Counterpoint, also called polyphony, is the art, in musical composition, of combining two or more simultaneous lines of music. The word counterpoint comes from the Latin punctus contra punctum, meaning “note against note,” and the adjective derived from the word counterpoint is contrapuntal. Now you might ask, why isn’t it called contrapuntal writing when a melody is combined with an accompaniment? The answer is that in contrapuntal writing, the simultaneous musical lines are distinct and independent—each is a theme or melody that could stand alone.
The trick, or rather the art, is that the lines are designed so that they sound good together. Think of a fugue by Bach, or even a simple round like “Row row row your boat”— each musical line keeps its individual identity, but the lines also act collectively, playing off one another and combining to create harmonies. Fugues, rounds, and canons are all contrapuntal forms.
This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.