Job Ijzerman

A New Approach to Harmony Based on Tonal Schemata

In the past ten years interest in the relation between 18th-century compositional education and compositional practice has been rapidly growing. Recent publications show us how so-called partimenti include various schemata, which subsequently had to be applied in real, ‘galant’ compositions. Both partimenti and schemata seem attractive tools for the music theory education at conservatories today, since they translate into practice easier than commonly used theories of harmony.
At the same time, however, these tools pose a problem. An orientation on merely 18th-century music cannot fulfil the demands of a general theory programme. First, before claiming to cover the whole common-practice period, the influence of galant schemata on 19th-century music must be examined. Secondly, these surviving or possibly new schemata would have to be analysed in the context of whole compositions in order to understand their structural functions. Finally, a new method of harmonic analysis must be modelled. Because of the contrapuntal nature of most schemata, founded on melodic bass motions, and the partimenti, mainly being bass exercises, such a method must depart from bass progressions (figured bass), more than from root progressions (roman numerals). Contemporary treatises like Förster’s Anleitung zum General-Bass (1805), Choron’s Principes de Composition des Écoles d’Italie (1808) as well as the ‘Regole’, often preceding the partimenti collections might offer additional support.

I have compiled a database of schemata in compositions of mainly Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann, which shows frequent occurrences of particular schemata. These form the starting point of more comprehensive analyses. In my paper I will offer the results of my research so far, by means of an analytical method, not oriented on ‘vertical’ chord progressions but on ‘horizontal’ bass patterns and contrapuntal bass-melody combinations.