Hudební Věda

Karel Janeček: Counterpoint (1945–1948) – Critical analysis of a forgotten text

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Miloš Hons

Karel Janeček was from 1941–1946 professor of composition at the Prague Conservatory. It was there and then that he conceived his major theoretical writings: Základy moderní harmonie (Essentials of Modern Harmony, written between 1942 and 1949), and Kontrapunkt (Counterpoint, written between 1945 and 1948). In the preface to his book Skladatelská práce v oblasti klasické harmonie (Compositional Approaches to Classical Harmony), dating from 1968, he mentions the existence of a partially worked-out follow-up volume entitled Skladatelská práce v oblasti kontrapunktu (Compositional Approaches to Counterpoint). However, he never actually came to publish any such text, and nor has it been found in his posthumous papers. One of the present paper´s aims is to find an answer to the question whether Janeček may have regarded his unfinished counterpoint textbook as the groundwork for the above-mentioned new book. Apart from that, this paper compares Janeček´s approach with two earlier standard Czech writings on counterpoint: namely, F. Z. Skuherský´s Nauka o kompozici (Theory of Composition, 1880–1884), and Otakar Šín´s Nauka o kontrapunktu, imitaci a fuze (Theory of Counterpoint, Imitation and Fugue, 1936).

The present study examines the work´s connotations with the historical context of the time, and proceeds to analyse its first two parts: (I) Obecná nauka o kontrapunktu (General Theory of Counterpoint), and (II) Vokální kontrapunkt (Vocal Counterpoint). Janeček minimized the extent of information of historical nature, and steered his discourse from simpler aspects to more complex ones, i.e., from two-voice texture to polyphony, imitational techniques and canon. Similarly, in dealing with counterpoint he proceeded from note against note style to non-equal counterpoint, to syncopated and, finally, florid counterpoint, the last of which he considered to be he ultimate goal of the whole contrapuntal methodology. His interest in the imitational technique led Janeček to defining several completely new notions and techniques, including “moveable counterpoint” or “ambiguous canon”. The text´s demonstrative use of parallels between analytical and compositional methods has contributed in its retaining a degree of relevance still many years after its writing. Consequently, it can be assumed Janeček might indeed have regarded the unfinished Kontrapunkt as groundwork material for a book on compositional work on the plane of counterpoint.

Keywords: theory of counterpoint; vocal counterpoint; instrumental counterpoint