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I am currently studying Counterpoint using Knud Jeppesen's 'Counterpoint' book. In the Three-Part Counterpoint chapter, it says that in the final chord, the third should under all circumstances be major.

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It doesn't offer any explanation, though. Why do we need the final chord to have a major third?

  • Jeppesen* (In case we have any future visitors that use that as a search term.) – Richard Dec 4 '16 at 16:21
  • I assume the rules for four-part counterpart are the same in this regard? (Unfortunately I don't have his book on me at the moment.) – Richard Dec 4 '16 at 16:49
  • @Richard I guess so, but I still haven't reached that chapter – Shevliaskovic Dec 4 '16 at 18:49
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It was the convention in the particular historic style of counterpoint that Jeppensen is describing. That's all. If you're writing in a particular style, avoid throwing spanners into the works. In the same way that parallel 5th's are great, but not in a Bach-style hymn tune (yes, I know there are a couple of exceptions :-)

Once again - "Theory does not command, it describes'. Jeppesen has fallen into the trap of making his description of a particular style look like a command. He's just saying 'this is how it was generally done'.

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It seems to be aspiring towards the Tierce de Picardie - the Picardy third. At one time music that was in a minor key tended to end on the parallel major root harmony. Possibly to stop most of the audience leaving and slitting their wrists in anguish?

  • The reason is known, actually. A minor third was considered a dissonant sound, and hence unfit as part of a final chord. Of course, the Picardy third long outlived this, and it became a mere possibility instead of a requirement as soon as the minor third was promoted to consonant interval. – 11684 Dec 4 '16 at 20:27
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    @11684- of course, if you go back further in music history, major thirds were also considered dissonant, and hence unfit as part of a final chord. The first piece of music in three parts I know of with a (major) third in the final chord is a chanson by Dufay from the 15th century. – Scott Wallace Dec 4 '16 at 21:11

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