OK. Counterpoint is just freakishly, mind-bending hard sometimes. I've been working on setting a couple of examples today and I've spent 2 hours on it and still the second one won't come good. But working through it, I'm gradually getting a better understanding of it and where I went wrong with it in the past. The various available intervals for beginning and ending ("should be an octave or unison, but can be a 5th or a 3rd" kind of thing) freaked me out before - how could I tell which was the right interval??? And so I was kind of semi-paralysed from the start. Today I really started to understand that it's a *composition* exercise. And so it doesn't hugely matter which one you pick, so long as you carry on properly and treat it right. This may seem overly simplistic and perhaps I am just a little dense, but the counterpoint course I did at uni was condensed into half a term and there just wasn't time to really understand what it was we were doing so it's taken this long to work that one out.
The other small revelation has been that, well, sometimes the given cantus firmus is just rubbish. The second one I'm working on today has a great long string of descending notes at the end of it, which makes it really, really hard to do anything interesting in the other part while sticking to the rules - there's no scope for correctly resolving dissonances, so I'm having to stick to consonances and frankly it's dull and difficult. But it's a useful lesson to learn, I guess.
I am finding, at least, that as I'm working through these exercises, I'm gradually internalising the rules. I look at an interval of, say, a perfect 5th now and find myself checking how I'm approaching it and leaving it, making sure I'm not doing anything wrong. I'm also finding that, as I'm playing through my work at the piano, I really AM hearing where things have gone wrong - when I played through the first version of the second one, I could tell instantly that the opening was wrong - and sure enough, when I looked at it, I found that I was leaving the opening perfect 5th by similar motion, with a skip in the soprano line (rather than a step as it should be), so that had to change.
I'm still a fair way off resolving the second one, but as we're going out tonight to hear Stephen Sondheim talk about his work, I should really cook our early dinner and get ready so we're not late. Tomorrow I will recommence the battle with exercise 2... then move on to the one in the alto clef. Oh boy, that'll be fun!