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The creative process

Chopin and counterpoint

With regard to counterpoint in Chopin’s music, you might be interested in the conversation that Chopin had not long before his death with the painter Eugène Delacroix. Delacroix was one of a handful of quite intimate friends of Chopin’s. In his diary, he mentions how he had picked up Chopin in a carriage, and they had ridden out beyond the Arc de Triomphe and gone to a café. Chopin then began to speak about music. What makes logic in music, Chopin said, is counterpoint, getting notes to sound against each other. He said the problem with the way they teach nowadays is that they teach the chords before they teach the movement of voices that creates chords. That’s the problem, he said, with Berlioz. He applies the chords as a kind of veneer and fills in the gaps the best way he can. Chopin then said that you can get a sense of pure logic in music with fugue and he cited not Bach — though we know that he worshipped Bach — but Mozart. He said, in every one of Mozart’s pieces, you feel the counterpoint. The fact that Chopin had this idea about counterpoint as being so foundational in music is, I think, very significant.

Carl Schachter (2016) The Art of Tonal Analysis: Twelve Lessons in Schenkerian Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, p.57.

By Greg

Australian composer and pianist