I'm wondering because of a composition I'm writing. I'm thinking of "Contrapunctus duplex ab octo vocibus" as a title for a movement.

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    Welcome to the site! The answer will depend on context. Can you give a whole sentence where you intend to use the phrase? You can always edit your question to add details.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 1, 2021 at 4:05
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    "Contrapunctus duplex ab octo vocibus", as a title for a movement.
    – user9914
    Aug 1, 2021 at 5:47
  • Thanks! I edited your question with the details. Feel free to edit further yourself. (For the record, even after your comment I had no clue that this had to do with music. I had to see the answers. Always better to explain a little too much!)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 2, 2021 at 9:29
  • Thanks for adding the music tag, if that was you.
    – user9914
    Aug 5, 2021 at 4:31

2 Answers 2


No: if I have interpreted it correctly, "for eight voices" indicates the instrument by which the action takes place, which in this case are the voices of those who have to sing: the sentence must therefore be translated with per + accusative: “Contrapunctus duplex per octo voces”.

Moreover, it is a frequent formulation in musical composition: for an exempli gratia comparison, you can think of Sven-David Sandstrom's "Kyrie et Agnus Dei per tres voces" or of Johann Vinnubst's "Missa Dominicalis per tres voces cum organo".

EDIT: as it was shown in the comments and in the other answer, this kind of phrases have been translated in different ways over the years. However, the instrumental ablative could be fine if it is intended that the "voces" are musical instruments.

We have seen that also a / ab + ablative is very widespread in the traditional wording: this is because it presupposes a gerundive with a verbum cantandi (e.g. "Contrapunctus duplex ab octo vocibus canendus"); however the dative of agent could also work well ("Contrapunctus duplex octo vocibus canendus").

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    Still, Google finds expressions like "ab una et duabus vocibus," "Canon a tribus vocibus," "Vespera a quattuor vocibus" etc. (perhaps sc. cantus, -a, -um). Aug 1, 2021 at 22:35
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    @SebastianKoppehel A solo keyboard player can perform contrapuntal music. J S Bach (and others) routinely wrote "a 3" etc to indicate this. But note that in orchestral scores, markings like "a 2" or "a 3" have the opposite meaning - i.e. that several instrumentalists should play the same monophonic part in unison.
    – alephzero
    Aug 2, 2021 at 11:37
  • Yes, it implies a gerundive. A very neat analysis. We actually all agree about something.
    – fdb
    Aug 2, 2021 at 13:53
  • @qwertxyz The per + accusative translation makes a lot of sense. You say that the instrumental ablative could be fine if the "voces" are musical instruments: I am using "voces" to mean "independent melodic lines", as a translation of the term "voice" as used in the study of counterpoint. These voices just so happen to also be for eight instruments, but that is not what I mean, nor am I referring to voices, as in singing. That being said, what I'm hearing from both answers is that either (the instrumental ablative and the per + accusative) is fine and that they both have precedent.
    – user9914
    Aug 5, 2021 at 4:45

I am following up on Sebastian's comment. J.S. Bach gave Latin titles to many of his compositions, among them a “Canon triplex a 6 voc(ibus)”, and many others with the same construction. One could argue that this is a macaronic mixture of Latin with Italian or French. But one could also argue that it is wide-spread and standardised usage among composers of polyphonic music (which was, of course, unknown to the ancient Romans). I think if it was good enough for Bach it should be good enough for us, mere mortals that we are.

AN AFTERTHOUGHT: I have looked at this some more. The autograph superscription to the second part of the Matthew Passion reads: Pars 2da Passionis Christi secundum Matthaeum a due Chori per J.S. Bach. The first six words are Latin. “A due Chori” is not Latin, but unmistakably Italian, apart from the Latinising “h” (NB: Italian “a” is from ad, not ab). “Per”, to indicate the name of the author/composer, is neither Latin nor Italian; it seems rather to be a calque on French “par”.

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    Sanctissimae Virgini Missa senis vocibus ac Vesperae pluribus decantandae by Verdi is an example that seems to use a dative. More recently, I see Cantiones Sacrae Quinis Vocibus and Moduli Quinis Vocibus. Not that I have a problem with per voces, but the dative seems well attested.
    – Figulus
    Aug 2, 2021 at 0:26

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