Definition of counterpoint in US English:



  • 1Music
    The art or technique of setting, writing, or playing a melody or melodies in conjunction with another, according to fixed rules.

    • ‘The authors of these treatises were not principally music theorists whose prime interest was expounding on the rules of counterpoint, although that may have been included in their duty as teachers.’
    • ‘If she conceives of it as a fugue, she uses techniques of counterpoint and fugal structure to make the piece.’
    • ‘Valen's approach was derived from Bach, from whose music he evolved a polyphonic technique of dissonant counterpoint.’
    • ‘Bernstein studied harmony and counterpoint with Walter Piston at Harvard.’
    • ‘We find also a fascination with Baroque counterpoint and modal melodies from Gregorian chant to Appalachian folk tunes.’
    1. 1.1 A melody played in conjunction with another.
      • ‘Melodies and counterpoints are entwined throughout the mix, grounded by the swagger of Fridmann's surprisingly muscular basslines.’
      • ‘The contrast was heightened when, from about the 11th century onwards, such soloist passages began to be enhanced, on feast days, by the addition of newly composed polyphonic counterpoints.’
      • ‘Anda's inspiration was evident in Gamba's searching accounts, exploring beneath the musical surface and highlighting beautiful inner counterpoints in all three works.’
      • ‘Later on in the song, we hear more melodies that are baroquesque, as well as the counterpoints introduced by the alternation of guitars and keyboards.’
      • ‘His technical skill guarantees admirable clarity in the midst of complex counterpoints, and there is a delightful sense of well-being about the performances.’
  • 2An argument, idea, or theme used to create a contrast with the main element.

    ‘I have used my interviews with parents as a counterpoint to a professional judgment’
    • ‘The band is the counterpoint to Jet - that is to say, they are a rip-off crew that (kind of) makes it work.’
    • ‘Joe is the counterpoint to David, with a programmed love that is all simulation, and can be turned off as well as on.’
    • ‘Ned is a meteorologist devoted to science and logic, the counterpoint to his sister and her belief in curses and irrational fate.’
    • ‘Portrayed in this light, Spinoza becomes the perfect counterpoint to Descartes, a rhetorical move that capitalises on a subliminal reference to the title of Damasio's first book.’
    • ‘Regrettably, the counterpoint to that dominance is a tendency to relapse into aggressive and uncivilised patterns of behaviour from time to time.’
    • ‘The euro will become a powerful counterpoint to the US dollar, and beside these two powerful currencies the Australian dollar looks increasingly vulnerable.’
    • ‘For a humorous counterpoint to Deacon's scholarly observations on the University of Michigan cases, check out Ann Coulter's latest column.’
    • ‘The drawings have a Photo-Realist literalness, and a dense, satiny gloss accenting edges and shadows in a masterful counterpoint of tonal values.’
    • ‘The purpose of the Times op-ed section was to allow for the presentation of diverse counterpoints to the paper's editorial columns.’
    • ‘It appears to be a simple performance but one full of richness and stands as the counterpoint to the work done by James Stewart.’
    • ‘Here, pleasure, humor and serenity predominated, rather than serving as mere counterpoints to the darker interpretations of life generally provided by 20th-century art movements.’
    • ‘Now, admittedly this could be seen as a neat counterpoint to the national lottery, which is a tax on stupidity.’
    • ‘The content of the silent film is a pertinent counterpoint to both the events unfolding in the film's expansive narrative, and its questioning of the boundaries of corporeality.’
    • ‘His role is essential, as he's the counterpoint to the bookish and serious Ernesto, and it would be easy to overplay the oversexed Alberto.’
    • ‘That's because grilling imparts charred and caramelized flavors that are great counterpoints to the light toasty and sweet flavors wines take on when they're made and/or aged in oak barrels.’
    • ‘My cod with chorizo is a tried-and-tested combination, with the strong taste of the chorizo providing a pleasing counterpoint to a succulent piece of cod.’
    • ‘With our invariably simplistic tendency to summarize any given issue into Good vs. Bad, the courts are held up as the primary counterpoint to the criminal element of society.’
    • ‘And that belief came from ideas that saw greatness as the counterpoint to everyone else's lack of it.’
    • ‘They've had a big hit with a series called Witch, which is for 10 to 12-year-old girls, so this is going to be the counterpoint to that for boys.’
    • ‘I want you to talk a lot about this because it's the counterpoint to what lots of others have said.’


[with object]
  • 1Music
    Add counterpoint to (a melody)

    ‘the orchestra counterpoints the vocal part’
    • ‘Hence the quotation from ‘Shepherd's Hey ’, which is skilfully counterpointed with the ‘Enigma’ theme in bar 25.’
    • ‘On Crumb, Crunch introduces a simple melody counterpointed immediately by a static-like underpinning.’
    • ‘Norburn and Taylor belong to the subtle school: muted but plaintive accompaniment counterpointing a singing voice which is both expressive and intimate; occasionally dramatic but never melodramatic.’
    • ‘Britten used the 12-note system to provide a classic opera of dramatic tension counterpointed by exquisite melody.’
    • ‘The second verse features only the guitar and Hysen until the cello comes in once again playing a more legato melody that counterpoints the guitar nicely.’
  • 2Emphasize by contrast.

    ‘the cream walls and maple floors are counterpointed by black accents’
    • ‘He also contributes an interview with a traditional healer, supplementing and counterpointing Linda Connor's filmed interviews of a couple of decades earlier.’
    • ‘The powerful but polished wash of savoury earthy characters gives way to a plum-like sweetness, counterpointing the meat and complementing the potato.’
    • ‘The painting's elegant, slithery movement - it looks like a diamondbacked reptile going by a window - is counterpointed by studiedly offhand execution.’
    • ‘The film immediately counterpoints the militaristic Nazis with the apparently slightly less militaristic Soviets.’
    • ‘The game's biggest weakness is its lack of any levity or humor to counterpoint the story's overwhelmingly serious tone.’
    • ‘Right from the start, the movie counterpoints the capable, stoic Stride with the rather helpless John Greer, who while, affable, just talks and talks and talks, instead of getting things done.’
    • ‘These new paintings counterpoint their structure and rich color with an urban grittiness, like an elegant woman in evening wear stepping out onto the macadam of a New York street.’
    • ‘Sawyer is adept at counterpointing points of view.’
    • ‘As if to counterpoint the tension, a rollicking square-dance-inspired tune by Smith's sister, Soozie Tyrell, fills the room.’
    • ‘Realism was counterpointed by forms of pluralism that potentially offered a much richer view.’
    • ‘The profusion of words on the quilts counterpoints the simple linear sewing on the sheets.’
    • ‘Thomas' article, counterpointed by a more persuasive discourse by security consultant Martin, seems to be soapbox oratory on behalf of the company.’
    • ‘I like the brashness of youth, particularly when counterpointed by the underlying futility of it all.…’
    • ‘But today they highlight Charles' sheer musical eclecticism, and vitally counterpoint his earlier earthier style.’
    • ‘The wild, syncopated patterns of the surrounding painting become giant frames which counterpoint the stillness of the images.’
    • ‘The sterility of the courtroom is ironically counterpointed by the sometimes intensely emotional testimony of those who survived through Grüninger's efforts.’
    • ‘But to make a historical point and also embody it requires more than merely counterpointing the possible and the actual.’
    • ‘As a kind of spatial equivalent to the disjointed dialogue, Danny's close-up brooding is typically counterpointed in the shot by some unrelated incident or gag in the middle distance.’
    • ‘Frankie is revealed early to be a smart-ass to his local priest, only for the audience to find out later how it counterpoints his responsibility as Maggie's friend and true family.’
    • ‘This scene ironically counterpoints the opening of the novel where Catherine sees only a ‘confused impression’ of people.’
    1. 2.1 Compensate for.
      ‘the story's fanciful excesses are counterpointed with some sharp and unsentimental dialogue’
      • ‘What should have been a risky theatrical conceit is turned into an effective device for commenting on or counter pointing the action.’
      • ‘Thankfully this is counterpointed by some genuinely tender moments, particularly from Jason Donovan as Tick.’
      • ‘This proves a wise move, as the sheer weirdness of the story is counterpointed by Jonze's naturalistic approach.’
      • ‘The score samples the most beautiful, evocative measures from Bernard Herrman's Vertigo score, counterpointing its predecessor's smothering romanticism with its own spare original orchestration.’


Late Middle English: from Old French contrepoint, from medieval Latin contrapunctum ‘(song) pricked or marked over against (the original melody)’, from contra- ‘against’ + punctum, from pungere ‘to prick’.