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In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm and are harmonically interdependent. It has been most commonly identified in classical music, developing strongly during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period, especially in Baroque music. The term originates from the Latin punctus contra punctum meaning "point against point".


General principles

In its most general aspect, counterpoint involves the writing of musical lines that sound very different and move independently from each other but sound harmonious when played simultaneously. In each era, contrapuntally organized music writing has been subject to rules, sometimes strict. By definition, chords occur when multiple notes sound simultaneously; however, harmonic, "vertical" features are considered secondary and almost incidental when counterpoint is the predominant textural element. Counterpoint focuses on melodic interaction—only secondarily on the harmonies produced by that interaction. In the words of John Rahn:

The separation of harmony and counterpoint is not absolute. It is impossible to write simultaneous lines without producing harmony, and impossible to write harmony without linear activity. The composer who chooses to ignore one aspect in favour of the other still must face the fact that the listener cannot simply turn off harmonic or linear hearing at will; thus the composer risks creating annoying distractions unintentionally. Bach's counterpoint—often considered the most profound synthesis of the two dimensions ever achieved—is extremely rich harmonically and always clearly directed tonally, while the individual lines remain fascinating.

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