Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Review of Massimiliano Guido, Ed., Studies in Historical Improvisation from Cantare Super Librum to Partimenti (Ashgate, 2017)

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Review of Massimiliano Guido, Ed., Studies in Historical Improvisation from Cantare Super Librum to Partimenti (Ashgate, 2017)

Article excerpt

Example 1. Realization of partimento Gj 92 by Francesco Durante, mm. 1–8

Example 2. Canon module (after Froebe 2007, 35) adapted to match Durante’s context

[1] The study of contrapuntal patterns and their diminutions was a common thread among historical music pedagogies. Medieval and Renaissance musicians learned counterpoint by memorizing intervallic combinations and internalizing surface patterns (Busse Berger 2005). The partimento “rules,” or patterns, of the eighteenth century (such as Francesco Durante’s “when the partimento ascends by half step, it takes the 6th”) were comparable to the formulas of the Klangschrittlehre tradition (Sachs 1971).(1) By providing an incipit for realizing the partimento Gj. 92 (Example 1), Durante tacitly taught a canon module (Example 2) associated with the long-standing tradition of improvised vocal counterpoint (surveyed in Froebe 2007). My realization continues the canon and responds to the ensuing bass patterns using Durante’s rules for realization. Thus, interrelationships among figured bass, contrapuntal skeletons, and diminution techniques pervaded centuries of musicianship pedagogy in Europe.

[2] Massimiliano Guido’s edited collection explores improvisational traditions and techniques from 1500 to 1750. Readers interested in historical improvisation from a theoretical, historical, or pedagogical point of view will benefit from the rich and concise case studies in this volume. Guido’s introduction explains the reciprocal relationship between scholarship and performance: historical teachings help us to reconstruct improvisatory practices, and improvisation nowadays enriches our understanding of the sources. It is therefore significant that several of the contributors are actively involved in reviving improvisatory traditions as performer-scholars. The collection, which stems from a 2013 conference in Venice, is in four parts, which deal with the art of musical memory, improvising vocal music, improvising keyboard music, and present-day pedagogy.

[3] Thomas Christensen’s essay, “The Improvisatory Moment,” reflects on the momentum of current improvisation studies—not only in historical improvisation, but also in jazz scholarship, music cognition, and ethnomusicology. He attributes this surge to the digital accessibility of recordings of improvised musics, as well as to the growing skepticism toward the work concept and the notated score—a skepticism that emanates from the writings of Carl Dahlhaus, Lydia Goehr, and Richard Taruskin. Christensen notes that improvisation research allows us (1) to recognize commonalities among improvised traditions; (2) to distinguish varieties of improvisation, stressing the multiplicity of regional dialects in Europe; (3) to recognize the central place of improvisation in studying and teaching Western music history, and reconsider periodization as a result;(2) and (4) to reform the pedagogy of music theory by incorporating improvisation. Reacting to the controversial manifesto of the College Music Society Task Force (Sarath et al. 2014), which calls for increased creativity and de-emphasis of the Western canon in collegiate music curricula, Christensen stresses that the improvisatory nature of European music in past eras makes distinctions between Western art music and other musical cultures “specious” (24).(3) Indeed, it is difficult to predict whether our twenty-first-century students will choose to perform or study historical European repertoires, hip-hop, gamelan, electronic music, or other traditions. Yet one would hope that they do so with the level of artistic and scholarly commitment necessary for reconstructing historical improvisation, and with the understanding that the predominantly dead-white-male periods in European music history do not represent exceptionalism in relation to other musics.

[4] Stefano Lorenzetti discusses contrapuntal commonplaces, focusing mainly on two treatises—Chiodino’s Arte pratica (1610) and Banchieri’s Cartella musicale ([1614] 1968)—along lines related to Peter Schubert’s 2010 study of commonplaces in the Renaissance. …

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