Basso Continuo

Continuous bass

"Basso Continuo" is a foundational technique in Baroque music that involves a continuous harmonic accompaniment provided by a bass line and a series of figures indicating the harmonies to be played above it. Typically performed on keyboard instruments (such as harpsichord, organ, or piano) along with a low-pitched instrument like cello or bassoon, basso continuo serves as both a harmonic and rhythmic framework for the music.

Basso continuo was a central component of Baroque music, providing support and structure for compositions of the time. The bass line, usually played by a low-pitched instrument, outlines the fundamental harmonic progression of the piece. The figures, written above or below the bass notes, indicate the intervals and harmonies to be played above the bass, allowing the performer to create rich and varied chordal accompaniments.

The figures in a basso continuo part are typically numbers and symbols that provide instructions to the performer on which intervals or chords to play. The performer uses these figures to improvise and realize the harmonies, filling out the texture of the music. This practice allowed for a certain degree of freedom and creativity while still adhering to the overall harmonic structure indicated by the composer.

Basso continuo was widely used in various Baroque music forms, including opera, chamber music, and orchestral compositions. Its presence added depth and richness to the musical texture and contributed to the expressive qualities of the music.

While basso continuo gradually fell out of use as music evolved, its influence and techniques have left a lasting impact on music theory and performance practices. It played a pivotal role in shaping the harmony and accompaniment style of the Baroque era.

Example of Basso Continuo

BWV 1026: Fugue in G Minor for Violin & Continuo (Scrolling)