Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)
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Recent research has illuminated a pedagogical approach to keyboard improvisation of the Italian conservatories of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, namely that of partimenti: single-stave, multiple clef exercises in which students were trained to improvise (Gjerdingen 2007, Sanguinetti 2012, van Tour 2015). This approach was passed down through oral instruction until the mid-twentieth century, when pedagogical priorities shifted away from improvisation and compositional creativity towards virtuosity, technique and adherence to the printed page. Simultaneously, the tradition of decade-long musical apprenticeship was replaced with semester-long courses in music theory and harmony.
The existing research on partimenti presents a compelling historical narrative of its tradition, but fails to provide a comprehensive method for modern day application and study. In his Music in the Galant Style, Robert Gjerdingen guides readers in the process of understanding partimenti as a concatenation of his schemata; memorable musical patterns idiomatic to and ubiquitous throughout music of the Galant period (approximately 1720–1770). Giorgio Sanguinetti, in his The Art of Partimento: History, Theory and Practice, explains that these partimenti were first introduced through the study of regole or “rules:” musical events such as cadences and suspensions. By practicing the rules, students of the Galant period internalized the very patterns on which partimenti were based, thereby building their musical vocabulary and fluency within the galant language. While manuscripts of these exercises, primarily from student notebooks, or zibaldone, have been resurrected from the archives of European libraries and catalogued, there remains very little regarding the oral tradition of how rules and the improvisational realization of partimenti were taught. Gjerdingen’s website, Monuments of Partimenti (http://faculty-web.at.northwestern.edu/music/gjerdingen/partimenti), boasts a catalogue of known regole and partimenti. Like the manuscripts on which they are based, there is little to no verbal instruction on how to approach these exercises. Without the assistance of a trained teacher (a current rarity), the interested student would be overwhelmed
and lost, not knowing where to begin. Therefore, there is a need for a comprehensive pedagogical method that aids modern-day students with independent rule study towards the goal of partimenti realization.
Utilizing the rules of Francesco Durante (1684–1755), a leading Italian conservatory maestro of his day, this paper presents a step-by-step approach towards working through this historical method of teaching keyboard improvisation and composition. I discuss activities that may help the modern-day student in working through the rules and combining them into a complete partimento, including figured bass realization, study and performance of scores in trio-sonata texture, as well as “play-and-sing” activities. Additionally, it addresses voicing, invertible counterpoint, transposition, texture, and issues of ambiguity such as deciphering the figured bass and errors within the manuscripts.
In addition to a comprehensive approach to Durante’s rules and their historical context, this paper presents a review of present literature on both historical and modern-day keyboard improvisation teaching methods, as well as suggestions for their applications. Through the rediscovery of the teaching method that trained some of history’s most remembered composers for several hundred years, students, with the tools provided in this paper, can single-handedly reconnect to a rich lineage of pedagogy traditions, developing musicianship skills seldom synthesized today and discovering what can be learned from the past.
In addition to partimenti study, I introduce schemata analysis (Gjerdingen, 2007) as a springboard for compositional creativity. By stripping a piece down to its schemata, one is left with a skeleton of the piece or “lead sheet” on which to improvise. I demonstrate the prevalence of schemata in music throughout the eighteenth century by presenting analyses of varying solo keyboard works of the period and demonstrate a written-out improvisation from such an analysis.
Galant Schemata; Historical; Improvisation; Keyboard; Partimenti; Pedagogy
Education | Music | Performance Studies | Theatre and Performance Studies
Arar, Monique, "Going Old School: Using Eighteenth Century Pedagogy Models to Foster Musical Skills and Creativity in Today's Students" (2017). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. 2938.