[Smt-talk] Realizing a figured bass in the curriculum

Väisälä Olli olli.vaisala at uniarts.fi
Sat Dec 13 23:34:25 PST 2014

Darryl White wrote:

> Figured bass realizations, with few exceptions, are of little value except to historians (including historians of theory). Skills that are more widely practiced today are harmonization of a melody and realization/improvisation on a chord progression. I've never been asked by an employer to realize a figured bass as a composer, arranger, or performer. 
> If we are considering updating the theory curriculum, it's items like this that require review.

Seems straightforward, but should curriculums be based on such a straightforward logic? Of course, all this depends on what kind of institution and department you are teaching in and what are its goals. Nevertheless, there are certainly reasons to argue that FB studies have much more general significance than only for historians.

Practicing FB directly buttresses one’s understanding of the harmony–voice-leading technique of more than 200 years’ era of art music. How lightly should this be dispensed with?

More generally, practicing FB (or species counterpoint, or other things an employer may not ask one to do) may very effectively sensitize the student to musical phenomena he/she would not be otherwise aware.

Speaking of personal experience, I was about 12 or 13 when studying FB. Before that, I think I considered myself rather fluent in ”harmonizing melodies” at the piano, but this was the first time I started to understand that chords are not just concatenated chunks, i.e., that there is a such thing as voice leading. I vividly remember how this intensified my relationship to – a Chopin waltz. Hence, FB studies certainly bore on my performing music, and not only music of the actual FB era. (Undoubtedly they also affected my composition, but that’s a more complicated issue.)

Olli Väisälä
Sibelius Academy
University of the Arts, Helsinki
olli.vaisala at uniarts.fi

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list