Basso continuo, sometimes just called "continuo", was played by a keyboard instrument and another bass instrument such as cello, violone (an old form of double bass) or bassoon. The keyboard instrument was normally a harpsichord, or, if it was being played in a church, an organ.
It was not usual to write out all the notes for the keyboard player. The composer normally just wrote the bottom line which would be played by the left hand (usually with a lower 8th doubling) and the other bass instrument. The composer would indicate what the harmony should be (which chords should be played) by writing figures underneath the music. This is why it is called figured bass or sometimes thoroughbass. The continuo player would "realize" the figured bass i.e. they would improvise the chords shown. In 19th and early 20th century editions of old music the figured bass part was normally realized (written out) by the editor, while starting from the mid 20th century editions of ancient music printed the figured bass.
Basso continuo would accompany solo instruments and singers as well as instrumental groups.
Examples[change | change source]
Di misera, regina from
Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria
J. B. Lully:
Air des Espagnoles from
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
References[change | change source]
- Ammer, Christine (2004). "Basso continuo". The Facts on File Dictionary of Music. Retrieved 31 March 2012.