I’m addicted to antique textbooks, so, looking to brush up on some basics, I naturally ended up with a 1922 copy of Contrapuntal Technique in the Sixteenth Century by the British composer and educator R.O. Morris. Morris was in the vanguard of teaching counterpoint as an exercise in style rather than rote memorization, and thus the book has a certain verve: nothing inspires a Brit quite like disparaging his academic predecessors. When he gets to the section on parallel intervals, Morris liberally boils his strictures down to three. The first:
1. Consecutive fifths (and a fortiori consecutive octaves) are forbidden between any two parts if no other notes intervene, no matter what the value of the note.
Pretty obvious. Here’s the second:
2. Consecutives on successive semibreve beats are broken by the intervention of a minim if it is a harmony note, but not if it is a passing discord. Consecutives on successive minim beats are similarly broken by the intervention of a crotchet if it is a harmony note; not otherwise. (This is the doctrine of Morley, and it is in every way substantiated by sixteenth-century practice.)
Morris throws students a lifeline by letting them finesse parallels via consonant escape tones. (I don’t have a problem with this, but I’m pretty sure I have at least one other textbook that does.) But then we get to his third rule:
3. A suspension may be said to temper the wind to the shorn consecutive.
The what to the what now? What he’s getting at is that it’s OK to use a suspension to avoid parallel fifths even though they’re technically “still there” (i.e., they show up if you move the suspended note onto the beat). But that’s pretty Modernist-enigmatic for a counterpoint rule. It’s practically a haiku.
The note, suspended,
Will temper the wind to the
Ezra Pound would have slapped an ideogram on that and sent it to Harriet Monroe. I need to hunt down Morris’s book on keyboard harmony; I’m hoping for an Imagist evocation of the various semitonal alterations available on the subdominant.
Update (4/26): Joshua Kosman reads more than I do (see comments).