Species Counterpoint: 5th species


As a garden is full of flowers, so this species of counterpoint should be full of excellences of all kinds… Fux, Gradus ad Parnassum (1725), 64.

Fifth species (florid) counterpoint, the richest species and the one closest to “free” counterpoint, is a combination of the techniques of the first four species. In addition to the now-familiar catalog of contrapuntal idioms, a few new techniques will be introduced.

The 5th species counterpoint line should begin slowly with a suspension figure, with the same interval constraints as always: the upper counterpoint may enter at a P5, P8, or P12 against the CF, and the lower counterpoint may enter at a unison or P8 against the CF. 

The last two measures of the 5th species counterpoint line should also emulate 4th species by providing a suspension into the leading tone in the penultimate measure, closing in the final measure on a whole note tonic.

Eighth notes can now be used, but only under controlled conditions. Eighth notes always occur in pairs, and an eighth-note pair may only be used on the weak 2nd or 4th quarter of a measure. Only one pair of eighth notes should be used within a single measure; in fact, care should be taken not to overuse this note value.

Never forget that species counterpoint is a vocal genre, and faster note values are more difficult to sing (more instrumental in nature) than slower note values are.

Eighth notes are not used on strong beats (1st and 3rd) in 5th species, and must form either a neighbor-note figure (example 1a), or a passing-tone figure connecting two tones a P4 (1b).

These are the only typical eighth-note idioms in strict counterpoint. Remember that all eighth-note pairs must be both entered into, and left, by step. Never leap into or out of – or within — a pair of eighth notes.

Suspensions can take on an elegant character in 5th species by way of embellished resolutions. There are several types of embellished suspension: 

1. The resolution can be anticipated by a quarter note (reducing the duration of the suspension itself by half) (example 2a);

2. The anticipation of the resolution can be decorated by an eighth note lower neighbor-note figure (2b);

3. The suspension itself can be embellished by its upper neighbor (2c); 

4. …and finally, the suspension can be temporarily abandoned with a descending leap to a consonance (1st and 2nd quarters) before leaping back up to the expected resolution (2d).

The embellishment in example 2c is known as an échappée, or escape tone. The figure in example 2d is similar to the embellishing tone of 3rd species: the goals of both the descending leap from the suspended note and the ascent back up to the note of resolution, must be consonant against the CF.

Please note: just as in 4th species, both the suspension’s preparation and its resolution occur in the middle of the measure, on the third quarter note, whether or not the resolution is anticipated, or the suspension figure otherwise embellished, on the measure’s second quarter note.

[Thomas Attwood’s counterpoint studies with Mozart illustrate a more liberal 18th-century take on the behavior of eighth notes, allowing consonant skips within 8th-note pairs. In the example below, Attwood observes that even with embellishing eighth notes — arpeggiations in this case — one must take care to observe the basic underlying framework of the suspension so that no near-parallel perfect intervallic progressions lie beneath the 8th-note embellishment.]

To summarize: the suspension’s preparation begins on the 3rd beat, the suspension begins on the next measure’s downbeat, and the resolution occurs on the 3rd beat.

In contrast to the previous four species, measures in 5th species can contain a mixture of several rhythmic values. The most important rhythmic characteristic of 5th species counterpoint is the maintenance of a healthy rhythmic flow throughout the exercise. 

The whole-note value should be reserved for the last measure of the counterpoint line — otherwise, its use in the body of the exercise will result in a sense of stagnation or premature closure. 

In a measure containing both long and short values, half notes should precede quarter notes unless a half note is suspended into the following measure (example 3a).

Syncopation only occurs at the half-note level of meter. Quarter-note syncopation (beginning a half note on the second quarter of a measure, or tying a quarter from the fourth beat of one measure over the barline to another quarter on the first beat of the next measure) is not permitted in 5th species, or in any other species of strict counterpoint in the sixteenth-century style (example 3b).

Since eighth notes are used only on the 2nd or 4th quarter notes of a measure, they will always be preceded by quarter notes (3c). Try to avoid rhythmic sequences, or the repetition of a rhythmic figure (3d).

The 5th species counterpoint line will often exhibit a rhythmic crescendo: longer note values and conjunct motion prevail at the very beginning of the exercise, with gradual introduction of quarter and eighth note values, and disjunct motion, as the exercise gets underway.

All other procedures follow the rules and principles of the species from which they derive.

No new voice leading problems are created in 5th species, save for those already described above.

Here’s a summary of suspension techniques available in 5th species:

1) The normal, unembellished suspension familiar from 4th species: P | S R (preparation, suspension, resolution), with P and R = consonant half notes beginning on 3rd quarter and S = half note beginning on 1st quarter, consonant or dissonant.

2) P | S anticipation/R R — P = half note beginning on 3rd quarter, S on 1st quarter, ant/R on 2nd quarter, R = half note on 3rd quarter.

3) P | S ant/R LN/ant R — P = half note on 3rd quarter, S on 1st quarter, 2 eighth notes, R = half note on 3rd quarter.

4) P | S e.t. R — P on 3rd quarter, S on 1st quarter, e.t. on 2nd quarter, R = half note on 3rd quarter.

5) P | S emb R — P on 3rd quarter, S on 1st quarter, embellishing tone on 2nd quarter, R = half note on 3rd quarter.

Here are four examples of 5th species counterpoint for your review. Identify each example’s mode, write the vertical intervals between the staves (numbers only, not qualities), identify the types of melodic behavior (P, N, etc.), play one line and sing the other, switching parts in order to gain full fluency in the reading of each clef, and to get personal experience with the elegance of simple melodic lines.

Fifth species EXERCISES:

1) What are the basic characteristics of 5th species counterpoint? Consider rhythm, melodic behavior, and harmonic behavior (the behavior exhibited by the two parts together).

2) Describe and illustrate typical eighth-note behavior in 5th species counterpoint.

3) Describe and graph (or illustrate in two-part notation) the embellished suspension figures used in 5th species counterpoint, and indicate consonant and dissonant parts of each figure with the letters “C” and “D.”

4) Write the harmonic interval quantities between the staves for all of the 5th species examples at the end of the chapter, and circle all dissonant harmonic intervals. Indicate which type of dissonance is used (“S,” “ant.,” “e.t.” the various “N’s,” “P”) above the counterpoint note or notes involved.

5) Add a line of 5th species counterpoint above and below CFs chosen by your instructor. Circle all dissonant harmonic intervals, and label all dissonant figures with the appropriate abbreviation. Remember to have a suspension in the penultimate measure wherever possible.