Saturday midday, November 7, 12–12:50 CST

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Contrapuntal Innovations

Christoph Neidhöfer (McGill University), Chair

What’s New in the Ars nova?

Ryan Taycher (Chicago College of Performing Arts, Roosevelt University)

Ryan Taycher is a music theorist specializing in the theory and analysis of polyphony in the late Middle Ages. He received his PhD in Music Theory at Indiana University, is currently teaching at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts and Indiana University, and previously taught at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is also active as a Scholar-in-Residence at the Newberry Library in Chicago. In his dissertation, entitled “De fundamento discanti: Structure and Elaboration in Fourteenth-Century Diminished Counterpoint,” he examines how musicians deployed and elaborated tonal structures with the advent of counterpoint theory and develops a methodology for analyzing these structures. He has presented his work at numerous conferences, including the Annual Meeting of the Society for Music Theory, the International Congress of Medieval Studies, and Music Theory Midwest, and he has published an article on two songs by Hugo Wolf in the Journal of Schenkerian Studies.


When discussing the innovations of the Ars nova, scholars have focused primarily on the rhythmic novelties of the new mensural system in the fourteenth century. While this is indeed a pivotal development in Western music history, the new rhythmic possibilities alone do not sufficiently account for the stylistic changes that distinguish the Ars nova from the preceding Ars antiqua. In my paper, I first will trace the role and status of the tempus in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century mensural theories, highlighting the shift from an additive/Augustinian conception of musical time to a divisional conception predicated on Aristotle’s Physics. Then I argue that as a consequence of this shift, the way in which musicians conceived of elaborating an underlying tonal structure changed significantly. In the musical examples of thirteenth-century treatises, such as the Tractatus de discantu (CoussemakerS, i, Anon.2) and the Vatican Organum Treatise, the elaborations are interpolated between structural sonorities, facilitating the traversal from one to the next through the additive arrangement of ornamental melodic figures. However, in fourteenth-century contrapunctus treatise examples, such as in De diminutione contrapuncti and Petrus dictus Palma Ociosa’s Compendium de discantu mensurabili, the note-against-note foundation “may be divided” into diminished counterpoint, first with basic elaborations and then with further ornamentation to produce florid discant. In this sense, the elaboration is understood as being derived from and an outgrowth of the structural note, to which it leads back (“reducuntur”), and contrapunctus thus serves as an ontological foundation for the ornamented tonal edifice built upon it.

Mean Counterpoint and Temperamental Choices in the Early Baroque

Evan Campbell (State University of New York Potsdam)


Few scholars have remarked on the relationship between counterpoint and meantone temperament in the early Baroque, yet this relationship explains seemingly anomalous features in contrapuntal writing from this time. These features affect stretto fugae (Milsom 2005), sequences (Harrison 2003), and contrapuntal modules (Owens 1984; Schubert 2007). Adriano Banchieri describes a “rule of strict counterpoint” (hereafter, RSC) in his Cartella musicale (1614) that accounts for the relationship between counterpoint and meantone temperament. I apply his rule to examples from Chiara Margarita Cozzolani and Claudio Monteverdi to show how apparently anomalous features result from meantone limitations.

First, I illustrate how Cozzolani begins and ends sequences in specific locations in her psalm setting, “Dixit Dominus a8” (Salmi a otto voci concertati, op. 3, 1650), that correlate with the limits described by Banchieri’s RSC. Next, I analyze a different passage from Cozzolani’s piece, as well as a passage from Monteverdi’s “Dixit Dominus Secondo” (Selva morale e spirituale, 1641), to show how contrapuntal modules (repeated multi-voice units of counterpoint) are transposed to only those locations that avoid violating Banchieri’s RSC. Finally, I examine a passage from Monteverdi’s “Dixit Dominus Primo” (Selva morale) to show how Banchieri’s RSC accounts for Monteverdi’s selection of accidentals and specific contrapuntal adjustments in his stretto fuga.

Reconceptualizing counterpoint in relation to temperament highlights a previously overlooked dimension of early Baroque composition. Banchieri’s RSC provides analysts with a simple tool to examine this dimension while complimenting work done by other scholars, including the contrapuntal techniques discussed in this presentation.

“Dissonation” of Tonal Materials in Vivian Fine’s Ultra-Modernist Compositions

Alexandrea Jonker (McGill University)

Alexandrea Jonker is a doctoral student in Music Theory at McGill University. She received a MM in Music Theory from Michigan State University and a B.Mus in Music Theory from Wilfrid Laurier University. Alexandrea has presented research at conferences around North America including Music Theory Midwest, the New England Conference of Music Theorists, the International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition, the International Music by Women Festival, and several graduate student conferences. Her two main research interests are the music of Vivian Fine and aural skills pedagogy. Her work has been published in the conference proceedings from the ICMPC and the Routledge Companion to Music Theory Pedagogy. Alexandrea was an inaugural winner of the Innovative Learning and Teaching in Music award at McGill University and currently holds a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


Dissonant counterpoint, a compositional technique used by “ultra-modernist” composers in America during the 1920s and 1930s, is designed to exclude tonal references through a rigorous process of “dissonation.” A treatise co-authored by Charles Seeger and Ruth Crawford outlines the precepts of dissonant counterpoint, whose ultimate goal was for polyphonic voices to “sound apart,” or be independent, to create “heterophony” (Seeger 1994 [1930]).

Vivian Fine (1913–2000), Crawford’s most prolific and successful student, followed the compositional style of her teacher in many ways (Lumsden 2017), including the use of dissonant counterpoint in the music she wrote while studying, or shortly after studying, with Crawford. But there is one important and previously unnoted exception: within a generally dissonant framework, Fine’s music makes extensive reference to tonal materials, including melodic fourths and fifths, and major and minor triads. The coalescence of these two irreconcilable forces creates a tension that suggests a new kind of heterophony, one in which the “sounding apart” occurs between the tonal references and the dissonant framework that struggles to contain them.

By analyzing several of Fine’s ultra-modernist pieces, I aim to show the ways in which she manipulated dissonant counterpoint into her own unique style, one in which tonal materials play a fundamental role in the heterophonic “sounding apart.” Ultimately, this paper extends the notion of dissonance beyond the quality of an interval or chord to include the conceptual conflict between consonances and dissonances themselves.