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  • Writer's pictureTim Braithwaite

Robert Gjerdingen on the Role of Solfeggi in Baroque Vocal Pedagogy

‘Although manuscript collections of solfeggi were centerpieces in the training of musicians in the days of Bach and Mozart, today the outlines of this tradition have faded and most modern musicians will be surprised at how different solfeggi were in comparison with modern "sight-singing" books. In a sense, solfeggi and partimenti (instructional basses) were two sides of the same polyphonic coin. Partimenti provided a bass to which the student added one or more upper voices in a keyboard realization. Solfeggi provided exemplary melodic material, always in the context of a bass (and most probably a harmonic accompaniment). Collections of solfeggi in use at the Paris Conservatory, for example, were also published with complete piano accompaniments as an aid for teachers unable to improvise the harmony. Thus the melody-bass duo at the heart of eighteenth-century music was taught and reinforced from both the top and the bottom. Collections of solfeggi were thus like a lexicon of stylistically favored melodic utterances. For the future improvisor, whether of whole compositions or merely of ornamented reprises and cadenzas, solfeggi provided a storehouse of memorized material from which the performer or composer could later draw.’



Robert Gjerdingen, “About Solfeggi,”, accessed October 3, 2021,

Luigi Antonio Sabbatini, Elementi Teorici Della Musica (Roma: Pilucchi Cracas, e Giuseppe Rotilj socio, 1789).

The example below isn’t an example of an eighteenth-century solfeggio, but a fun didactic canon in four parts which functions as introduction to Sabbatini’s Theoretical Elements of Music (1789.)

For those interested in pursuing Baroque solmisation in earnest, an excellent collection of historical sources can be found here, some in modern transcription:

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