Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Thomas J. H. McCarthy (University College Dublin, Ireland)

Johann Joseph Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassum: the study of counterpoint and rhetorical discourse

This paper is concerned with the pedagogical style of Johann Joseph Fux (1660–1741). Gradus ad Parnassum—a work of fundamental importance in the preservation of the stile antico—is written in the form of a dialogue between master and pupil. In organizing his treatise thus, Fux was following a model that dated back to the middle ages.

The dialogue form admitted many didactic possibilities. Not only might errors be exposed and corrected in a friendly manner, but the concept of progression from one level to the next—implicit in the title of Fux’s treatise—appealed to the western European mentality. In this sense, Fux is to be seen not as a product of the enlightenment, but as a preserver of the medieval  pedagogic heritage.

Rhetoric—a fundamental discipline of the medieval trivium—was employed by virtually all European writers from the eleventh century. As with these writers, so too with Fux. The dialogue form provided him with ample opportunity to fuse rhetoric and music pedagogy. By using rhetoric in the teaching of counterpoint, Fux displayed his concern to link ideas of progress with the received wisdom of tradition. At the same time, however, rhetoric could be used to provided a convenient escape from selected technical difficulties where these arose.

Last updated on 11 May 2004