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The Counterpoint Thread 
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Post The Counterpoint Thread
By now it should be no secret that my least favorite aspect of a Sondheim score is his use of counterpart. I find it completely unnecessary and inane. Let’s take “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” as an example. Dramatically, we’re supposed to be paying to attention to Pirelli, which is difficult to do with the Ensemble’s counterpoint going on. Plus, imagine how one might feel if they were actually in the Ensemble and spent all that time learning the lyrics only for the audience to not be focusing on them. What do you all think?

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Brian aka Apples2for10

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Wed Feb 11, 2015 10:41 am
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Post Re: The Counterpoint Thread
Your taste is bad and you should feel bad. :)


Wed Feb 11, 2015 11:15 pm
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Post Re: The Counterpoint Thread
Apples2for10 wrote:
Let’s take “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” as an example. Dramatically, we’re supposed to be paying to attention to Pirelli, which is difficult to do with the Ensemble’s counterpoint going on.


I imagine that would be somewhat difficult, given that Pirelli's not onstage during the number.

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Plus, imagine how one might feel if they were actually in the Ensemble and spent all that time learning the lyrics only for the audience to not be focusing on them. What do you all think?


As someone who's been in the ensemble for that number, we felt just fine.

I mean, the point of the counterpoint in the number is that's it's meant to imitate actual crowd sounds--instead of the crowd singing a single unified thought, each customer gets their own comment or remark that overlap and intersect with the others. It makes for a more interesting (and, for what it's worth, more realistic) song. I mean, heck, "Who Will Buy?" accomplished much of the same point in Oliver!, it's not something that's limited to Sondheim. In general, ensemble actors (or just actors) don't mind the difficulty of a piece if there's a purpose to it, and of all the criticisms you can hail against Sondheim, saying he does things without purpose isn't really one of them.


Sat Mar 21, 2015 11:32 pm
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Post Re: The Counterpoint Thread
First of all, I was grouping "The Contest" in with "Elixir", so Pirelli is onstage. And regarding the comparison to "Oliver!", Lionel Bart has a much smaller oeuvre than Sondheim, so for all you know, that's the only Bart score that uses counterpoint. But it's almost a moot point because not only does Sondheim use counterpoint rather frequently, but his scores are (for good or bad) more in the public eye than Bart's.

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Sun Mar 22, 2015 9:30 am
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Post Re: The Counterpoint Thread
Counterpoint is so fun to listen to!

It's usually my favourite effect in musicals, because it sounds so witty - like Old Fashioned Wedding, Prima Donna and You're Gonna Love Tomorrow/Love Will See Us Through. I can listen to the In The Same Boat number in Curtains over and over :D And if I remember correctly does Lionel Bart have another counterpoint number in Blitz.

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Sat Mar 28, 2015 4:19 pm
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Post Re: The Counterpoint Thread
I should mention I do like counterpoint, particularly when done by Alan Menken: That's How You Know, Topsy Turvy, Savages, Carrying the Banner. My point is that I just personally don't care for the way Sondheim does it.

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Sat Mar 28, 2015 6:58 pm
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Post Re: The Counterpoint Thread
To quote Jean Valjean, you are wrong, and always have been wrong.


Fri Apr 03, 2015 7:16 pm
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Post Re: The Counterpoint Thread
Apples2for10 wrote:
First of all, I was grouping "The Contest" in with "Elixir", so Pirelli is onstage.


But there's no counterpoint at all during "The Contest". Once Pirelli is onstage the ensemble counterpoint disappears, which means your point that it distracts from Pirelli doesn't make a lot of sense.

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And regarding the comparison to "Oliver!", Lionel Bart has a much smaller oeuvre than Sondheim, so for all you know, that's the only Bart score that uses counterpoint.


Not my point at all. I was specifically comparing two songs that use counterpoint for the same purpose, mostly to combat your assertion that the use of it during "Elixir" is unnecessary (and that it somehow upsets ensemble members). The purpose of "Elixir"'s counterpoint is to mimic the murmurs and babbles of a crowd so they're rarely singing unison. The effect is that it makes the scene far more realistic and aurally interesting, and emphasizes the few moments where the crowd does sing unison ("what about the money", "where is this Pirelli", etc.). Unless you can provide a solid reason for why you think the scene would work demonstrably better without the counterpoint, I can't really see calling it "unnecessary and inane" (certainly the film's rather languid interpretation of the number would seem to prove my point).


Mon Apr 06, 2015 6:25 pm
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Post Re: The Counterpoint Thread
The thing about Sondheim's counterpoint technique -- that is, having overlapping harmonies with different lyrics sung by several characters -- is that quite a few other musical theatre composers have also used it in some ways, including the more commercially popular ones like Andrew Lloyd Webber (example: "Notes" and "Prima Donna" in Phantom of the Opera). Leonard Bernstein seemed to have pioneered its usage in musical theatre (especially in West Side Story, where Sondheim was the lyricist, so that's likely where he picked up that technique). It turns up at some points in Les Misérables -- think of "Lovely Ladies" towards the end of the scene, as well as "The Confrontation" and "One Day More." And even Alan Menken (and I'm a huge fan of his scores too, so I'm with you there) has made use of it at times. Think of the bit of "Belle" in Beauty and the Beast where Gaston is trying to push through the crowd -- very similar usage to that bit of "Pirelli's." It also turns up in "Savages" from Pocahontas, used for a different purpose; and there may be other occurrences I didn't think to mention.

And to clarify what I think you were trying to say earlier about where the audience focus is intended to be: Tobias is singing the main part of "Pirelli's Miracle Elixir," so I think you meant that the focus should be on him and the background characters are distracting from that (since Pirelli himself doesn't show up until the Contest begins, and nobody else is singing during that part). Being distracting and chaotic is kind of the point of that bit, though. They tried having only the main characters sing for that number in the movie, and I felt the number lost a lot of its energy because of that change. (Also the silliness of "God, That's Good" retaining that title even though the line doesn't turn up in the lyrics once, thanks to Burton not wanting chorus numbers for some reason.) So yeah... Certainly, there are plenty of shows out there that don't use overlapping counterpoint, but to want to alter that in productions of shows that do use it (whether by Sondheim or someone else) seems to be going a bit too far, in my view.

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