider this idea for classroom discussion.

Personally, I think that after the usual 2-3 semesters of "proper" basic CPP-theory, every music curriculum ought to require a semester of dissonant counterpoint to clear out the cobwebs, help demonstrate that theory is not a settled field (not even its core triadic assumptions), and generally wake students up again. IMO, this would be far preferable to what I understand is still the common practice of offering a semester of some variation of "Oh, almost forgot, this other stuff happened in the C20 – it's mostly over now but we have to mention it because somebody might ask you about it some time." At least that's the impression I get after returning to this list after being away for several years. I know it's not a completely fair implication & I know it doesn't apply to all programs, but the preponderance of narrow counting-angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin (not that there's anything wrong with that) concerns I've seen discussed here is a troubling sign. At least to me.


Steve Soderberg

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