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Book publication: Giovanni Paisiellos Partimenti: Paths to a practical understanding

Nicoleta Paraschivescu highlights the pedagogical and artistic aspects of partimenti in her book 'Giovanni Paisiellos Partimenti: Paths to a practical understanding', released today.

Newly discovered partimenti 

The present examination of Paisiello’s pedagogical work is based primarily on two sources: the Regole, printed in 1782 in St. Petersburg, as well as the autograph manuscript, and forty-one newly discovered partimenti that have been preserved as two- and three-parts disposizioni, and are published here for the first time. The latter show the central role accorded partimenti in the teaching of counterpoint and composition. With this, the pedagogical and artistic aspects of partimenti are highlighted, aspects that hitherto have not yet been fully assessed. Simultaneously, the genre-specific context in which Paisiello’s partimenti are to be seen will be illuminated for the first time. The comparison with various compositions by Paisiello, as well as with works by his teacher Francesco Durante and other contemporaries, opens up new concepts for the performance of partimenti. At the same time, larger symphonic forms will also be consulted as models. It will be shown that the occupation with partimenti can make a substantial contribution to once again awakening to life the historical musical language and the art of variation and improvisation.

Paisiello’s life

A sketch of Paisiello’s life focuses attention on two factors that decisively informed his pedagogical work: first, the teaching tradition at the Conservatorio di S. Onofrio in Naples, where Paisiello received his training; second, the courtly environment in St. Petersburg, where he was active as maestro di cappella. In view of the very sketchy source situation concerning Paisiello’s teaching in courtly and private settings, it is above all his relationship to the Talleyrand family that receives attention, which is not only documented by letters and anecdotal snapshots, but also by an annotation in one of the newly discovered manuscripts. The attempt to define the terms partimento, solfeggio and disposizione with regard to their historical context and their pedagogical function reveals overlaps and points of contact.

Francesco Durante

A further focus is on the pedagogical work of Francesco Durante, one of the most influential teachers of the Conservatorio di S. Onofrio, who during the last year of his life also taught Paisiello. Among other things, it will be shown that the structure of Paisiello’s Regole of 1782 displays extensive parallels to that of a partimento compendium by Durante. Finally, Durante’s Partimenti diminuiti, which vary individual sections of selected partimenti, will be discussed as models for possible realizations of Paisiello’s partimenti. Correlations between Paisiello’s partimenti and his compositions and those of other composers of his time will be presented in detail. In terms of idiomology and structure, many partimenti can be associated with certain genres such as concerto, aria, pastorella, or fugue. This supports the assumption that partimenti were also employed as the basis of elaborated compositions.

Vessella Manuscript 

In addition to Francesco Durante’s above-mentioned Partimenti diminuiti, a historic elaborated partimento fugue discovered in the Vessella Manuscript is of central importance. The recently found Gallipoli Manuscript with forty-six elaborated partimenti by Durante would appear to be the hitherto most extensive collection of realized partimenti for which a direct connection to Durante’s teaching can be reconstructed. Moreover, the solfeggi attributed to Paisiello, his two- and three-voice disposizioni, and the intavolature by Greco and Fenaroli will be described in detail.

Paisiello’s Raccolta

Various techniques of variation and elaboration, including imitation between bass and upper voice, as Paisiello expressly demanded in his partimenti, and the inversion of a theme or a figure, will be demonstrated on the example of a prelude and a rondo from Paisiello’s Raccolta of 1783. In this way, it will become clear how a contrapuntally interesting and varied piece of music can be developed out of a relatively simply conceived composition.

Efficient and inspiring tool

Practical occupation with partimenti supports the acquisition of the historical musical language and the models and schemes based on it, as well as the training of different skills: harmonic-contrapuntal thinking, variation, ornamentation, and improvisation. Moreover, partimenti represent an efficient and inspiring tool with which to become acquainted with a vibrant and imaginative performance practice of the often only incompletely notated music of the late eighteenth century.

More information

More information on Partimenti and Nicoleta Paraschivescu.

The book Giovanni Paisiellos Partimenti: Wege zu einem praxisbezogenen Verständnis is released today (January 24) by the Schwabe Verlag Basel in the Scripta Series of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis.

Just as jazz musicians today use lead sheets (indicating only melody and harmony), so classic musicians once used partimenti - figured or unfired bass lines - in order to learn how to improvise and compose at the harpsichord.

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