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A Musical trope. One character sings a song, then another character sings to the same chords but a different melody, then both sing together in counterpoint. Most often used to express arguments or show that characters have differing opinions on the same subject, though occasionally merely employed for fun.

A sub-trope of Let's Duet. See also Call-and-Response Song.

Examples of Counterpoint Duet include:

  • Irving Berlin:
    • "Old Fashioned Wedding" from Annie Get Your Gun
    • "You're Just In Love" from Call Me Madam
    • "Play a Simple Melody" from There's No Business Like Show Business
  • Stephen Schwartz:
    • "All For The Best" from Godspell (and a semi-example with "Tower of Babble" from the same show, with eight counterpoint lines)
    • "Two's Company" from The Magic Show
  • Stephen Sondheim:
    • "Who Could Be Blue/Little White House", a Cut Song from Follies
    • "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow/Love Will See Us Through" from Follies (actually two duets sung in counterpoint, because that's how Steve rolls.
    • Topped by "Now/Later/Soon" in A Little Night Music, which gives us a counterpoint trio of three songs with only the slightest common elements...
      • Except that only Anne actually sings her exact part again; Fredrik and Henrik both sing heavily modified versions of their parts in order to fit with hers. But this song certainly fits the spirit of this trope if not the letter.
      • Johanna (Quartet) from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
  • "Truly Scrumptious/Doll on a Music Box" from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Bonus points for the actors involved doing extremely good jobs portraying their characters' disguises (a marionette and a clockwork doll, respectively).
  • "Devil Take the Hindmost" from Love Never Dies. Reprised as a quartet which fits the same trope.
  • "Confrontation" from Les Misérables is a semi-example, since Valjean and Javert sing together throughout, but do switch melody lines.
    • Another one is "A Heart Full of Love", where Eponine sings a counterpoint to Marius and Cosette's love song about how Marius will never love her. It's only a semi-example because she starts midway through the song and does not sing independently before the counterpoint.
  • "Lida Rose/Will I Ever Tell You?" from The Music Man (barbershop quartet against Marian).
    • Also, "Pick a Little, Talk a Little" and "Good Night, Ladies" with the gossip women and the barbershop quartet.
    • "The Sadder But Wiser Girl" was supposed to be reprised as counterpoint to "My White Knight," but this Soprano and Gravel duet reprise was cut.
  • "Mine" from Let 'Em Eat Cake is a Happily Married couple against a chorus who explain "the point they're making in the song."
  • "Another Day" from Rent
  • "Bon Voyage/There's No Cure Like Travel" from Anything Goes
  • In the stage musical of Mary Poppins, this trope is used for "Jolly Holiday".
  • "I Believe In You" from How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.
  • "A Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues.
  • The "Will You Love Me Forever?/Let Me Sleep on It" section of Meat Loaf's Paradise by the Dashboard Light.
  • The combination reprise of "Under Your Spell" and "Standing" from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Musical Episode "Once More With Feeling".
    • Not to mention Spike and Buffy in the "Coda".
  • Joss Whedon continues the trend in Doctor Horribles Sing Along Blog: the song "My Eyes" has Penny singing several steps up from Billy, with a more lyrical melody in counterpoint to his militaristic rhythm. She sings about how the world isn't perfect but things are always getting better, Billy sings about how the world is a pile of filth and lies and everyone's out to get each other, talking about how disillusioned he's become.
    • And the end of "A Man's Gotta Do" features a Counterpart Trio, between Captain Hammer, Penny, and Dr. Horrible.
  • In A Very Potter Musical, Ron and Draco sing "Granger Danger," a song about how seeing Hermione at the Yule Ball has made them both fall in love with her.
  • Jekyll and Hyde has "In His Eyes" with the two female leads singing about each other's feeling toward Jekyll.
    • On the other hand, The Secret Garden has the two male leads singing about "Lily's Eyes".
  • Mitch Benn parodies this in the duet part of his "West End Musical" parody (which is also supposed to be a Distant Duet).

 Kirsty: Our composer's showing off.

Mitch:: He's written two tunes for this song.

Kirsty: I have to sing across the counter-melody.

Mitch:: It's a sort of call-and-response thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing...

Kirsty: Then I keep going while he holds that one long note,

Both: And the last line is in two-part harmony.

  • In Celtic Thunder's song "That's a Woman", two of the men play opposing views on how a woman is and should be treated. One thinks they're nothing but good and should be treated gently, and another thinking that they're nothing but bad and should be treated in kind.
    • In their show Storm Keith and Damien have a duet where they sing in counterpoint; Damien talking about how cool and debonair he is, and Keith saying that actually, the girls are laughing at him and he's sort of a loser.
  • West Side Story has a slightly odd example in "A Boy Like That," where Maria sings the melody of "I Have A Love" first as counterpoint to Anita, and only then as a song of its own.
    • A more usual example is the "Tonight" quintet/ensemble, which ends with Anita, Riff and Bernardo echoing the jazzy "We're gonna rock it tonight" motif against Tony and Maria's reprise of their earlier duet.
  • Don't Do Sadness/Blue Wind from Spring Awakening.
  • How the Other Half Lives from Thoroughly Modern Millie.
  • "Savages" from Pocahontas. There is a Part 2 featuring Pocahontas singing with similar structures to the earlier songs "Steady As the Beating Drum" and "Listen With Your Heart".
  • The title song from the South Park episode "I'm a Little Bit Country", with the country-loving rednecks supporting the war, and the rock-and-roll obsessed yuppies protesting it. The song is later reprised and turned into a Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number.
  • "If I Told You (reprise)" from The Wedding Singer Broadway Musical. Julia sings the melody from the original song with Robbie singing counterpoint with different lyrics and a different melody.
  • Hairspray (the 2007 movie) has a reprise of Big Blonde and Beautiful, during which Edna and Velma sing about their plans to seduce Wilbur for very different reasons.
  • "This Isn't My Idea" from The Swan Princess, in which Odette and Derek, as children, lament how their parents are forcing them to spend time together. It later turns into Duet Bonding as they grow older and fall in love.
  • In Carnival, Lili's song "I Hate Him" segues into a reprise of "Her Face", with Paul singing about his tortured love for Lili while she continues singing about how much she despises his cruelty.
  • 'Party Conversation' in When Midnight Strikes. Murial tells Edward "I'm gonna make love to you...". He panics and starts backing away while singing inanely about everything but making love. Both tunes are reprised in counterpoint before they join together as Edward gives in.
  • In Miss Saigon, the song "I Still Believe" is sung by Kim and Ellen. Kim is alone in a hovel singing about how much she loves and misses Chris, praying and still fervently believing that he will come back for her. Ellen is halfway around the world in a comfortable bedroom, sitting right next to the sleeping Chris. Subverted in that the only counterpoint is the setting. Ellen's lyrics show that she is just as lonely and desperate as Kim (Chris' trauma over the loss of Kim has caused him to push Ellen away) and just as fervent in her belief that one day Chris will trust her enough to confide in her.
  • In Next to Normal, the song "Who's Crazy?/My Psychopharmacologist and I" is primarily sung by Diana and Dan, with the other actors as ensembles. Dan is reflecting on how and why Diana was having treatments while Diana was telling the audience her path of treatments.
    • "You Don't Know/I Am The One".
  • The Good Doctor and The Sons of Fate by The Protomen both do this. The former has Dr. Light and Dr. Wily arguing about Wily's plans to control the city, while the latter has Mega Man and Protoman arguing about the fate of mankind while they battle each other.
  • On an episode of The Judy Garland Show, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand did a Counterpoint Duet of "Get Happy" and "Happy Days Are Here Again", respectively.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame has several:
    • "Out There"
    • "Heaven's Light" and "Hellfire"
  • "I Can't Imagine" from Vanities: The Musical has a counterpoint trio for its bridge. In the original score, the reprise was actually titled "Counterpoint". The counterpoint section was also the basis for the Dark Reprise "The Argument" in the Second Stage production and subsequent shows.
  • The Producers: "We Can Do It", to a tee.
  • Used quite often in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, for example in "Climbing over Rocky Mountain" from The Pirates of Penzance.

Other types of contrapuntal singing that are similar, but don't quite fit the trope-

  • "Fugue for Tinhorns" from Guys and Dolls, which is more of a round than anything.
  • Once more from "Once More With Feeling", though Joss Whedon tries to disguise it, during the counterpoint section in "Walk Through the Fire", the Scoobies and Sweet are actually singing pretty much the same tune. It just sounds different.
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber's version of The Phantom of the Opera- lots of counterpoint, especially in "Prima Donna"
    • Also when the Phantom, Raoul, and Christine are all singing their respective songs at the same time in a Dark Reprise ("The Point of No Return", "Think of Me", and "Angel of Music")
  • "I Am So Proud" from The Mikado starts off as a counterpoint trio.
  • "Go Ye Heroes" plus "When the Foeman Bares His Steel" from The Pirates of Penzance probably qualifies here.
  • "What Is This Feeling?" from Wicked plays with this, by having Elphie and Galinda on one melody line, while giving the other to the chorus.
    • Later in Wicked, Elphaba and Glinda sing in counterpoint briefly in "For Good" - they have separate refrains, but combine them for the finale, in which it is also in counterpoint to the Ozians reprising "No One Mourns The Wicked".
    • The opening version of NOMTW also has Glinda in counterpoint with the Munchkins for the final chorus.
  • Legally Blonde's "Harvard Variations" doesn't quite manage to be a true counterpoint trio. It does come close, though.
  • "Remains" from the Japanese musical Letter -bring to light- is a duet in counterpoint, but the singers don't sing their melodies individually first (at least, not in that song; the melodies do show up separately elsewhere).
  • "Yesterday I Loved You" from Once Upon a Mattress comes close but the melody of "In A Little While" is slightly modified to fit. In the revival there is also a point where Lady Larken joins Sir Harry in a harmony.
  • "Christmas Bells" from Rent also fits here.
  • "One Day More" from Les Misérables famously superimposes pretty much every song in Act I on top of each other, forming one of the most famous Act I finales of all time.
  • "Where Do We Go From Here" from Zombie Prom is an ensemble version.
  • Beethoven's opera Fidelio has a famous Canon Quartet: four characters expressing their different concerns over the same situation.