In music, the lament bass is a ground bass, built from a descending perfect fourth from tonic to dominant, with each step harmonized. The diatonic version is the upper tetrachord from the natural minor scale, known as the Phrygian tetrachord, while the chromatic version, the chromatic fourth, has all semitones filled in. It is often used in music to denote tragedy or sorrow.
However, "A common misperception exists that the 'lament bass' of Venetian opera became so prevalent that it immediately swept away all other possible affective associations with this bass pattern...To cite but one example, Peter Holman, writing about Henry Purcell, once characterized the minor tetrachord as 'the descending ground that was associated with love in seventeenth-century opera'."
There exists a short, free musical form of the Romantic Era, called complaint or "complainte" (Fr.) or lament. It is typically a set of harmonic variations in homophonic texture, wherein the bass descends through some tetrachord, possibly that of the previous paragraph, but usually one suggesting a minor mode. This tetrachord, treated as a very short ground bass, is repeated again and again over the length of the composition.
Musical works with a lament bass
- "Lamento della Ninfa" by Claudio Monteverdi
- "Pink Elephants on Parade" from the Disney animated feature film Dumbo
- "Dido's Lament" by Henry Purcell
- "Hedwig's Lament", from Hedwig and the Angry Inch
- "I've Got What You Want" and "Tiger, Tiger", from The Apple Tree
- "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" by Joan Baez / Led Zeppelin
- "25 or 6 to 4" by Chicago
- "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" by The White Stripes
- "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by The Beatles
- "Brain Stew" by Green Day
- "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" by Elton John
- "Chaconne in F minor" by Johann Pachelbel
- "The Cat Came Back", comic song written by Harry S. Miller in 1893
- "Deer Stop" by Goldfrapp
- Brover-Lubovsky, Bella (2008). Tonal Space in the Music of Antonio Vivaldi, p.151-52. ISBN 978-0-253-35129-6.
- Ellis, Mark R. (2010). A Chord in Time: The Evolution of the Augmented Sixth from Monteverdi to Mahler, p.200. ISBN 978-0-7546-6385-0.
- Brover-Lubovsky (2008), p.153. "In the eighteenth century...the lament bass almost automatically invoked somber affection, gravity, and oppressiveness."
- Thompson, Shirley (2010). New Perspectives on Marc-Antoine Charpentier, p.64. ISBN 978-0-7546-6579-3.
- Williams, Peter (1998). The Chromatic Fourth: During Four Centuries of Music, p.69. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816563-3.
- Frisch, Walter (1996). Schubert: critical and analytical studies, p.10. ISBN 978-0-8032-6892-0.
- Blatter, Alfred (2007).Revisiting music theory, p.240. ISBN 978-0-415-97440-0.
- Dupre, Marcel (1937). Cours Complet d'Improvisation a l'Orgue: Exercices Preparees, v. 1, p. 14, trans. John Fenstermaker. Paris: Alphonse Leduc.
- Ossi, Massimo (2003). Divining the Oracle: Monteverdi's Seconda prattica, p.173. ISBN 9780226638836.
- "Dumbo," Walt Disney et al., Walt Disney Productions, 1941
- Carter, Tim and Butt, John (2005). The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music, p.182. ISBN 978-0-521-79273-8.
- Knapp, Raymond (2009). The American Musical and the Performance of Personal Identity, p.260. ISBN 978-0-691-14105-3.
- Lambert, Philip (2010). To Broadway, to life!: The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick, p.205. ISBN 978-0-19-539007-0.
- eNotes: Lament Bass http://www.enotes.com/topic/Lament_bass
- Wright, Craig (2010). Listening to Music, p.115. ISBN 9781439083451.
- mudcat.org: The Cat Came Back (original lyrics)