Maria Teresa Arfini

The Musikalisches Kunstbuch of Johann Theile. A Contribution to the Reversible Counterpoint and Canon Theory

Theile’s Musikalisches Kunstbuch consists of miscellaneous compositions dating from the last decades of the 17th Century. It is made up of fifteen works of varying lengths and styles, unified by their use of double counterpoint. It survives in five manuscript copies conserved in the Staatsbibliothek Berlin. Although it has been compared with Bach’s late speculative works it is not a thematically unified set of pieces but it seems to be a pedagogical compilation finalized to improve compositional skills and counterpoint knowledge. Two of the surviving copies of the Musikalisches Kunstbuch open with a ten-part canon entitled Harmonischer Baum: the canon is presented in the form of a tree with ten branches. Each of this pieces is presented as a puzzle to resolve, often provided with poetic riddles, with parts to complete as in a very particular kind of ‘partimento’. Very similar to the Musikalisches Kunstbuch are the Artifici musicali op. XIII (1689) of Giovan Battista Vitali, a published compilation of counterpoint Paradigmata ordered by increasing level of difficulty and not resolved. The two books share a pedagogical aim and don’t have a specific instrumental destination, unlike some others collections of musical pieces presenting a quite similar structure, such as the Vincenzo Ruffo’s Capricci in musica (1564) or the Samuel Scheidt’s Tabulatura nova (1624). Although modern editions of Theile’s and Vitali’s collections (Dahlhaus, 1965; Rood - Smith, 1959) are available, there are few contributions on this topic and no analytical approach to the reversible counterpoint technique and the canon-devices displayed in the two sets. The paper aims to present some examples of counterpoint technique devices from the Theile’s Kunstbuch and to compare it with the Vitali’s book, in the context of the compositional theory of the late 17th Century.