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Johann Joseph Fux (1660 – February 13, 1741) was an Austrian composer, music theorist and pedagogue of the late Baroque era. He is most famous as the author of Gradus ad Parnassum, a treatise on counterpoint, which has become the single most influential book on the Palestrina style of Renaissance polyphony. Almost all modern courses on Renaissance counterpoint, a mainstay of college music curricula, are indebted in some degree to this work by Fux.
Fux was born to a peasant family in Hirtenfeld , in Styria. Relatively little is known about his early life, but likely he went to nearby Graz for music lessons. In 1680 he was accepted at the Jesuit university there, where his musical talent became apparent; and he was organist at St Moritz until 1688. Sometime during this period he must have made a trip to Italy, as evidenced by the strong influence of Corelli and Bolognese composers on his work of the time.
By the 1690s he was in Vienna, and attracted the attention of Emperor Leopold I with some masses he composed; the emperor was sufficiently impressed by them to assist him with his career after this point. In 1698, Leopold hired him as court composer. Fux traveled again to Italy, studying in Rome in 1700; it may have been here that acquired the veneration for Palestrina which was so consequential for music pedagogy.
Fux served Leopold I until his death, and two more Habsburg emperors after that: Joseph I, and Charles VI, both of whom continued to employ him in high positions in the court. He was famous as a composer throughout this period, his fame being eclipsed only later in the 18th century as the Baroque style passed away. Although his music never regained favor, his mastery of counterpoint influenced countless composers through his treatise Gradus ad Parnassum (1725). The Baroque age in music ends in Austria with Fux.
While Gradus ad Parnassum is famous as the origin of the term "species counterpoint," Fux was not the first one to invent the idea. In 1610 Girolamo Diruta, a composer of the Venetian school, published Il Transilvano, which presented the Renaissance polyphonic style as a series of types: one note against one note, two notes against one note, suspensions, and so forth. Fux's work repeated some of Diruta's, possibly coincidentally, since he is not known to have had a copy: in any event, Fux presented the idea with a clarity and focus which made it famous as a teaching method. In species counterpoint, as given in Fux, the student is to master writing counterpoint in each species before moving on to the next. The species are, in order, note against note; two notes against one; four notes against one; suspensions (one note against one, but offset by half of the note value); and "florid," in which the other species are combined freely. Once all the species are mastered in two voices, the species are gone through again in three voices, and then in four voices. (Occasionally in modern counterpoint textbooks the third and fourth species are reversed: suspensions being taught before four notes against one.)
The book is in the form of a dialog, between a master and a student: specifically they are implied to be Palestrina and Fux himself. At the outset Fux states his purpose: "to invent a simple method by which a student can progress, step by step, to the heights of compositional mastery ..." and he gives his opinion of contemporary practice: "I will not be deterred by the most passionate haters of study, nor by the depravity of the present time." He also states that theory without practice is useless, thus his book stresses practice over theory.
Most subsequent counterpoint textbooks have taken Fux as their starting point, from the book by Albrechtsberger (Gründliche Anweisung zur Komposition) to 20th century examples such as the book by Knud Jeppesen (Counterpoint: The Polyphonic Vocal Style of the Sixteenth Century).
- Article Johann Joseph Fux, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1561591742
- Johann Joseph Fux, The Study of Counterpoint (Gradus ad Parnassum). Tr. Alfred Mann. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1965. ISBN 0393002772
- Knud Jeppesen, Counterpoint: The Polyphonic Vocal Style of the Sixteenth Century. New York, Dover Publications, 1992 (Original 1931). ISBN 048627036X
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