Please join the Sound and Society workshop next Wednesday, May 1 as we welcome Peter Schubert (Professor of Music Theory at McGill University), who will give a talk entitled:

“What is Contrapuntal Thinking?”

 Wednesday, May 1, 2019


Logan 801

As Professor Schubert writes, “In North American universities, there is a widening gap between counterpoint teaching and harmony teaching. The latter is clearly considered more important, as we can see from the recent Norton Guide to Teaching Music Theory, in which only four chapters out of 23 even mention counterpoint. This is not just a question of fashion—this gap reflects deep differences in ways of conceptualizing music. Contrapuntal thinking is rich in possibilities of multiple recombinations of short melodic fragments, with almost no limitations on what can follow what. Harmonic music, on the other hand, both restricts the relationships between melodies andplaces limits on the succession of events—from that point of view we can even say that harmony is a kind of impoverished counterpoint! What is the value of contrapuntal thinking in music education? I propose that it provides a liberation from the one-dimensional march of chords. Speaking of double counterpoint techniques, Johann Mattheson says that an “assiduous organist no less than an ingenious composer can draw materials and inventions from these artifices for the rest of his life.” My talk will follow his lead and show examples from repertoire in which contrapuntal techniques are the source of interesting or surprising textures, varied repetitions, and harmonic “inventions.”  I will conclude with some speculation on how Western music came to be so contrapuntal.”


Peter Schubert came to Montreal from New York City, where he founded and directed Opera Uptown and The New Calliope Singers, a group renowned for its commitment to modern music during its fifteen-year career. The group presented over fifty premieres and released a critically acclaimed CD entitled “New Cantatas and Madrigals.” Since 1991, he has conducted the highly respected Montreal-based group, The Orpheus Singers. Under his direction, the group has placed as a finalist several times the CBC Competition for Amateur Choruses, winning first prize in the chamber chorus category in 1996.  The Orpheus Singers has presented premieres of several new Canadian works and participated in a CD of the musical compositions of Freidrich Nietzsche. In 1998, Peter Schubert founded VivaVoce, a professional vocal ensemble, to stimulate interest in choral chamber music ranging from the Renaissance to the day before yesterday. By presenting unique, interactive “commentated concerts” in schools and concert halls, VivaVoce delights and entertains it audiences of all ages, instilling in them a deeper understanding of their musical heritage.
Peter Schubert studied conducting with Nadia Boulanger, Helmuth Rilling, Jacques-Louis Monod and David Gilbert and has been assistant to Gregg Smith and Agnes Grossman. He has published an edition of Renaissance Noels as well as his own innovative arrangements of five popular Christmas carols with C.F. Peters.
Schubert holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Columbia University, which gives him a rich base on which to draw for his commentated concerts. Currently an Associate Professor at the McGill University Faculty of Music, Schubert is the author of a groundbreaking and highly regarded textbook, Modal Counterpoint, Renaissance Style (Oxford University Press, 1999).

There will not be pre-circulated materials for this talk. Refreshments will be provided.

The Sound and Society Workshop is committed to making our events fully accessible to persons with disabilities. Please do not hesitate to contact the Sound and Society Workshop coordinators, Amy Skjerseth or Ailsa Lipscombe, with any questions or concerns.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *