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Canon and Imitation in Counterpoint

Through many years of teaching, I have seen many students bringing Bachs' fugues, inventions, Sinfonias or Partitas without knowing the basics of his devices to compose these pieces.

It is a must for all music teachers to educate their students before they approach this style of music.

Let us remind ourselves that Baroque music is strongly connected with enlightenment and rationalism; so it is expected for the performer to grasp certain concepts even before they approach the technical aspects of the music they want to play; this will bring them much appreciation and understanding of the structure behind the notes they see on the music sheet.

The imitation in the discourse began during the Renaissance period, mainly in the Franco-Flemish school; this school brought to the world the best works of art in music history by the hands of Josquin Des Prez, Orlandus Lassus or Johannes Ockeghem.

By the Renaissance, these musicians discovered a completely different way of expressing music: through imitation. This device will lay down the foundation of our modern music, fostering the development of Germanic music lately by Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig Van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms (the so-called "three B's").

What is so important about it?

Mainly because music used only one device up to that moment: paraphrasing; This means that the music was in a constant state of flow, ever-changing and never re-stating the same thing (today we call it "motive").

With the Flemish composers, and through the imitation, we have the Canon. The Canon is just an established and formal way of imitating passages of music, providing a sense of hierarchy for the listener. Now, the listener can tell what is essential and what is not. The development as we know it today started with this simple thing: imitation and canonic structure.

Learn more about my post on WKMT Blog:


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