Music and Worship Student Presentations

Document Type

Conference Presentation

Event Date

Spring 4-7-2017


National Conference on Undergraduate Research


Memphis, TN


This presentation 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. In this presentation, I examine Rameau’s music theory as an example of Enlightenment thought in music, juxtaposing the central ideals of Rameau’s music theory with the ideals of partimento pedagogy and suggesting 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. The research methodology of this presentation consists of historical research from primary and secondary sources.


Partimento, Enlightenment, Music, Music Theory, Music History, Naples, Italy, France

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.