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The Study of Counterpoint from Johann Joseph Fux’s Gradus ad parnassum



Chicago, Newberry VAULT Case MS 5A 11

Johann Joseph Fux

The Study of Counterpoint from Johann Joseph Fux’s Gradus ad parnassum

Italy, between 1700 and 1799


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Johann Joseph Fux (c. 1660–1741), chapel master of the imperial chapel in Vienna, published his influential book on music theory and composed Gradus ad Parnassum in 1725 (Johann Peter van Ghelen, Vienna).  It contains the theoretical foundations of music as well as lessons on counterpoint, which are written in a dialogue form as it was common in the tradition of Jesuit schools.  The Regole di Contropunto are an anonymous handwritten translation of Fux’s Latin treatise into Italian, being paraphrased and abbreviated only in details.  They are not identical with other Italian versions hitherto known.  Here, the dialogue partners are ‘anonymized’: instead of the pupil “Josephus” (= Fux) and the teacher “Aloysius” (= Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, 1525–1594), the conversation is taking place between “Discipulo” and “Maestro”.

The selected pages belong to the second part of the Gradus with chapters on the five species of counterpoint in settings with two, three, and four voices and an explanation of imitation technique.  They show the first lesson on writing fugues.  Starting with a definition of “fugue” (“fuggire”: to flee), this technique is distinguished from imitation by respecting the particular characters of each tonal mode.  The Maestro refers to the six modes based on D, E, F, G, A, and C.  As demonstrated in the first example, each mode is characterized by the position of its semitones (mi-fa) that has to be observed during the invention of fugue subjects.  Therefore, it is not possible to transfer a subject into another mode without changing its character or leaving the range of the diatonic genre (examples on fol. 80v).  Since the octave and its division into fifth and forth respectively forth and fifth are essential for the constitution of the modes as understood in Fux’s system, the subject has also to consider the octave range. For the imitation, a fifth has to be answered by a forth and vice versa (examples 2, 3 and 4 on fol. 80r; fol. 80v).  On this basis, the following chapters expound on how to write fugues with two, three, and four voices, as well as the principles of double counterpoint, before the treatise closes with remarks on the different styles.

-Ramona Hocker


Selected Bibliography: 


There is no specific bibliography on this object. Concerning the Fux work, see Hochradner, Thomas. Thematisches Verzeichnis der Werke von Johann Joseph Fux (? 1660–1741) (FuxWV), völlig überarbeitete Neufassung des Verzeichnisses von Ludwig Ritter von Köchel (1872), vol. 1. Wien: Hollitzer 2016, 11–49.

Other translations [but not the Newberry Regole] are mentioned in: Oliver Wiener, “Übersetzung musiktheoretischer Traktate als Phänomen des Kulturtransfers im 18. Jahrhundert: Problemstellungen der rezeptionsorientierten Edition am Beispiel der ‘Gradus ad Parnassum’ von Johann Joseph Fux.” In Edition und Übersetzung: Zur wissenschaftlichen Dokumentation des interkulturellen Texttransfers, edited by Bodo Plachta and Winfried Woesler (Beihefte zu editio 18), 402–417. Tübingen: De Gruyter, 2002.

Item fully digitized here.