Jean-Jacques Rousseau, eighteenth-century French author and philosopher, was first a musician. As a youth he had been unable to find a qualified music master and hence lacked the training required to excel in his chosen field. He did read carefully the harmony treatise of Jean-Philippe Rameau, but that study neither advanced his compositional abilities nor later shielded him from the scorn of Rameau himself. Had Rousseau found a master of the then fashionable Italian style of music, he would have studied exercises in partimenti and solfeggi. Solfeggi were studies for voice with bass accompaniment. Partimenti were instructional basses from which an apprentice was expected to re-create complete compositions at the keyboard. The prodigious mental powers developed through the study of partimenti, which greatly facilitated improvisation and composition, gave a competitive advantage to composers so trained. Though an old, nonverbal method of craft instruction, partimenti were nonetheless a cognitively optimal means of developing fluency in a complex, multivoice style of music. In memorizing exemplars of small contrapuntal schemata, fitting them to the matching locations in a partimento, and then realizing them in a current style, the apprentice was training himself to think in “free” counterpoint.
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Robert O. Gjerdingen; Partimento, que me veux-tu?. Journal of Music Theory 1 April 2007; 51 (1): 85–135. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00222909-2008-024
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