Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Textbook on Music Composition! 5 Challenge

Serge Ivanovitch Taneiev's Convertible Counterpoint In the Strict Style published in 1909 is now available for the first time in English! The English Translation is of the most distinguished treatise ever written on musical composition. G. Ackley Brower translated the work, known to be the greatest ever written in its field. As a textbook on composition, it has been highly recommended by Dr. Serge Koussevitzky, who wrote the Introduction, Serge Rachmaninoff, Leopold Godowsky, Gregor Piatigorsky, and others. Reading the list of those authorities would, in itself, confirm that any individual who is a serious scholar of music education should take advantage of this new opportunity to acquire the text.

I quickly highlight that the book assumes knowledge of simple counterpoint on the part of the reader. "The study of vertical-shifting counterpoint consists of an investigation of those combinations from which derivatives are obtained by means of shifting the voices upward or downward." (p. 25) Taneiev has developed a method by which the study of counterpoint is put on a basis of pure mathematics; i.e., an algebraic basis for a theory of complex counterpoint. Rimsky-Korsakov wrote that it would seem that his method ought to result in a dry and academic composition, devoid of the shadow of inspiration. In reality, however, "his own Oresteia proved quite the reverse--for all its strict premeditation, the opera was striking in its wealth of beauty and expressiveness." (p. 1) Indeed, Igor Stravinsky adds, "Taneiev was a good teacher, and his treatise on counterpoint--one of the best books of its kind--was highly valued by me in my youth.

Taneiev notes that skill in the handling of counterpoint is of such advantage in composition that the beginner should devote part of his time to its study, and indicates that this will be attained with the least expenditure of time and labor by following the methods he provides. The "result will be a greater assurance and freedom in part-writing, skill in improving the musical content of the individual voices, the development--of special value in thematic work--of the ability to extract derivative combinations, the profit to be gained by acquaintance with an infinite variety of contrapuntal forms as means of artistic expression, and the subordination of the whole realm of tonal material to the creative imagination." (p. 300)

The book has two major parts related to vertical and horizontal-counterpoint for two and three voices. The text includes both rules as well as musical scores and includes specific algebraic notations.

Music Education scholars take note: Tschaikowsky, fifteen years senior to Taneiev would submit to criticism from this pupil of his which he would tolerate from no one else. Indeed Rimsky-Korsakow, with all his technical brilliance, felt like a student musician in the presence of Taneiev, and admitted it. Given the major composers supporting this book and the author, need I even say that this is a MUST addition to your library!

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