Structural counterpoint occurs when one aspect of structure articulates against the articulations of other aspects of structure.

My favorite example of structural counterpoint is Bela Bartok's third string quartet.  This one-movement work is laid out in four sections: slow-fast-slow-fast (seemingly, A-B-A-B).  The last section is obviously a coda.  The first section seems to be a lengthy and elaborate introduction.  The second section seems to be a fairly conventional sonata-allegro movement (allowing for Bartok's distinctive musical language) until a false recapitulation breaks down into a transition to the second slow section.  The second slow section is a compressed, subdued and barely recognizable recapitulation of the opening slow section.  In a sense, the main theme of the fast sonata-allegro is recapitulated in the coda.  So far, in this analysis, we have two levels - the surface level of slow-fast-slow-fast, and the next level, an intense sonata-allegro dynamic that recapitulates the introduction as though it were the main theme and recapitulates the main theme of the sonata-allegro in the coda.

In my analysis, there is a third level which holds the entire work together; the entire one-movement structure is a rondo-variation.  A similar and more apparent example of this is the third movement of the same composer's piano sonata.  Each statement of the main theme is accompanied by a variation.  The third quartet opens with a statement of the main theme (measures one through six), followed immediately by an idea (melodic and harmonic) which throughout the piece serves as a companion to varied statements of the theme.
Structural Counterpoint

Lester Allyson Knibbs, Ph.D.
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