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Counterpoint for Genius - The Digital Bach Series

Created by Stephen Gislason

My Counterpoint for Genius series is a collection of four albums that has evolved over several years though experimentation with a number of transcriptions of Bach pieces, many from the religious Cantatas, mixed with different voicing and, different tempos and transpositions. Mozart has received the most attention as the composer of smart music. Bach excels. I realized that many of the Bach pieces I recorded were among the best examples of contrapuntal composition and that counterpoint was the perfect brain exercise

Bach, Baroque and Counterpoint

The great composers of Europe were full time professionals, employed by wealthy aristocrats or church leaders who tended to be wealthy aristocrats. They were often immersed in music from their early childhood. They followed forms that were fashionable and influenced each other. JS Bach, the great master, was influenced by Handel and Vivaldi. Mozart expressed musical ideas from Bach, Handel, Haydn and many other composers at work in Europe. Beethoven studied with Haydn and was inspired by Mozart. Händel was born in 1685, the same year as JS Bach and Domenico Scarlatti. Bach eventually complimented Handel and his music saying that Handel was "the only person I would wish to be, were I not Bach." Mozart admired Bach's genius. Beethoven said that JS Bach was "the master of us all". 

Instruments evolved during the Baroque. Equal tempered tuning solved the problem of intervals and chords in different keys sounding wrong. The violin family emerged from older string instruments. Three keyboard instruments, the clavichord, organ, and harpsichord were popular. The violin sound became the dominant timbre in late Baroque ensemble music. The wind instruments were the bassoon, flute, and oboe. Brass instruments such as horns, trumpets, and trombones were used in large ensembles. The timpani was the only drum used sparingly.

Counterpoint was the skilled composer’s main strategy. Fugues were the show pieces of counterpoint. A fugue opens with a theme which usually moves through four voices. The interaction of the voices is developed through episodes and variations with key changes. An obvious movement is from a subject stated in the tonic key to a response in another voice stated in the dominant key (V).

A well constructed fugue can be approached as a puzzle that may be easily resolved into obvious parts or one that becomes too complex, even confusing, so that detailed study maybe required before the composer’s strategy becomes clear. Ratz suggested a "fugal technique significantly burdens the shaping of musical ideas, and it was given only to the greatest geniuses, such as Bach and Beethoven, to breathe life into such an unwieldy form and make it the bearer of the highest thoughts."

Intelligent Music = Delightful Brain Exercise

My Bach project shifted toward brain exercises for Geniuses (Counterpoint for Genius). I now believe that the textured complexity of counterpoint can be a delight for a receptive listener and also a useful way to exercise some of the more complex computational centers in the brain. My strategy is to keep the individual voices clear so the layered, interwoven texture of the music is as distinct as possible. I also pay much attention to leaving silent spaces in the interstices since I discovered many years ago that increased sound density was harmful rather than helpful.

I am often amazed by how many notes in interweaving layers my brain is willing to decipher. If the notes form interesting patterns and move in space, then they remain fresh and invigorating. I the early days of my experimentation with synthesizers, I encountered patterns of sound that produce meditative experiences, acoustic illusions, mind clearing, and some very annoying experiences. At the same time I was experimenting with brain biofeedback using sound to reveal brain waves. The basic idea was that amplified brain waves could be evaluated by frequency and amplitude, desirable goals established and a sound signal would inform the subject when his or her brain waves were in the desired range. The most common goal was to achieve slow, symmetrical sine waves from each cerebral hemisphere; the frequency range of about 8 to 12 hertz was called alpha.

While repetition is good, too much can become annoying. Small variations in a repeating pattern will avoid habituation and annoyance. The occasional, surprising sound will awaken new interest. Complex staccato passages with precise but low amplitude sounds are followed closely by the temporal cortex.

The Counterpoint for Genius series is a collection of four albums.

Go to Counterpoint for Genius Volume 1: 2015 Release

Go to Counterpoint for Genius Volume 2: 2015 Release

Go to Counterpoint for Genius Volume 3: 2015 Release

Go to Counterpoint for Genius Volume 4: 2015 Release

Some Sample Music

Listen to Cantata BWV 19-5

Listen to Cantata BWV23-1

Listen to Cantata BWV63-1



Digital Bach for the 21 Century A Persona Digital Studio Production

Stephen Gislason Arranger & Performer

Persona Music Recordings: Our Music Catalogue includes recorded performances by the P2500 Band, Em4U, and the Persona Classical Consort. Some music online is offered to illustrate music history, advance music education and appreciation. The recordings presented online demonstrate Persona Studio's arranging, recording and mastering techniques. All the recordings are arrangements and performances completed in house by Stephen Gislason. The music selections and their history are explained in the book, Sound of Music.

Topics presented at Persona Digital Studio are from the book,
The Sound of Music by Stephen Gislason

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Persona Digital Studio is located on the Sunshine Coast, Sechelt, British Columbia, Canada.
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