Galant Style Composition Using Koch's Versuch and Voice-Leading Schemata

Adem Merter Birson

Robert Gjerdingen’s 2007 study, Music in the Galant Style, offers today’s music theory teachers the possibility of using idiomatic voice-leading progressions from the eighteenth-century in the modern theory classroom. These progressions, currently identified as schemata, would have been taught to musicians using a methodology known as partimento, a cross between a thorough-bass exercise and a compositional sketch. One aspect that Gjerdingen does not cover, however, is how musicians from the period were taught form. Eighteenth-century theorists, like Heinrich Christoph Koch, are explicit in detailing the relationship of smaller forms like dances and songs to larger forms like sonatas, arias, and concertos; the latter are said to grow out of the former by means of expanding musical periods. In volume two of Koch’s Versuch einer Anleitung zur Composition (1793), the theorist features a series beginner’s exercises in the smaller forms intended to lead to larger compositions. Inspired by both Gjerdingen’s study and Koch’s treatise, this article argues for a historical approach to music theory pedagogy, chronicling the classroom experience of a second-semester theory course that featured a series of galant-style composition assignments. Starting with a four-measure phrase, students went on to compose eight-measure periods, sixteen-measure dances, forty-measure theme and variations, and sixty-measure rondos. Students used galant schemata borrowed from Gjerdingen to create original melodies that were stylistically idiomatic. The result was a method to teaching music theory whereby students acquired the ability to compose original works in an eighteenth-century style.