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Werckmeister’s ingenious yet simple teachings on fugue, canon and invertible counterpoint merit special mention in their own right, but they also shed light on the improvisational techniques of his contemporaries, most notably Dieterich Buxtehude, organist of the Marienkirche in Lübeck.In many of his works in improvisatory genres, including his praeambula and chorale-based compositions, Buxtehude employs the very techniques described by his friend Werckmeister.At issue is not any question of influence: notwithstanding Werckmeister’s avowals of originality, it seems more likely it was he, an innovative theorist but mediocre composer, who learned from the Lübeck master than vice versa.

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Rather, the striking parallels between Werckmeister’s teachings and Buxtehude’s music merit attention because they constitute mutually supporting evidence about contrapuntal improvisation in the Baroque era.1.3 If to Baroque minds invertible counterpoint and canon exemplified some of the most arcane expressions of musical science, then for composers of fugue these procedures also provided indispensable tools.

Mastery of invertible counterpoint enables composers to create fugue subjects and countersubjects that can be rotated through any voice of the texture.

Knowledge of canon is crucial for constructing strettos, the most contrapuntally rigorous sections of many Baroque organ fugues, in which a subject is stated in densely overlapping imitative entries.

What may seem remarkable to modern minds is that fugue was not limited to worked-out, written-down composition: in the Baroque era church organists were expected to be able to improvise fugues, just as public speakers were expected to possess the skill of ex tempore oration.

Thus, these contrapuntal techniques also belong to the theory and practice of musical rhetoric in general and Figurenlehre in particular.

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