Stefan Eckert

Aspects of Partimento Practice in Joseph Riepel’s Anfangsgründe zur musikalischen Setzkunst

Joseph Riepel’s Anfangsgründe zur musikalischen Setzkunst, published mostly between 1752 and 1768, has been acknowledged as one of the central 18‐century sources to teach composition on the basis of combining measure‐units of different lengths. On first glance, the first four chapters of the Anfangsgründe emphasize melodic aspects of composition, chapters five and six focus on counterpoint, the combined chapters seven and eight (the ‘Baßschlüssel’) on harmony, and the final two chapters on fugue. However, a closer reading reveals that contrapuntal and harmonic issues already make up a significant portion of the opening chapters and that later chapters not only regularly refer back to the discussions and examples introduced earlier, but that the chapters on counterpoint, harmony, and fugue also continue to discuss melodic issues and instrumental genres discussed in the earlier chapters. This is significant because scholars have focused mostly on Riepel’s contribution to the conception of musical form articulated in the first four chapters of the Anfangsgründe with little or no attention to his writings on counterpoint or fugue. Moreover, scholars have struggled to make sense of Riepel’s conception of harmony, which is neither systematic nor unified. Building on Oliver Wiener’s research which identified instances where Riepel harmonically misreads counterpoint examples by Fux, Murschhauser, and Spieß, and the partimento research by Gjerdingen and Sanguinetti and others, I demonstrate how harmonic and contrapuntal issues often are intertwined and that the Anfangsgründe contains numerous aspects of partimento practice and even some partimento fugues. Considering Riepel’s harmonic and contrapuntal ideas from the standpoint of the partimento tradition adds significantly to our insight into Riepel’s theoretical thinking and it allows a better understanding of Riepel’s harmonizations and revisions of the counterpoint examples by Fux, Murschhauser, and Spieß.