9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


G. M. Bononcini's Theory in Practice, a Theme and Variations of Modal Exemplification

Gregory Barnett

Although considered by most historians to be just within the era of common-practice tonality, the late seventeenth century offers a substantial body of modal theorizing on the part of both composers and theorists.  The unsteady epistemological foundations of modality, however, were also well understood by musicians of the period, and late seventeenth-century theorists frequently lamented the confusion surrounding the modes.

In this context, Giovanni Maria Bononcini, violinist, composer, and theorist, devoted himself to a clarification of the modes and a demonstration of their use in polyphonic composition.  Specifically, he organized two of his thirteen publications—the Op. 6 church sonatas for two violins and continuo (1672) and the Op. 11 madrigals for five voices (1678)—according to the modal precepts set forth in his Op. 8 treatise, Musico prattico (1673).

In short, Bononcini's aim was to make modality work across a variety of musical genres.  My aim is to show his method and motivations for doing so.  Beyond this discussion of Bononcini’s ideas in practice lies the issue of its impact upon our own understanding of music in his time: therefore, the broader question that I address is whether we have in Bononcini's work a blueprint for understanding seventeenth-century music in the terms of musicians who produced it, or whether we have a rigorous, sometimes ingenious, but essentially unique exemplification of mere theoretical possibilities.

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Last updated on 21 March 2000 by Yo Tomita