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Ariane Jeßulat

Polyphonic Gestures between Architecture and Interaction

Around 1912, Max Weber referred to counterpoint as ‘Kunstregelbau’, focusing on rational and social aspects which he expressed using metaphors taken from architecture and craftsmanship.

Although his understanding of counterpoint primarily mirrors the aesthetics of the early 20th century, these two aspects can certainly serve as realms of analysis of musical thought as articulated in counterpoint.The importance Weber assigns to social structures as foundation of the architecture of ‘Kunstregelbau’ seems to be a quite modern approach, elevating elements of simple human interaction to the level of sublime, polyphonic beauty. In fact, his ideas never deviate from the regular contrapuntal pedagogic practice at the beginning of the 20th century. Therefore, the often essential role of a group whose interaction might create the polyphonic web is not taken into consideration – neither in Weber´s approach nor in any other theory of counterpoint until quite recent studies, which are based on artistic research in integrating models of polyphonic improvisation into the Renaissance and Baroque styles.

Although contemporary musicology has been able to correct and modify obsolete ideas of composing as the metaphysical act of singular genius, we still find hidden traces of this structural metaphor in today's counterpoint pedagogy, which is mostly the result of one-dimensional communication in the master-pupil model, etc. At the same time, other ideas of interaction and de-centering strategies in a group, which might open better and more fruitful analytical perspectives, are neglected.

Although Weber – as many scholars of his century – held the zenith of ‘Kunstregelbau’ to be the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, this paper aims to investigate further characteristic structures of contrapuntal interaction and topoi in tonal, post-tonal, and contemporary music.