Orality and Composition Alla Mente
Improvising counterpoint was common skill in the Renaissance, heard not only in church but in the home, the tavern, fields, mines, and even public baths. Despite its former ubiquity, efforts to revive the practice have not led to widespread fluency. The author argues that this is partly because teachers and practitioners continue to base their methods on sets of rules that either tell the performer only what they may not do, or that present the options of what they may do in rules that are too abstract to be practical in a performance situation. This essay proposes a method of improvised counterpoint based on the memori- sation of interval successions such as those presented in Tinctoris’s Liber de arte contrapuncti, and suggests that these allow the modern performer to develop a fluency in improvisation unachievable with rules alone. This method is based on historical pedagogy as elucidated by Anna Maria Busse Berger, and on the au- thor’s own experiences in teaching and performing. It is supported by research in music cognition, in particular the distinction between declarative and procedur- al knowledge, studied in the context of jazz improvisation. Differences between singing, playing, and composing are also explored, applying ideas of extended cognition proposed by Clark and Chalmers.