In recent years, scholars and musicians have become increasingly interested in the revival of musical improvisation as it was known in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. This historically informed practice is now supplanting the late Romantic view of improvised music as a rhapsodic endeavour—a musical blossoming out of the capricious genius of the player—that dominated throughout the twentieth century. In the Renaissance and Baroque eras, composing in the mind (alla mente) had an important didactic function. For several categories of musicians, the teaching of counterpoint happened almost entirely through practice on their own instruments. This volume offers the first systematic exploration of the close relationship among improvisation, music theory, and practical musicianship from late Renaissance into the Baroque era. It is not a historical survey per se, but rather aims to re-establish the importance of such a combination as a pedagogical tool for a better understanding of the musical idioms of these periods. The authors are concerned with the transferral of historical practices to the modern classroom, discussing new ways of revitalising the study and appreciation of early music. The relevance and utility of such an improvisation-based approach also changes our understanding of the balance between theoretical and practical sources in the primary literature, as well as the concept of music theory itself. Alongside a word-centred theoretical tradition, in which rules are described in verbiage and enriched by musical examples, we are rediscovering the importance of a music-centred tradition, especially in Spain and Italy, where the music stands alone and the learner must distil the rules by learning and playing the music. Throughout its various sections, the volume explores the path of improvisation from theory to practice and back again.
"The book ‘offers a first systematic exploration of the tight relationship between improvisation, music theory and practical musicianship from the late Renaissance to the Baroque period’ (though one of the most interesting chapters, by the Italian scholar Giorgio Sanguinetti, extends to an examination of ‘incomplete notation’ in Mozart’s keyboard music, and how this might be ‘realised’)."
—Tom Cooper, The Consort Early Music Journal, vol.74, Summer 2018
"The rich panorama of historical techniques and traditions illuminated by Guido’s collection will be of interest to scholars, instructors, and practitioners alike. Indeed, it is the counterpoint among philological work, active music-making, and old teaching made new that generates such insight; the treatment of these traditions under one cover highlights connections between scholarship and practice on the one hand, and among different styles within the book’s chronological window (1500–1750) on the other hand. … The collection demonstrates that the project of historical improvisation can indeed succeed through the ongoing collective efforts of, and the dialogues between, scholars and practitioners."
— Gilad Rabinovitch, Music Theory Online, vol. 23, no. 4, December 2017
part I ‘con la mente e con le mani’: Music and the art of memory
1 The Improvisatory Moment
2 Musical Inventio, Rhetorical Loci,and the Art of Memory
3 Climbing the Stairs of the Memory Palace: Gestures at the Keyboard for a Flexible Mind
part II Improvising vocal Music
4 Towards a Stylistic History of ‘Cantare super Librum’
5 Contrapunto and Fabordón: Practices of Extempore Polyphony in Renaissance Spain
6 Discovering the Practice of Improvised Counterpoint
part III Improvising Keyboard Music
7 Composing at the Keyboard: Banchieri and Spiridion, Two Complementary Methods
8 Partimento Teaching According to Francesco Durante, Investigated Through the Earliest Manuscript Sources
Peter van Tour
9 Partimento and Incomplete Notations in Eighteenth-Century Keyboard Music
part IV Nova et vetera: Pedagogy
10 Teaching Theory Through Improvisation
11 Learning Tonal Counterpoint Through Keyboard Improvisation in the Twenty-First Century
Michael R. Callahan