The Fairies’ History of Counterpoint and Harmony

Most human beings are unaware of the fact that Fairies differ with them on music history. When it is brought to their attention, they almost always regard it as inconsequential and boring. Their inability to see how the subject could be very important to anyone is, however, a failure on their part. If they understood how passionate Fairies are on the subject, they might be more sympathetic.

Fairies think of music as a defining part of their very natures. They regard the human teachings on music as cultural or racial theft of one of their most vital attributes. They think of human indifference on the subject as evidence of complete lack of concern for their happiness and well-being, and possibly even their existence. For that reason, I make no apology to those who think this subject uninteresting.

The humans’ history of music

The history of Harmony and Counterpoint, as it is presented in many human educational establishments, goes roughly like this:

  • Ancient European music was mostly monophonic. Occasionally, some other tones were sung or played along with the melody, but there was no established set of rules for this, and it was not prevalent. If music with multiple tones sounded at the same time sounded good, it was said to be harmonic, after Harmonia, the Goddess of Concord.
  • During the Early Middle Ages, polyphonic music became better developed. A type called organum became important; it was largely made up of parallel voices, in which the melody was duplicated at an interval above or below it. So, of a melody went C – D – E – C, a parallel voice below it might go A – B – C – A. There were increasing variations on this, with the passing of time.
  • Organum developed into a more elaborate polyphony during 11th and 12th centuries, with music called the ars antiqua. The main difference between this and earlier organum were changes in rhythm and reduced importance on strict parallel motion of voices.
  • Around the end of the 13th century, the contrapuntal ars nova appeared. The characteristic of this music was combination of different melodies of equal importance, tied together rhythmically, but with complex relationships maintained between tones, according to an elaborate set of rules about tonal intervals. Counterpoint is said to have been invented in the area of Paris sometime around the year 1285.
  • Modern harmony developed during the period of the early Renaissance. A modern person might relate this to chord progressions and an ability to change key in a piece by use of a system called the cycle of 5ths, neither of which had previously existed.
    There are reasons why such things as the cycle of 5ths and key changes were not possible earlier. These are related to rather complex mathematics used for tuning instruments. Simply put, with the older tuning systems, a change in key sounded bad, but with the newer tuning systems, it could be done easily.

Music-making Angel, Melozzo do Forli, ca. 1482. Public Domain.

An implication of the modern teachings on the difference between the older, or just-tempered, tuning and the newer, well-tempered, tuning is that real harmony was not possible before well-tempered tuning was developed by (human) Europeans at the beginning of the Renaissance. Today, all music that uses harmony is said by some to be derived, at least in part, from European music.

The Fairies say this view of history is pure, European anthropocentric bunk. And since music is very important to Fairies, it is also considered a vile insult. I will add that nearly all of them are quite upset about it all, even to this day.

Problems with the human history of music

The history of music, as it is taught in schools, is in disagreement with other elements of human history and experience. The evidence showing that the current teaching of music history is false is clear, as the following examples show:

  • According to Gerald of Wales (Geraldus Cambrensis), writing in about the year 1187, when Welsh people sang together, they did not sing as the people of the rest of the world did, in a single voice, but in many voices, as many voices as there were people. This could only be done by improvising music contrapuntally.
    Contrapuntal improvisation does not simply happen, but requires a lot of experience with the subject. Nevertheless, it was being done by the general population, when they sang traditional songs. This, in turn, meant that at an important part, possibly all, of the traditional music of Wales had to have been performed with improvised counterpoint before 1187.
    Such traditional music had to have been around long enough that nearly everyone knew how to sing it. The time for it to develop would have been very long, possibly more than a century, but I should imagine it certainly could not have started to come about after about 1150.
    So counterpoint could not have been invented in Paris in about 1285, but had been demonstrated in a mature, traditional form nearly a hundred years earlier. It had already been widely practiced by ordinary people in Wales as part of their musical heritage for over a century.
  • A type of music called homophony existed in many cultures, all over the world, before the well-tempered scale came into being. Like formal European harmony, it allows for chord progressions. The difference is that certain specific instruments could not do chord progressions or key changes in the older tuning.
    When Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, wrote about landing in Africa in 1497, he said the people of the area sang in “sweet harmony.” He was probably referring to the same homophonic music heard in the same area today, which most modern people would also regard as harmonic. But he heard this music before the well-tempered scale was invented in Europe.
  • Interestingly, the modern Barbershop music cannot be played on instruments with fixed pitches tuned with a well-tempered scale. The ringing tones that define the music require tuning like the older ones used in the Middle Ages and before. The reasons for this are, again, mathematically complex, but it is nevertheless acknowledged by musicologists. This music would hardly be said not to be harmonic.

In other words, it is nonsense to claim that only post-medieval European music, or world music based upon it, can be harmonic. To do so is entirely a matter of scholarly definition of “harmony” specifically intended make a statement sound like some profound truth, magnifying European human beings in the process, when in fact the statement has no value, in terms of truth. When scholars say harmony is a defining feature of European music, what they are really doing is to define harmony so as to be exclusively European.

The Fairies’ history of music

The truth of the matter, according to all Fairy traditions is this:

  • Homophonic music has been used by Fairies since prehistoric times. For Fairies, this means since before Noah’s Flood. The practice was taken up by Knockers soon after the Fairies began it.
  • The oldest formal rules for making music were produced at a convention of Fairies, Knockers, and Pookas in Early Post-Roman Britain. Each of these tribes had already developed its own tradition of polyphonic music. Both Fairies and Knockers are very musical, and though Pookas are not as well-known for musical ability, they can be excellent musicians, even by the standards of Fairies. Pookas provide resonant, deep bass voices that members of the other two tribes cannot duplicate.
    The purpose of formal rules was to establish a common practice for the three groups, so they could make polyphonic or homophonic music together whenever they met.
    The rules were adopted for the traditional practice at the first meeting of a Music Confederation formed for the purpose of promoting the practice. There is some question about the date, but it appears this happened during the period of 420 to 450 A.D.
  • The earliest humans invited to the Music Confederation were a very few bards of unusually high quality. The earliest record of this seems to be in the period of about 600 to 650, though it is clear some were members earlier and the records lost. More humans were invited into the confederation as time passed.
  • Human musicians who could pass standard tests were generally allowed into the Music Confederation without special invitation during the reign of Merfyn Frych, or Mervin the Freckled, who ruled the Kingdom of Gwynedd from 825 to 844. By this time, the original rules were already extended to include contrapuntal forms, including a form of melodic continuo. This was in some ways similar to the later basso continuo, but it referred to the melody, rather than an accompanying line.
    To understand the melodic continuo, one must realize that Wee Folk typically embed thoughts within sounds, and these can be understood by other Wee Folk and telepaths. Thus, the melodic continuo implies embedding the accompanying polyphonic or homophonic structure within the melody itself, and does not require use of a notation, as the basso continuo would. Any embedding of a specific message, such as words of a song, is in addition to this. (For more information on embedding thoughts, please see the ancillary article An Art Lesson.)
  • The use of the melodic continuo, and the homophonic music that accompanied it, became universal in Wales and Cornwall, whence it spread to Cumbria, Scotland, and Ireland. At the same time, it became progressively more improvisational, to the point that the improvisation on the melody could be done in the absence of the actual melody itself. This was the state of things at the time of Gerald of Wales, in 1187.
  • Welsh and Irish musicians took the practice of counterpoint to France in the 12th and 13th centuries. Scholars of the area of Paris set down formal rules for counterpoint at the end of this period. They did this so very badly, that the Fairies wept for anger and frustration when they heard the music that resulted.

The Music Confederation 

The earliest music of the Music Confederation was generally homophonic, but with a strongly medieval sound to it. The melodic line for this music was sung by a lead singer, or a group of lead singers singing in unison. The melodies of the time were usually rather slow-moving and rather like chants. In fact, this music can be envisioned by imagining members of a barbershop quartet becoming monks, and subsequently applying the techniques of barbershop music to Gregorian Chants, while adding a bit of a lilt to it.

The early music of the Confederation became gradually more ornate with the passing of time. The singers began to answer each note in the melodic line with a series of notes mostly consonant with the chord, with dissonant passing notes allowed as long as they resolved on consonant tones properly. Sometimes slightly dissonant notes were allowed to be emphasized. So singers usually worked within a triad, but occasionally added a harmonic 7th, or more rarely a 9th. With time, this music diverged into different types.

One major divergent type had melodies become lively and improvised with the same harmonic triads the accompanying singers used. This was probably the first divergent type to be developed.

Another type was a predecessor to the canon, round, and fugue. In this type, one part of a melody is sung against another part of the same melody. The songs of this type of music became more complicated than the rounds humans sing, however, as some of the melodic parts began to be improvised.

Yet another divergent type had multiple melodies working with each other, in much the same manner as fully developed counterpoint. This was the later version that was described by Gerald of Wales. It was extremely popular with all classes of Wee Folk and humans.

A variation on the second and third types mentioned is a combined round, in which two or more rounds are sung at once, with the added twist that they are sung improvisationally. I have heard this done, and, in fact, have participated. It is not as hard as it sounds, provided the musician has a background with improvisation. The particular piece I did was performed with a group of about a dozen other people who sang two rounds simultaneously. The rounds had lines of identical length, but one had four lines and the other had five. Thus, the time it took to sing one of them five times was the same as the time it took to sing the other four times. It had a jazzy lilt to it, and could be accompanied with a chord progression of Am, C, D, E, repeated. The words of one round, sung by male voices, was a rather trivial appeal by a man to a woman for love. The words of the other round, sung by women, were those of a woman rejecting a suitor in a manner suitable to his silly appeal.

The original formalization of counterpoint, which happened in France of the late 13th century, missed the point of improvisation and individual expression. The music was stultified and ponderous, compared to the Fairy-Pooka-Knocker-Human mix that existed in Britain at the time. In time, it became more like the music of Wee Folk, however.

Unfortunately, a person who wishes to understand the late contrapuntal music of the Music Confederation has no recorded music to listen to. Nevertheless, the effect is rather like what one hears with the milder forms of mid-20th-century Jazz. The Wee Folk music was a bit less syncopated than New Orleans style. Perhaps New England contradance music is actually closer to the sound than jazz, but most people have trouble finding it.

Current music of Wee Folk

We probably want to bear in mind the somewhat improvisational style of the histories of Wee Folk, and make allowance for possible inaccuracies that creep up because of a desire to tell a good story. Personally, however, I am quite convinced that the representation given by the Fairies is more accurate than what one might find in a college music history course.

The Music Confederation still exists, but a time came when the music was considered old-fashioned by most humans, and they went on to other things. It can still be heard by some, who go out privately into the quiet countryside of Wales on a summer evening, and sit in silence. There, Fairies, Knockers, and Pookas still sing together in a marvelous homophonic improvisation. A very few human beings participate, but they tend not to advertise that fact to their human friends.

I should add that Welsh Knockers still like to sing with Welsh choirs, but the music, while beautiful, is different from that sung by groups in the Music Confederation. This music, too, has been in decline, ever since the mines began to close, and the association between Welsh miners and Knockers is gradually being lost.

My guess is that wherever contradance is performed, Wee Folk are always present. New England is especially rich in this music, but it exists elsewhere. People who do not know it might try attending.

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