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Peter van Tour: "Martini is one of the most important pedagogues in 18th-century Italy"

We had the opportunity to chat with partimento expert Peter van Tour about his recent publication of Giambattista Martini's "Libro per Accompagnare 1737-38". I ask him about Martini's influence and what people can expect from this important manuscript from one of Italy's greatest music teachers.

Nikhil Hogan: Why is Giovanni Battista Martini an important music teacher to consider?

Peter van Tour: Well, first of all, Martini is one of the most important pedagogues in 18th-century Italy. He was a major figure not only because he was the teacher of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, he was the teacher of lots of outstanding composers. Let me give one example. When Pasquale Cafaro became the queen’s court musician in Naples in 1770, he still took lessons from Martini, okay? This is interesting! So he was such a revered guy. So people came from all over Italy but also from the rest of Europe to take lessons with him.

Nikhil Hogan: Is this the first time that this manuscript is available?

Peter van Tour: Yes, as a modern edition definitely.

Nikhil Hogan: So was this manuscript unknown for a long time?

Peter van Tour: Well, people knew that this was in the library but it’s always a question how important is this material what was it used for, and in ways, I mean we know Martini taught counterpoint but this is stuff for thoroughbass and how is that related? I mean that’s a big question and I think there are good reasons to assume that Martini grounded his teaching in written counterpoint with exercises in thoroughbass. Exactly in the way as this was done in Naples. I mean in Naples it was the same thing. Partimento was taught as a preparation for written counterpoint, right? So this was exactly the same thing in Bologna with Martini and the traditions in the Bologna school.

Nikhil Hogan: How should people realize the basslines in this collection? How should people use this book?

Peter van Tour: That’s one of the very interesting things with this manuscript. The autograph which is in Bologna, in the library that is still, I mean it was owned by, it is the collection of books of Martini that is at the core of this library. So he had one of the largest collections of books in 18th-century Italy. And this collection is still there. Now this particular manuscript, so it’s an autograph, so Martini wrote it himself and in this manuscript Martini jots down numerous small notes from where he gets the exercises. So there are some, I think some 30 annotations with references to the works from where he has taken the exercises and in almost all of these instances they come from the works of Corelli. In many times, he just writes COR which is an abbreviation for Corelli and then OP, opus, and then 2 for example, Opus 2. I mean that’s the collection of trio sonatas by Corelli and then which sonata. So if you start to look and say, “where is the sonata from where he took this stuff” and then you can find the trio sonata. And you find also a realization by Corelli, okay? So in all these instances you find references to high quality realizations by Arcangelo Corelli in 3-part style and this suggests to us today that the 3-part style of Corelli is somewhat at the basis of contrapuntal realization at the keyboard.

Nikhil Hogan: Where does this fit into the canon of a modern student’s pedagogical diet? What level is this book aimed towards? How does it compare to someone like Fenaroli?

Peter van Tour: Yes, definitely a book to start your studies. It has the same ingredients as the partimento canon, especially how one starts learning partimento and keyboard bass counterpoint in Naples. You do the cadences, you do the scales, and you do the sequences, right? So these 3 ingredients are exactly the same in Martini’s book. What Martini has moreover, is a few pages of modulations and I haven’t seen that so explicitly treated in Neapolitan manuscripts but of course they are there in the partimenti but here it is very systematically, lots of different types to go to the 5th scale degree or the 6th scale degree, or the 4th scale degree. What do you do to get there? So that’s also very useful to study.

Nikhil Hogan: Can you share some feedback you’ve had with people who bought and used the book so far?

Peter van Tour: Yes, well I have used this book now in almost every lesson I have given for the last few years and I use it as a kind of warm-up book. So I start my lessons with maybe 15minutes of playing cadences or playing scales and you make lots of variations so it’s a very good way to, I mean if you play the flute, you play the scales and the arpeggios. It’s some kind of basic stuff for learning an instrument and I treat it the same way in my lessons. You do some useful stuff in the beginning of every lesson and then you go to pieces and do some of the repertoire.

Nikhil Hogan: Thank you for your time.

Peter van Tour: You’re welcome, thank you too.

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