It is not easy to tell exactly what a partimento is. It is a basso continuo or thoroughbass, but one that does not accompany anything except itself. It is a figured bass, but very often it has no figures at all. It is a bass, but can as well be a soprano, an alto, or a tenor. Whether tenor, alto, or soprano, it is often the lowest voice, but sometimes it can skip from one voice to another in the texture. It is written, but its goal is improvisation. And, finally, it is an exercise – perhaps the most efficient exercise in composition ever devised – but also a form of art in its own right. So, what is a partimento? Perhaps a good definition is a metaphor: a partimento is a thread that contains in itself all, or most, of the information needed for a complete composition. The classic organicist metaphor of the seed might also be used, but usually the seed metaphor and its musical counterparts, like the Grundgestalt do not develop in the dimension of time. Rather, they are self-contained, like a thematic or motivic statement. The partimento, by contrast, is a linear entity that runs from the beginning to the end of a (potential) composition.

Sanguinetti, Giorgio. “The Realization of Partimenti: An Introduction.” Journal of Music Theory 51, no. 1 (2007): 51-83. Accessed September 27, 2020.

What is a partimento?

A partimento looks like a figured bass accompaniment but without a piece. Our goal as students of the style is to develop the ability and facility to imagine melodic lines and counterpoint that this figured bass can accompany. The rules of partimento are all the rules we have discussed so far – and a few additional ones. Beginner partimenti include figures and no diminution in the bass. Below are some suggestions on how to realize partimenti.

Analyze the given line

Things to look for:

  • Clausulae and the cadences they imply.
  • The Rule of the Octave and its subsegments
  • Scale mutations
  • Other typical progressions (sequences etc.)
  • Existing diminutions (these will be present in more advanced partimenti)

Add figures

Beginning partimenti will include all the figures. More advanced partimenti require adding the figures based on the analysis of the given line.

As you gain experience you will be able to add suspensions at this stage as well.

Simple realization

Realize the partimento as block chords. Remember to skip notes you have deemed to be diminutions in your analysis. This phase will become less necessary over time and with experience may be skipped altogether.

Add diminutions

Below are some suggested forms:

  • A single melodic line – like an Aria or a solo instrumental piece with figured bass accompaniment.
  • Using polyphonic melodic patterns
  • In three parts with the same diminution applied in alternating voices to create the sense of imitation
  • As a concerto (alternating tutti-solo)
  • For imitative partimenti – as an imitation
  • For fugue partimento – as a fugue.

Example 1 – Fenaroli I/1 unrealized

Fenaroli book 1 no. 1 (Gj 1301)

If you are having trouble realizing this quickly try to add thirds/tenths to every given note (other than those who have 6/4 or 4/2 figure). Then add another voice based on the figures. If the figure requires four parts (or if you just feel like it) add a fourth voice when appropriate.

Below is a realization we came up with in class in the fall of 2020:

Now try to transform this realization into a lyrical melody above the bass.

  • Start by adding mostly thirds (the singing voice) and 6ths (in 6/3 chords). Use fifths as well as you see fit and for smooth voice leading.
  • Add diminution using our models: long notes, repeated notes, octave displacement, ornaments, arpeggiation, and directional diminution. Recycle rhythmic motives. Create a culmination – highest note and largest interval between the hands. Add trills and other ornaments generously.
  • You can also add appoggiaturas (accented dissonances on the beat) as long as they resolve down by step. For example, if the figure has a 3 you can add 4-3, if it has 6 you can add 7-6 and if it has 8 you can add 9-8.
  • Experiment with combining models – for example start with a long note and then arpeggiate down. Then later add directional notes to connect your arpeggios.
  • Remember that rhythm – adding more notes – is essential. Use your ears and taste when doing this.

Below is a realization of this partimento from 1804 that can serve as a model:

Sanguinetti, Giorgio. 2012. The Art of Partimento : History, Theory, and Practice. Cary: Oxford University Press, Incorporated. Accessed September 27, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Enjoy a discussion of this partimento and realization by Robert Gjerdigen in this video:

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