Jean-Philippe Rameau’s understanding of harmony comes to us in the form of a theory that presents many interpretive difficulties. What writers of figured bass manuals were trying to achieve, on the other hand, is often more accessible, though as they go about their practical concerns they often reveal surprisingly little of what they really understood, or reveal it indirectly or haphazardly, in the realm of harmony (the concept of triadic inversion, e.g.). In response to these difficulties, this article proposes a structuralist-synchronic framework for interpreting the rules of figured bass manuals and their application to certain paradigmatic examples drawn from such writers as Gottfried Keller, Denis Delair, Johann Adolph Scheibe, and Johann David Heinichen, in which knowledge of triadic inversions may or may not have been implied. And because writers of figured bass manuals as well as scholars make claims about hearing and learning, often unexamined, the author refers to distinctions and experimental work drawn from the cognitive sciences.

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