An Introduction to French Figured Bass Exercises
by Derek Remes
The tradition of using figured bass exercises, or partimenti, to teach harmony goes back to 16th century Italy. Church organists in the 16th century often accompanied polyphonic part-music by playing the lowest sounding voice at any given time. Use of the term basso continuo became widespread following the publication of Lodovico Viadana's Cento concerti ecclesiastici in 1602. This publication was unique in that the continuo parts were not extracted from other voices, as was done earlier, but instead were composed independently.
It was not until the 18th century that figured bass exercises, also known as thoroughbass excercises, became a major tool for teaching harmony. During that century, more manuals were published on the subject that any other musical topic. Most publications focused on part-writing rules, such as avoiding parallel octaves or fifths. By the late 18th century, thoroughbass was no longer the dominant compositional technique, but the use of figured bass exercises as a pedagogical tool continued.
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Mr. Remes is a composer of contemporary classical music with dual degrees in Composition and Film Scoring from Berklee College of Music (summa cum laude). He is an active pianist and organist, and performs regularly as a church musician. Mr. Remes has twice attended the European American Musical Alliance in Paris, studying both composition and chamber music. He is currently applying to graduate schools for his MM in Composition. His website is: derekremes.com.