An Unlikely Musical Pioneer?

Early Aleatory Counterpoint

by Lynn Fisher

Many musical texts attribute the invention of so-called aleatory counterpoint to Polish composer Lutoslawski, beginning with his Jeux venitiéns of 1961.  However, as musical examples below show, this repetition of phrases by individual performers without synchronicity to other performers [usually with ‘start’ and ‘stop’ signals from conductor] was used earlier by American composer Alan Hovhaness; in fact he first used it in the string writing of his Lousadzak of 1944.  Hovhaness scores label these sections simply ‘senza misura’ or ‘without barlines’.

Below is a side-by-side comparison of aleatory counterpoint of Hovhaness (1958) and Lutoslawski (1961). Only pitch, rhythm and repetition are defined, resulting in a blur-like countrapuntal texture as each musician performs his phrase independently of others until a “stop signal” from conductor.  This example is a somewhat characteristic Hovhaness aleatory counterpoint passage becuase of its dynamic symmetry of crescendo and decresendo.


Aleatory counterpoint Hovhaness and Lutoslawski

The scans below are also from Hovhaness’s Meditation on Orpheus, published by CF Peters.  Click on each thumbnail to view large image.

Cover: Hovhaness
Meditation On

The very opening has
non-synchronous ad libitum
phrase repeated independently by
each  second violinist.

p.16: entire
string section plays
aleatory counterpoint
– typical 1950s Hovhaness.

p.17: conductor signals entrance of woodwind
aleatory counterpoint
(while strings continue).

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