In this blog I will show how I composed the baroque style piece ‘Ouverture’ starting with simple, strict two-voice counterpoint, and then embellishing that into a fuller baroque style.

Most of the material is derived from a single melody which is varied using augmentation, fragmentation, inversion and embellishment.

In the sheet music for this blog I’ve added numbers in between the two staves indicating the intervals between the top and the bottom voice. This is intended to make the two-voice counterpoint clearer. 6ths and 3rds are good, 8ths and 5ths are ok. Consecutive 8ths and 5ths are forbidden. Dissonant 2nds, 4ths and 7ths need to be on weak beats, unless they have a good ‘reason’ not to be.

Good reasons for these dissonant intervals are the rules for ’nonchord tones’, which I’ve also included in the score as abbreviations. There’s a visual explanation of these rules here, and also on wikipedia. Another reason dissonant intervals could be justified is if they sound like a consonant interval. For example, an augmented 2nd sounds like a minor 3rd.

Here’s a list of the abbreviations that are used:

Ret.Retardation. A voice moves up later than expected. This has to be on an accented beat.
Sus.Suspension. A voice moves down later than expected. Also on an accented beat.
NTNeighboring tone. A voice moves up or down and then back.
PTPassing tone. A voice uses an intermediary step to go to another tone.
>PTAccented passing tone. The same but on an accented beat.
Ant.Anticipation. A voice moves up or down sooner than expected.
Emb.Embellishment. Multiple notes are added.

Section A

First phrase

The piece starts with the main melody in the top voice. The melody is played simultaneously an octave below with double note values, meaning at half the speed, also known as ‘augmented’. The phrase closes with a cadence in the home key of F minor.

In the next version, the eighth note run is sped up into a sixteenth note run. Non-chord tones and embellishments are added that add dissonance.

In the final version, there are also some middle voices. (You can listen to the final piece at the bottom of the page)

Second phrase

The second phrase consists of two similar sequences, both moving downwards by step. The bass uses the first four notes of the main melody, with the third note elongated. The top voice also uses a variation of the beginning of the melody.

After the first sequence, there is a cadence in A flat major, the relative major of the home key. After the second sequence there is a half-cadence in C minor, which is the dominant key of the home key.

The harmony lingers on the dominant of C minor for a bit before concluding with a full cadence in C minor, with a picardy third at the end.

In the next iteration, embellishments are added. The three note run turns into a four note run in the second sequence. The amount of runs increases when the music approaches the final cadence.

In the final iteration, as in the first section, more middle voices are added to enrich the harmony.

Section B

Third phrase

This phrase, in the dominant key of C minor, starts with an inversion of the melody in both the top and the bottom voice. The bottom voice, as in the first phrase, contains an augmented version of that melody. In bar 3, an other voice enters below the previous bottom voice. The phrase ends with a half cadence in G minor.

Suspensions and other nonchord tones are added in the next version:

In the final version, another voice is added. Strange chords such as augmented chords are formed.

Fourth phrase

After the previous phrase ended on the dominant of G minor, this phrase unexpectedly starts in B flat major, the relative major of G minor and also the subdominant of the home key.

Like the second phrase, it used shortened variations of the melody to build a sequence. This time the melody is inverted, and the sequence moves up instead of down. The top voice has starts out with a fragment of the melody but then continues freely. At the end of the phrase there is a half cadence in the home key of F minor.

In the next iteration, again, embellishments are added. More and more sixteenth notes are added as the melody rises and the half cadence is approached. The last two bars before the half cadence contain a long downwards run in the top voice.

Fifth phrase

After the last phrase ended on a half cadence in F minor, the home key, the bass moves down stepwise from the 5th to the 1st degree.

On top of the bass, two voices imitate each other, playing variations of the beginning of the main melody, both rising. Then, there’s a final cadence to conclude the piece.

In the final version, more voices are added.


Listen to the complete piece.