Chopin and the importance of studying Counterpoint in Music Education
Updated: Mar 24, 2020
In a November 2, 1826 letter to his friend Jasia Blaloblocki, 16-year old Frederic Chopin mentioned the depth of his music studies with his teacher Józef Elsner:
"Meanwhile I study strict counterpoint for 6 hours a week with Elsner"
For perspective, 4 years later Chopin would compose his famous Nocturne in Eb.
The French Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix described in his diary several meetings with his friend, Chopin:
"I have interminable discussions with Chopin, of whom I am very fond and who is a man of rare distinction. He is one of the truest artists I have ever met."
It is through these diary entries that we learn a little more of Chopin's opinions in music.
"We had discussions of music, and it seemed to brighten his mood. I asked him to explain to me how logic in music was expressed. He taught me the definitions of harmony and counterpoint; and how the fugue would relate to pure logic, and that to be skilled in the art of the fugue would be to comprehensively understand all logic in music."
".. and things brings me back to the chief difference between Mozart and Beethoven. As Chopin told me,"Whereas Beethoven appears to lack unity, it is not, as people claim, from this wild originality - the aspect which they admire about him - it is because he violates the eternal laws of music. Mozart never does that. Each part in his music has its own unique movement which, although it blends harmonically with the rest, it makes its own song and accompanies it perfectly. This is what is meant by the term counterpoint, or punto contrapunto. He added that it was normal to learn harmony before learning counterpoint, which is to say, learning the succession of notes that lead to complementary harmonies. In the music of Berlioz, the harmonies are set down beforehand and he tries to fill in the intervals as best he can afterwards. These types of composers, who are so obsessed with style that they put it before all, prefer to be ignorant rather than not to appear serious." (April 7, 1849)
It would appear that some time approximately in 1841, 31 year old Chopin wrote a letter to an unnamed friend to acquire the Counterpoint treatises of Luigi Cherubini and Jean-Georges Kastner.
Over the years of researching and studying various music education methodologies while trying to create the identity for Songbird Music Academy, one common skill that I've noticed among the great musicians in history was a complete mastery over the art of Counterpoint.
I find that any course of music education that lacks the discussion of counterpoint is lacking an essential component, vital for the student. To that end, the study and mastery of Counterpoint is a significant part of the the Songbird Methodology. This doesn't just apply to Western concert music (Classical) but all styles of music.