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Partimento (from the Italian: partimento, plural partimenti) is an instructional bass line with either figured bass or unfigured bass. Partimenti were used mainly in the 18th and 19th centuries as pedagogical aids for the teaching of harmony, counterpoint and improvisation.


The Partimenti evolved in the late 17th century in the Naples conservatories and then spread throughout Europe. Notable Partimento collections were written by Alessandro Scarlatti, Francesco Durante, Leonardo Leo, Fedele Fenaroli, Giovanni Paisiello, Nicola Sala, Giacomo Tritto, Stanislao Mattei, and Luigi Palmerini. Many important Italian composers emerged from the Partimento schools, such as Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Giuseppe Verdi, Domenico Cimarosa, Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, Gaspare Spontini and Gioachino Rossini. The rediscovery of the Partimento tradition in modern research since around 2000 has enabled new ways of looking at the musical education and composing practice in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, partimento studies provide an important impetus for a more integrative approach to learning counterpoint, harmony, and improvisation.


Partimenti were typically used as exercises to train conventional models of voice leading, harmony, and musical form, such as the so-called Rule of the Octave, cadences and sequences (the movimenti, or moti del basso). There is no strict separation between counterpoint and harmony in the Partimento tradition. The beginners’ partimenti treatises usually present rules, which are then followed by exercises of increasing difficulty, presenting figured bass as well as unfigured bass lines, and culminating in the advanced exercises of imitative partimenti and partimento fugues. Partimenti were also used as bass lines in written counterpoint exercises, over which students wrote two-, three, and four-part “disposizione” (multistave settings).


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