(general bass [German, Generalbass; Italian, basso generale], thorough bass [Italian, basso continuo]), a simplified method of writing down harmonies, by which figures indicating corresponding intervals in the higher voices are placed under the bass voice. of the 17th and 18th cents. In other words, the second inversion of an F major chord can be realized as: In cases where the numbers 3 or 5 would normally be understood, these are usually left out. According to J.F. Sometimes the chord changes but the bass note itself is held. In many cases entire figures can be left out, usually where the chord is obvious from the progression or the melody. A part notated with figured bass consists of a bass line notated with notes on a musical staff plus added numbers and accidentals (or in some cases (back)slashes added to a number) beneath the staff to indicate what intervals above the bass notes should be played, and therefore which inversions of which chords are to be played. [citation needed] In the 2000s, outside of professional Baroque ensembles that specialize in the performance practice of the Baroque era, the most common use of figured bass notation is to indicate the inversion in a harmonic analysis or composer's sketch context, however, often without the staff notation, using letter note names followed with the figure. When an accidental is shown on its own without a number, it applies to the note a third above the lowest note; most commonly, this is the third of the chord. They were also known as cori spezzati, since the choirs were structured in musically independent or interlocking parts, and may sometimes also have been placed in physically different locations. In the 20th and 21st century, figured bass is also sometimes used by classical musicians as a shorthand way of indicating chords when a composer is sketching out ideas for a new piece or when a music student is analyzing the harmony of a notated piece of music (e.g., a Bach chorale or a Chopin piano prelude). Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. Both Bach and Mozart wrote out rules for playing the figured bass. In turn, the separate bass line, with figures added above to indicate other chordal notes, shortly became "functional", as the sonorities became "harmonies", (see harmony and tonality), and music came to be seen in terms of a melody supported by chord progressions (homophony), rather than interlocking, equally important lines that are used in polyphony. To ‘play the continuo’ does not mean to play a particular instr., but to play this variety of bass. Figured bass is closely associated with basso continuo, a historically improvised accompaniment used in almost all genres of music in the Baroque period of Classical music (ca. In figured bass notation the intervals are counted from the bass up. Basso continuo parts, almost universal in the Baroque era (1600–1750), provided the harmonic structure of the music. These bass lines with figures became known as “figured bass” lines. [5] The following three notations, therefore, all indicate the same thing: More rarely, a forward slash through a number indicates that a pitch is to be lowered (diminished) by a semitone:[citation needed]. Sometimes instruments are specified by the composer: in L'Orfeo (1607) Monteverdi calls for an exceptionally varied instrumentation, with multiple harpsichords and lutes with a bass violin in the pastoral scenes followed by lamenting to the accompaniment of organo di legno and chitarrone, while Charon stands watch to the sound of a regal. A “full accompaniment” may require as many notes as the fingers can accommodate, and in such cases the rules forbidding consecutive fifths and the like are waived, except as they apply to the two outside (bottom and top) parts. figured bass synonyms, figured bass pronunciation, figured bass translation, English dictionary definition of figured bass. Bass instruments, such as a cello or bassoon, might also be included. 6 T ibor Szász, ‘Figured Bass in Beethoven’s “Em peror” Concerto: Basso C ontinuo or Orchestral Cues?’, Early KeyboardJournal, 6 -7 (1988-9), pp. The term may also refer to the marked bass voice itself, which is used in this method of notating harmonies. Continuous bass. For example, 7/3 above G indicates a chord built on G containing the intervals of a seventh (G–f) and a third (G–b), that is, G–b–(implied d)–f. Basso Continuo. These numbers are placed under the bass line to show how they should be used. Often, it's used to describe the accompanimental practice from approx. Basso Continuo! [citation needed], Basso continuo, though an essential structural and identifying element of the Baroque period, rapidly declined in the classical period (up to around 1800). Called also thorough bass and basso continuo, it arose in the early 17th cent. The earliest extant part with sharp and flat signs above the staff is a motet by Giovanni Croce, also from 1594. Understanding Figured Bass The Figures. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. Learn how and when to remove this template message, "Improvisation: Performer as Co-composer", Chords that the (major) scale degrees (in the bass) can imply, Theory and Practice of the Basso Continuo, Historical sources on the subject of basso continuo - Viadana, Agazzari etc, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Figured_bass&oldid=992500235, Articles needing additional references from May 2012, All articles needing additional references, Articles with unsourced statements from May 2020, Articles with unsourced statements from December 2015, Articles with unsourced statements from July 2016, Articles with unsourced statements from October 2019, Articles with unsourced statements from February 2020, Articles with unsourced statements from March 2016, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, This page was last edited on 5 December 2020, at 16:24. n. See continuo. In these cases the figures for the new chord are written wherever in the bar they are meant to occur. Figured bass is a system of numbers and symbols written beneath the continuo line that indicated the harmonies that were to be improvised by the instrument playing the chords, usually the harpsichord. basso continuo (It.). The numbers in figured bass tell you what chord to build up from the bass note, and in which inversion. Figured bass. The first known published instance of a basso seguente was a book of Introits and Alleluias by the Venetian Placido Falconio from 1575. The use of the basso continuo is confined, for the most part, to music of the Baroque era. Apart from the solo violin part and a continuo score with a realised, easily playable basso continuo, the edition also includes a figured bass part which gives experienced continuo players the opportunity to improvise on the basso continuo part. Corrections? With the rise in historically informed performance, however, the number of performers who are able to improvise their parts from the figures, as Baroque players would have done, has increased. The phrase is often shortened to continuo, and the instrumentalists playing the continuo part are called the continuo group. Omissions? 1600 - 1750). If the bass motion is disjunct in fast notes, each note must be given its own harmony. Agazzari’s Rules" " " " " " " Rule 1 & 2. Basso continuo composition was a logical outgrowth of the monodic revolution (c. 1600), which declared the supremacy of the treble in opposition to the textural homogeneity of Renaissance polyphony. it functions as both melodic and harmonic bass. At least one instrument capable of playing chords must be included, such as a piano, harpsichord, organ, lute, theorbo, guitar, regal, or harp. ), "generalbass" (Ger.) An independent bass line continuing throughout a piece (whence the Italian continuo), on the basis of which harmonies are extemporized on keyboard or other chord-playing instruments. If the bass moves melodically (stepwise) in fast notes, the harmony remains stationary Rule 4. the cembalist or organist played. Agazzari’s Rules" " " " " " " Rule 1 & 2. These new genres, just as the polychoral one probably was, were indeed made possible by the existence of a semi- or fully independent bass line. The phrase is often shortened to continuo, and the instrumentalists playing the continuo part are called the continuo group.. Excerpted from a long-distance music harmony lesson by Michael Leibson, of www.thinkingMusic.ca. [4] For example, this, showing the widespread default meaning of an accidental without number as applying to the third above the bass: Sometimes the accidental is placed after the number rather than before it. 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