Harmony, Counterpoint, Partimento

The book Harmony, Counterpoint, Partimento: A New Method Inspired by Old Masters ​​​​​​by Job IJzerman (Oxford University Press, 2018) describes method for music theory teaching in the bachelor phase. This method draws on research into the use of 'schemata' (characteristic harmonic-melodic progressions) in the galant music of the eighteenth century and of 'partimenti' in music education of the same era. Partimenti are bass lines on which musicians in training learned to improvise. The musician was to realize the schemata suggested by such a bass on a keyboard instrument and to connect them organically while playing. Through years of practice, musicians developed such a proficiency that they no longer needed basses to extemporize entire sonatas.

In partimento practice, harmony and counterpoint went hand in hand - two perspectives on the compositional process that developed into separate disciplines in conservatory education in the nineteenth century. This method begins with the contrapuntal perspective, which focuses on the construction of melody, the coordination of voices, and the balance between consonance and dissonance. Only at a later stage do harmonic aspects, such as chords and their inversions, cadences and sequences, come into play. 

Harmony, Counterpoint, Partimento reaches back to a teaching tradition in which the mastering of repertoire and performance skills are paramount. The book examines a wide range of schemata - from a parallel pair of voices at third or sixth intervals to the chromatic countermovement of the 'omnibus'. It shows that galant schemata acted as the concrete building material of composers well into the nineteenth century. And it lets students gain creative and practical experience with them. The online workbook consists of exercises drawn from partimento practice and assignments based on existing compositions. The exercises invite students to play, sing, improvise, and eventually to write notes. Each exercise results in an outline for a composition.

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