Some (Dis)Assembly Required: Modularity in the Keyboard Improvisation Pedagogy of Jacob Adlung and Johann Vallade

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Derek Remes


A previously unknown manuscript treatise by the central-German organist, Jacob Adlung (1699–1762), has recently come to light. The “Anweisung zum Fantasieren†offers a valuable glimpse into improvisational training of baroque keyboardists. Adlung’s treatise consists of twenty-eight sequential voice-leading patterns with various embellishments. Conspicuously absent, however, is a clear explanation of exactly how one should combine these patterns into larger preludes. Fortunately, the pedagogical works of the south-German organist, Johann Vallade (c.1722–c.1780), provide useful models. Unlike Adlung, Vallade begins with a complete piece and then deconstructs it into smaller sections that can be rearranged in a variety of configurations. I argue that Vallade’s top-down approach forms a complementary pair to Adlung’s bottom-up method, since modularity is the underlying principle of both strategies. Following Adlung’s example, I categorize modules (voice-leading patterns) according to the motion of the bass voice: either scalar, sequential, or cadential. By exploring the definition, classification, and concatenation of such modules, this article offers practical insight into the historically informed improvisation and analysis of baroque music.

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