ASSIGNMENT ONE, PART TWO- ‘Rules in Music’ 500 word Essay.

Music 1 ~ Stylistic Techniques – Ms Suncica Lazic, Student ID: Suncica516098 – Assignment One

Assignment One- Part Two ~Renaissance Period~ 500 words on ‘Rules in Music’


 ‘The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self…’  Igor Stravinsky

As our given assignment states, this quote was taken from one of Stravinsky’s 1939 Harvard lectures. In the same lecture Stravinsky elaborated on the importance of tradition and of rules in a world engulfed in uncertainty and chaos. ‘A real tradition is not the relic of a past that is irretrievably gone; it is a living force that animates and informs the present’. (Stravinsky, 1939:47-65) He spoke at length on how limitations and obstacles acted as a fertiliser for his creative problem-solving skills, which would in turn result in musical inventions. It is in this same spirit I tried to tackle the problems presented to me by the rules of Renaissance counterpoint.

My strategy for coping with the outlined rules was to be very methodical. Every new Species is an elaboration on the previous one, so consecutive mastery made for a stronger foundation. It helped to try and understand the reasons behind the rules, grasping how and why certain intervals or types of motion would undermine either the key or the richness of the sound. Practicing the ability to ‘hear’ whenever a rule was broken proved very useful and a much quicker way of finding faults in the counterpoint. There were occasions where intervals did not sound ‘bad’ or ‘hollow’ to my ears. In these instances, it helped to try and remember the sound and musical flavour of the era; i.e. does it sound ‘Renaissance’?

One musical quality which sticking to the rules of the 16th Century compositional techniques brought, was an ‘angelic’ sound to the melody lines, probably due to the warm effect of using predominantly imperfect consonances. The smoothness and independence of the voices also emphasised the mysterious atmosphere of Renaissance polyphony. Even though all polyphony was not religious in nature these independent lines made me think of a multitude of yearning voices ‘rising to heaven’.

If I was to carry on my studies and seriously attempt to learn Renaissance counterpoint, I would analyse music from the Renaissance, such as Palestrina’s work. It would be useful to take a composer’s polyphony, copy the Cantus Firmus into Sibelius software and then write my own counterpoint, comparing my version to theirs. This way, I would not only learn from the masters themselves, but also learn to distinguish their specific styles and preferences.

So, what did I learn from these exercises and what value did sticking to the abovementioned music composition rules offer? It offered enormous value within the creative process in both providing a clear starting point from which to write, sidestepping ‘writers block’ and setting up obstacles to overcome. This ‘struggle’ often led to musical solutions which inspiration alone might not have led to. The danger in solely relying on intuition is that it is very easy to just keep writing the same thing but when forced to satisfy imposed rules new and unusual solutions often present themselves.


Stravinsky, I. (1939) Poetics of Music: in the form of six lessons. Translated by Arthur, K. and Ingolf, D. (1947) Cambridge: Harvard University Press