Fifth species counterpoint


Audio: fifth species counterpoint (0:22)

Fifth species counterpoint
Figure: fifth species counterpoint

fifth species counterpoint sings fifth species counterpoint in the key of C. The fifth species counterpoint figure shows the fixed melody in the lower part of the score and the counterpoint melody in the upper part.

Fifth species counterpoint combines the first four species into a single form.

There are no new concepts in fifth species counterpoint but there are two new techniques:

  1. Two eighth notes can replace a quarter note. This can occur on the second or fourth beat in a bar but not the first or third.
  2. The suspension in fourth species counterpoint can be modified so that the fourth beat of a tied whole note is converted to either two eighth notes or one quarter note, as shown in bars two and three respectively of fifth species counterpoint.

Fifth species counterpoint is also called florid counterpoint. This is not because it is excessively ornate, although some think it is, but because it contains all the flowers from the previous four species.

Writing counterpoint is hard work. Every note has to be checked to ensure that the melody does not contain a tritone, both parts conform to the rules on consonance, there is no direct motion from an imperfect to a perfect consonance, and there is no parallel fifth, parallel octave or parallel unison. These checks are a distinctive feature of counterpoint and make it different from other approaches to harmony. It is a matter of debate even today whether the checks constitute rules that cannot be broken or whether they constitute general guidelines to be followed. Some point to the fact that even Fux did not follow the rules all the time in Gradus, others say what is the point in having rules if they can be broken. You decide.