Diminution of Simple Cadences in Two Parts

The art of transforming a simple, slow melody into a rich, fast-moving one is called diminution. The are of diminution was developed by the Italians during the Renaissance and the early Baroque, and it is codified in a number of treatises and manuals, such as Sylvesto Ganassi’s Fontegara (1535), Giovanni Battista Bovicelli’s Regole, passaggi di musica, madrigali et motetti passeggiati (1594), and Francesco Rognoni’s Selva de varii passaggi (1620), to mention just a few.

Giorgio Sanguinetti, “12,” in The Art of Partimento: History, Theory, and Practice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 183.

The examples in Unit 1-2 are mostly from the article Diminution and Harmonic Counterpoint in Late-Eighteenth Century Naples: Vincenzo Lavigne’s Studies with Fedele Fenaroli by Giorgio Sanguinetti (Journal of Schenkerian Studies, 7/1, pp. 1-32). These are counterpoint exercises created by Vincenzo Lavigna, a student of Fenaroli in the late 18th-Century.

Practice these using Keyboard Buddy both singing and playing at the keyboard in a variety of keys. This will help you develop an intuition for diminution.

We start with a simple cadence in two parts:

If we remember that the simple cadence represents 5/3 chords in each measure we can now add another note in between the original notes that are members of those sonorities.

And we can go further with 4:1 ratio. Notice here that the second measure includes the note F, implying that we hear that measure as a 7/5/3 chord.

What is starting to emerge is a ‘polyphonic’ line – meaning, a melodic line that represents several voices of a polyphonic texture. In this case, in measure 1, the line E-C-G-E represents the top three-parts of a four-part texture.

We can easily imagine other orderings of these three notes in the upper part:

This is where we can start being creative!

Try it out and improvise your own lines using the same notes and durations.

The following example adds 8th notes to the diminution. These short durations relate directly to the quarter notes we had in the last examples. They add a dissonant note and its immediate resolution. We will discuss this extensively in later examples

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