Imitative counterpoint on a ground-bass (summer conferences 2021)

I’m really looking forward to speaking at two conferences this summer, both of which are held (virtually) in Birmingham (UK).

First, there’ll be Birmingham Baroque, the 19th Biennial International Conference on Baroque Music, which will be entirely online this year. There are over 150 pre-recorded papers and lecture-recitals available for viewing by registered delegates, with discussion panels and concerts happening from 15 to 17 July.

In my talk entitled Imitative counterpoint inground-bass alleluias of the English Restoration period, I discuss imitative counterpoint in sacred music by focusing on anthems and motets written in England around 1680 that conclude with an alleluia on a ground (or basso ostinato). While the surge in popularity of the ground in vocal music has previously been linked to the strong interest in Italian music from c.1680 onwards, I argue for considering a particular motet by Giovanni Felice Sances, found in a number of Oxford sources, as a likely model for the short-lived ‘trend’ of writing alleluias on a ground, based on structural and melodic similarities with Purcell’s motet Beati omnes. Analysing the imitative potential of the respective ground basses suggests that Purcell chose particular bass patterns deliberately to enable intricate imitative counterpoint on a strict ground – especially evident in his slightly later anthem Awake, awake, put on thy strength – confirming again his manifest interest in contrapuntal artifice.

Potential for two-part canon at the unison or fifth, on the ground bass of the alleluia from Purcell's Awake, awake, put on Thy strength

No doubt I’ll get more ideas from other delegates at the conference, and I’ll have a chance to work these into a similar talk I am giving two weeks later at BrumMAC, the Birmingham Music Analysis Conference, which is happening (also online) from 28 to 30 July.

If you are interested in music analysis and/or Baroque music research, check out the Baroque Conference programme HERE and that of BrumMAC HERE. And if you’d like to hear more about music theory and analysis, sign up for the newsletter to receive updates on new blog posts!


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