Vasili Byros, associate professor of music theory and cognition and chair of the Department of Music Studies at the Bienen School, has received an Outstanding Publication Award from the Society for Music Theory. Byros was recognized for his article “Prelude on a Partimento: Invention in the Compositional Pedagogy of the German States in the Time of J. S. Bach,” published in Music Theory Online.
The Society for Music Theory publication awards recognize significant contributions to music theory, analysis, or history of theory. Eligibility extends to books and articles in English, published up to three years prior to the year of the award. The Outstanding Publication Award is given for a distinguished article by an author of any age or career stage.
“Prelude on a Partimento”
This article examines a hypothetical compositional and pedagogical use of the Langloz manuscript, a collection of German partimenti, during the time of J. S. Bach. The partimento is reconceptualized as a bridge to free composition, by aligning it with what Bach and his Thuringian and Hamburgian neighbors (including Werckmeister, Walther, Niedt, and Mattheson) called inventiones: materials for free composition that are subject to substantial development, involving processes of elaboration, variation, extension, and expansion. Byros’s argument is borne out by a historically informed practical demonstration: his own composition of a Prelude in D minor, which broadly derives from the partimento-prelude numbered 48 in the manuscript.
The transformation of a simple thoroughbass into a fully worked-out composition pivots on two species of invention and their development, one structural, the other stylistic: 1) a genre-specific structuring principle that is coded into the partimento; for the prelude genre, this concerns long-range scale-harmonizations spanning 1–4 octaves; the principle recurs in several preludes of The Langloz Manuscript and of The Well-Tempered Clavier; and 2) the subject (thema) of a composition, which results from novel combinations of musical topics (Manieren), and the constructive imitation of other composers’ uses of styles and genres (locus exemplorum).