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I'm experiencing a lack of clarity on this.

Now, understanding 4th species in duple time is a matter of understanding Fux's text and seeing it in actual use. In 4/4 for example, it is easy to see the strong beat / weak beat relationships between beats 1 and 2 and also between beats 3 and 4. You can even see the strong/weak relationship between the first half and the last half of the measure, which is why it is justifiable to hold a suspension dissonance until beat 3 in 4/4.

I have also read that 4th species suspensions are a 3 beat action: a weak beat preparation, strong beat dissonance and finally weak beat resolution.

Yet, things aren't so cut and dry in triple time. Fux himself applies only a few paragraphs (if that) to the topic. Fux simply sees triple time as 2nd species with an extra beat. A dissonance can occur, for example, in the middle beat in 3/4 time with a stepwise bass. This makes sense and shows the relationship with 2nd species. With some observation of triple time, it seems to me that in triple time you can have a passing tone on beat 3 moving to consonance on beat 1 of the next measure using Fux's logic of the "2nd species extension." This also makes triple time interesting due to its variability.

Where it gets dicey is 4th species.

In the following please note that I am speaking strictly of a situation with 3 quarter notes in a bar in 3/4 time. I do understand that you can divide each of those beats by 2 and now you have created 3 smaller strong/weak relationships. This is not the type of action I'm referring to.

Now anyone can see that in 3/4 time, beat 1 is obviously the strongest beat. Therefore, a beat 3 preparation, beat 1 dissonance and beat 2 resolution seems very logical. But, if we take Fux's logic into consideration where he sees triple time as simply 2nd species with an extra beat, one would almost be inclined to believe that you can do a preparation on 2, dissonate on 3, and resolution on 1.

Yet, the aforementioned action goes against "prepare on weak, dissonate on strong, resolve on weak" literature (the final step in the aforementioned action actually resolves on a clearly strong beat.)

I'm working on a Scarlatti partimento right now in 3/4 time, and it seems to me that his approach to the problem is to prepare on 2, dissonate on 3, continue dissonance on 1, and finally resolve on beat 2 (ultimately a 4 beat action.)

Yet, I'm very interested in the experts take here. I thank you much in advance for an answer that will help me in my understanding of music.

1 Answer 1

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Fux is very clear that in a suspension, the dissonance occurs on the strong beat.

In [fourth] species, there are two half notes set against a whole note. These half notes are on one and the same tone and are connected by a tie, the first of which must occur on the upbeat, the second on the downbeat.1

The dissonant ligature [suspension] results when the half note on the upbeat is consonant (which must always be the case); the half note on the downbeat, however, is dissonant.2

This eliminates the possibility of a beat 1 resolution of a suspension.

The rules of second species do not apply to fourth species.

Second species rules are intended to teach the use of unaccented, dissonant passing tones; whereas, fourth species is solely concerned with suspensions, where the dissonance is accented.

Second species moves from consonance to consonance through an unaccented dissonance. As such, triple meter presents no problem: as long as the dissonance is on a weak beat, it doesn't matter whether the following consonance is on a strong or weak beat.

To understand Fux, look to Palestrina.

Fux's goal was to preserve the art of the "great masters", notably Palestrina. In light of this, it's worth a look at how Palestrina handled suspensions in triple meter.

Based on an examination of his four-voice triple meter compositions, it appears that Palestrina employed suspensions on every beat (that is, the dissonance can occur on any beat), but when the dissonance occurs on beat 3, the resolution is on the "&" of three, not on the following beat 1.3

Regarding Alessandro Scarlatti

Scarlatti died the same year that Fux published his Gradus ad Parnassum: 1725. But the practice described in his Partimenti is consistent with Palestrina and Fux. This would seem to reinforce the idea that Fux does not allow beat 1 resolution of a suspension.


1 Johann Fux, The Study of Counterpoint, from Johann Joseph Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum, rev. ed., translated and edited by Alfred Mann (W. W. Norton & Co., 1971), page 54 (emphasis added)

2 Ibid.

3 "Palestrina's Use of Triple Meter in Four-Voice Counterpoint", PhD dissertation, Louisiana State University, 1979. My conclusion is based on a perusal of the included scores as well as the following passage from page 132.

In the 982-1/3 measures analyzed for this portion of the study, 230 suspensions occur. Of these, twelve (5%) are on beat one, one hundred sixty-six (73%) on beat two, and fifty-two (23%) on beat three.

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  • Thank you for your intelligent and thoughtful answer Aaron! May 22, 2021 at 1:16

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