Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Review of Giorgio Sanguinetti, the Art of Partimento: History, Theory, and Practice (Oxford University Press, 2012)

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Review of Giorgio Sanguinetti, the Art of Partimento: History, Theory, and Practice (Oxford University Press, 2012)

Article excerpt

Audio Example 1. Toccata in B minor

Figure 1. Toccata in B minor

(click to open PDF)

Audio Example 2. Giacomo Tritto,

Partimenti e Regole generali, Lesson no. 19

Figure 2. Giacomo Tritto,

Partimenti e Regole generali, Lesson no. 19

(click to open PDF)

[1] A northern suburb of Chicago was recently the site of a most unexpected musical discovery: an eighteenth-century composition of European provenance, representative of both late-Baroque and galant styles. The work, a Toccata in B minor of complicated authorship, has been digitally sampled, and may be heard in Audio Example 1; the score is shown in Figure 1.

[2] This B-minor Toccata was "discovered" not in the strict historical-archaeological meaning of the term, but in Giorgio Sanguinetti's sense, as elaborated in The Art of Partimento: History, Theory, and Practice (hereafter AoP). The Toccata is the product of my own realization of an advanced "lesson" (lezzione, no. 19) from Giacomo Tritto's Partimenti e Regole generali (Milan, 1816), performed following my (virtual) "tutelage" with Sanguinetti. Though it contains some free-composed material-a cadenza demanded by the lesson's final half-cadence, and an additional cadenza finta episode just before it, which further builds on the lesson's exercises in "feigned cadences" (111)-the composition implicitly derives from one among a myriad of seemingly "obsolete relics" (ix) of the long eighteenth century, which, when "[p]layed as written," are bare and rustic, and "make no musical sense" (167). The Toccata originates from the "relic" shown in Figure 2, which is digitally realized in Audio Example 2.

[3] Tritto and others used the terms "lesson" and "partimento" interchangeably to describe these musical artefacts (242), a usage that resonates with our previous understanding of partimenti as "instructional bass[es]" with and without figures (Gjerdingen 2007b, 25 and 465).(1) The obscurity of partimenti owes to their underlying pedagogical function: they formed the basis for a unique teaching method largely developed and perpetuated by four Neapolitan conservatori ("conservatories," meaning orphanages) in the eighteenth century: Santa Maria di Loreto; Santa Maria della Pietà dei Turchini; Sant'Onofrio; and I Poveri di Gesù Cristo. These conservatories housed a tradition that exerted a pan-European influence mainly via Italian diaspora, making it "an important and perhaps central locus of craft training for eighteenth-century musicians" (Gjerdingen 2007c, 131). Partimenti facilitated cognitive tasks of applied memorization necessary for composition and improvisation, by cultivating the adaptation of learned musical exemplars ("schemata")(2) to new but similar contexts-"a nonverbal method of craft instruction" for artisans in training (Gjerdingen 2007c, 85).

[4] In many respects, AoP resonates with this earlier understanding, and retains the explicitly "craft"-based elements of partimento instruction. And yet, Sanguinetti brings a marked change in emphasis from "craft" to "art," illustrated by the monograph's title and altogether avoidance of the former term. Partimenti are no longer mere lessons. Nor are they basses, at least not always-as seen in Tritto-19, they shift clef and register frequently. The formal definition of "partimento" in AoP is "a sketch, written on a single staff, whose main purpose is to be a guide of improvisation of a composition at the keyboard" (14), or at the desk when writing out realizations, called "disposizioni" (72, 84). The formal definition highlights the larger and more substantial theme underlying AoP-that partimenti are "potential musical works" (167). The partimento now figures into musical ontology, as one half of a composition's "allotropic state" (222), a "ganglion cell" (167).(3) Though illogical as written, for Sanguinetti partimenti are nevertheless a source of musical logic, of "thematically distinct, musically self-sufficient piece[s]" (98). …

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