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How the Rules of Species Counterpoint affect Schenkerian Analysis - A Summary

General Points
Species counterpoint encourages smooth, simple progressions in which there are few leaps and a variety of contrary and parallel motion. Schenker suggests that this sort of progression is found in the middleground and background of well-written tonal music.

Introduction to Species Counterpoint

Parallel octaves and fifths
Strict counterpoint forbids consecutive parallel fifths and octaves and they are therefore generally forbidden in from appearing in the two-voice counterpoint of the middleground and background. Schenker does, however, leave himself a get-out clause by saying that apparent fifths and octaves sometimes appear but are eliminated in the following ways:

  • in the case of apparent foreground parallel perfect progressions they are eliminated by such devices as contrary motion; crossing of parts; interpolation; syncopation or rhythmic displacement and even by rests.
  • the parallels are only apparent because they are justified by earlier levels of voice-leading, sometimes not far from the foreground and sometimes deep in the background.

Whatever you make of these slightly confusing statements, essentially the closer to the background the progression is the less it should contain any parallel perfect progressions.

Imperfect Consonances
Schenker writes in Free Composition that, 'the refined employment of these intervals is one of the characteristics of a good outer voice structure.' Sixths in particular are often one of the ways in which parallel fifths are avoided particularly through a common progression in which fifths and sixths are alternated.

Finally, the seventh can only appear as a passing tone or as a 7-6 syncopation on the strong beat. It is thus the fifth that defines a chord even in the foreground - never the seventh. Schenker also says that, since it is a dissonant passing tone, the seventh cannot be prolonged but has to be transformed into a consonance. It is beyond the scope of this website to discuss the controversy surrounding this statement, but suffice it to say that even Schenker's own analysis sometimes suggest a prolonged seventh - particularly in sonata form development sections.

Introduction to Species Counterpoint