A phenomenon in polyphonic music where two or more independant parts (voices) combine, "point against point" to create a higher level musical coherence, a property found only in the relationship between voices, not within the nature of each voice separately. The term counterpoint is used to describe this musical property as an aspect of a composition, as a goal, technique and style of composition.
[shorten, break up]
In a polyphonic composition, each voice proceeds independantly of the others, each with its own melodic, rhythmic and musical integrity. Often, each voice constrasts greatly with the others. But as the voices proceed simulataneously in tandem, they combine, sounding together, creating chords or, more broadly, a unified harmonic progression. While there is indepedance on the horizontal axis of time, there is a unity on the vertical access at any particular point. The craft of achieving muscial coherence on both axes simultaneously is a high art.
For the most part, polyphony and counterpoint are synonymous.
Perhaps the most elaborate and refined example of counterpoint is the fugue. Other time-honored forms are canon and invention.
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