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

Ildar Khannanov etudetableau at gmail.com
Sat Dec 13 20:09:42 PST 2014

Wow! I would have never thought that I would live until the time this issue
will surface on SMT mailing list! I grew up in the Russian tradition that
has been and still is a live historic tradition of melody harmonization. I
mean that it takes its root from the real historic tradition of composing
music this way in the second half of the 19th century. And, I agree--no
employer would ask a musician to realize figured bass while the
harmonization and improvisation skill is in demand today as it has been in

Those who insist on figured bass realizations position themselves as
supporters of more venerable, ancient concept. However, for us here in the
US, all these things are equidistant and none have roots. One may as well
promote writing smaller yektenia's using znamennyi notation or cantillate
the psalms instead of teaching harmony.

As for melody harmonization, in general, the level of skills in this area
remains quite insufficient, in comparison with what it was in Paris and in
St. Petersburg in early 1900s. So, there is much work needed. As for f.b.,
it has been a real tradition, but never a "realization" task; rather, the
skill of improvization in real time at the organ and shorthand in composing
church music. It is also off limits as such in our daily teaching.

Good point, though! Thank you for your post.

Best wishes,

Ildar Khannanov
Peabody Institute
drkhannanov at gmail.com

2014-12-13 13:27 GMT-05:00 Darryl White <darryl.musico at gmail.com>:
> Brian Hoffman wrote:
> "The past several years I have attempted to make classroom activities and
> assignments as practical as possible for future performers, educators, and
> ensemble directors. As a result, I find myself spending less and less time
> on realizing a figured bass."
> 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.
> ----------------------
> Darryl White
> University of Arizona
> School of Music
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