An Introduction to Intavolature

"Intavolatura" (pl. intavolature) was an Italian term used in the Naples conservatories. In other Italian cities the term could mean keyboard exercises in general, but in Naples it seems to have referred to fully notated keyboard works for beginners. The lack of long note values, common in organ music, suggests that these pieces were written for harpsichords. That would make sense given that the conservatories had practice rooms where multiple harpsichords lined the walls, all played simultaneously by boys practicing different exercises.
One of the purposes of intavolature was to give boys a grounding in keyboard technique. Future music masters often conducted ensembles while playing the harpsichord, and church musicians needed to play the organ. So a good command of keyboard playing was a basic requirement.
A second purpose of intavolature was to expose the boys to the melodic design, the phrasing, and the layout of contemporary music. For example, learning melodic shapes in the right hand helped a boy reinforce the melodic studies he pursued in solfeggi. And feeling the interplay between hands helped reinforce his studies in counterpoint.
Lastly, a boy's small hands could not play all the notes in all the parts of an orchestral composition. So intavolature also taught how keyboard instruments could simplify ensemble music, making it playable without completely losing the flavor of the original work. For instance, violins can rapidly repeat notes whereas harpsichords cannot (the mechanism of a harspichord key takes a moment to reset). So intavolature taught boys that by rapidly alternating two different notes they could create the effect of violins each repeating their own notes.