Department/School of the Primary Author

Music and Worship


Partimento, Enlightenment, music, music theory, music history, Naples, Italy, France




How did Enlightenment ideals influence seventeenth-century music theory and composition pedagogy? This article investigates the relationship between partimento pedagogy and Rameau’s music theories as influenced by Enlightenment thought. Current research on partimento has revealed its importance in Neapolitan music schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Along with counterpoint, partimento was a core subject in the study of composition in the Neapolitan schools; however, as pedagogy and theory began to be influenced by Enlightenment ideals such as the scientific method or a preference for clear systemization, the partimento tradition began to wane. Juxtaposing the Enlightenment ideals of Rameau’s music theory with the ideals of partimento pedagogy, the author suggests that Enlightenment thought hastened the decline of partimento study. Both the method of partimento pedagogy and Rameau’s theory of the fundamental bass stemmed in part from the practice of thoroughbass, and both were viewed as effective ways to teach musicians composition and improvisation. However, Rameau’s theory sought to improve on existing pedagogies by condensing eclectic rules and extended study into a few fundamental principles—an example of Enlightenment thought applied to music theory. In the light of Rameau’s understandable, widely applicable theory of harmony based on Enlightenment assumptions, the long years of practice-based partimento study under a maestro gradually became obsolete.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


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© 2017 Deborah Longenecker. All rights reserved



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