In this video I’m going to talk about the 3 principal pedagogical features of the Neapolitan Conservatory method and provide some resources and links to aid in the support of your partimento journey.
I’m going to divide the video into 3 segments which I find to be the most prominent subjects that were the trained in these Neapolitan conservatories. By being aware of them, it can really help shape your own path and how you would like to customize your training according to your needs. As you can see, the 3 areas of interest in this video will be Solfeggio, Partimento and Counterpoint. So let’s begin with the first area of training, solfeggio.
Until as recent as this year and this month, this area has largely been a mystery if not for the important work by Nicholas Baragwanath. It explains the initial, crucial preliminary training that Neapolitan students did before proceeding to instrumental studies.
The Solfeggio Tradition is the first stop for anyone interested in learning about how they did their unique hexachordal italian solfeggio. It is a huge book filled with history, evidence-backed research, a multitude of sources and a step by step treatment of how to learn solfeggio, the 18th century Italian way. You’ll learn first how to speak solfeggio by adding syllables to every note and then you’ll progress to learning to how sing solfeggio where not every note is sung to a separate syllable. That really explains how these difficult advanced solfeggi could be sung with syllables. Solfeggio really teaches more than just singing but also provides a tangible, physical connection to the music that is always contrapuntally aware. Singing in 7 clefs, all key signatures, mutating between hexachords, modulating to different keys, improvising counterpoint, composing music with just solfeggio syllables is just some of the features of this amazing method that I believe will really catch on in the future.
So that’s the book I suggest buying, let me also share some resources on where to find actual collections of solfeggi to practice.
The first stop will be partimenti.org which contains two collections, one by Leonardo Leo and another a huge collection of solfeggi published in Paris known as the Solfege d’italia which is a compilation of many solfeggi by Italian maestros. These alone constitute a nice collection for you to peruse but I’d like to also draw your attention to and older online resource that perhaps is more powerful.
This is a web archive of Robert Gjerdingen’s old webpage that is still available for now. I believe that he is in the process of transferring everything from this old webpage into the new partimenti.org website eventually but in the meantime, the old collections are not yet available on partimenti.org just yet so you have to find them here. I’ll provide the link to this webarchive down below in the description and once you get here, it’s fairly easy to navigate.
Let’s now select a composer, Giuseppe Aprile is a good one. and you can now see a collection available here. It’s really quite an impressive collection and every incipit has the full solfeggi transcribed for you with a MIDI playback. You can sing along with the melody and then practice with just the bass. Amazing resource.
So that concludes the topic of solfeggio for this video. The Neapolitans trained in solfeggio for 3 years before progressing to partimento so it would be advisable to work on your solfeggio if you are to practice partimento, they certainly placed an enormous emphasis on singing, going as far as not letting anyone touch an instrument until they demonstrated fluency in the skill of solfeggio.
So now we progress into Partimento and the absolute first stop has to be the Art of Partimento by Giorgio Sanguinetti. It’s the main book on the subject and a detailed look at how they learned. It’s scholarly but also contains many practical examples you can use to study this skill.
Beyond this book, there are actually now a wealth of research articles and resources that you can explore to gain more insight into partimento but since this video is aimed at the beginner, I’d like to highlight what I feel are generally the most important documents you should have and be aware of.
Again, Robert Gjerdingen steps into the picture here because his website partimenti.org has a fantastic collection of edited PDF’s of partimenti composers and their rules. I highly recommend downloading all the rules by Furno, Fenaroli, Insanguine first and really get a handle on the rules. Things like memorizing the Rule of the Octave in all keys and the various cadences have to be your first priority. You can go to Songbird Music Academy’s free resources tab and download the Ro8 in all keys and other related pdf’s to help you to that end. As I mentioned in a previous video, now we have Durante’s rules uploaded to partimenti.org, and Durante was the teacher of Fenaroli.
After partimenti.org, if we hop back to the archived monuments of partimenti website, you can find these collections there plus several others that haven’t yet been brought over to the new page. In particular i’m referring to the Greco brothers, Stanislao mattei, Nicola Fago, and just like the solfeggi, there is MIDI playback for all the examples, something which the new partimenti.org is probably in the process of adding sometime in the future. So both websites will great complement your partimento training but in my opinion, most important of all. Get a master partimento teacher to help you learn how to make correct and tasteful realizations, starting with the basic consonances, then learning how to add disonances and then finally learning how to imitate.
The last area I want to discuss is the subject of written counterpoint. As Solfeggio dealt with sung counterpoint, partimento with live counterpoint on the keyboard, written counterpoint constituted the final stage of training for Neapolitan students. Isn’t it so interesting that the written portion of training came right at the end. It’s almost like they wanted counterpoint to be a physical sensation for their students through singing and playing and conscious thought.
So the main book dealing with this subject is of course Peter van Tour’s “Counterpoint and Partimento” book. It is the key book on the subject and explains how they taught written counterpoint at all of the 4 main Neapolitan conservatories. It’s an impressive piece of scholarship because it weaves history, evidence from sources and scholarly analysis to give a very comprehensive look at how this was done in Naples. It gives you the best scholarship on how they studied written counterpoint which is what I assume that anyone studying partimento, wants to emulate.
After buying the book, it’ll be great to obtain copies of actual student counterpoint workbooks to see what they were working on. Yes, it’s really fascinating, you can actually see the counterpoint exercises that these Neapolitan graduates worked on. What’s interesting is that the exercises were not something that would have been completely foreign to what the students had already done for years. You see the partimento basslines that they studied show up for instance. They would have built up such a vast vocabulary of musical knowledge through combined solfeggio and partimento training, and it would have really complemented their written counterpoint studies.
Can you guess which link we will go to? Yes, Robert Gjerdingen’s partimenti.org and this time we will click on the Counterpoint tab and this will bring us to a nice page filled with counterpoint workbooks. These are all great to download and read. Let’s take Vincezo Lavigna for example, who worked with Fenaroli. You can see what Lavigna worked on such as 2-voice counterpoint, 2-voice with imitation 3-voice, 4-voice and eventually fugal counterpoint. And that is a great example of an actual counterpoint workbook that one of these Neapolitan students went through.
So to conclude, we have the 3 areas of competence: solfeggio, partimento and counterpoint. They work synergistically and help understand how these Italian composers trained in the 18th and early 19th centuries. A great community to connect with is The Art of Partimento on Facebook where almost all the main scholars connected with this movement are such as Giorgio Sanguinetti and Peter van Tour along with many others. I want to share a quick hack that i’ve found very useful is to use the search function in the group by year to find posts, particularly the ones with comments because those often have very interesting discussions where you can get really good information fast. I want to give a shout out to the great scholar Marco Pollaci, who is responsible for founding the group in 2013 and has helped to make it what it is today. He is an expert on the Italian operatic traditions of the 19th century and has shown very strong links between the training of these composers and these older Italian methods.