Talk:Figured bass

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History largely unsourced[edit]

Aargh... — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:40, 4 February 2012 (UTC)

Basso vs. Figured 1[edit]

This should be rolled into the Basso continuo article, no? Are there any situations when they are not synonyms? I'll wait for comments before I combine. - Dreamword 02:23 Feb 7, 2003 (UTC)

My instinct was to roll them into one as well, but I think we can reasonably keep them separate. They are different subjects, in fact, though they're almost always found together - "basso continuo" is the accompaniment, "figured bass" is the notation that indicates how that accompaniment should be realised. However, I think there's enough to write about in each subject to keep them separate, and, in any case, sometimes you find parts for continuo that don't actually have figured bass (they just have a bass line, and you have to work the rest out for yourself).
I hope to work on both the articles in the near future, by the way. --Camembert
Well, I've had a go at expansion - I've sort of written it off the top of my head, but I'm pretty sure everything is correct. I hope it's clear to everybody. (This could probably do with a section on the practical realisation of figured bass, by the way - avoidance of doubled thirds, ways to elaborate the part, and so on.) --Camembert
The argument for keeping the articles separate was strong. Any chance of reconsidering it? Wahoofive 22:38, 12 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Basso vs. Figured 2[edit]

I find it rather odd that the main article is "Figured Bass" and that "Basso Continuo" is a section of it - figured bass is a way of notation basso continuo, while the article makes it appear as though continuo is a form of figured bass. Anyway, most continuo is unfigured - this should be reversed and fixed. John Holly (talk) 09:06, 22 March 2008 (UTC)

I agree with the insight, but wanted to stress that there still needs to be an article specifically on figured bass, and basso continuo should be mentioned in any article on figured bass. We can always have an article on continuo in addition to figured bass. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:41, 3 February 2012 (UTC)

Johnny Mehegan Jazz Improvisation[edit]

In response to the statement that figured base is not used in contemporary music: Johnny Mehegan used figured bass as the basis for his approach to jazz notation, in his Jazz Improvisation series. --ShawnHarrison

I've inserted the word "generally" - I'll bet a number of people use figured bass or similar systems, actually. There's virtually nothing that nobody does in music. --Camembert

Figured bass markup[edit]

For figured bass markup see Wikipedia:WikiProject_Music_standards#Musical_mark_up. Hyacinth 00:54, 8 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Actually, see Wikipedia:Manual of Style (music). Hyacinth (talk) 05:24, 26 July 2008 (UTC)

added extensive history section[edit]

In adding a more extensive history section just now, I have removed nothing from this article, and should have offended no one. I do not know why my addition was removed, but I have restored it. If there is some reasonable reason why this was done, or if it is an overlap or other misunderstanding, please contact me at the e-mail address in my page. I would like to contribute to the wikipedia's music pages on a regular basis, but if this is the type of attitude that prevails here, then it is not the "open-source" project it is made out to be, and I will not trouble myself over it. Vaux 21:30 EDT, 31 May, 2005.

Your additions are great, and it's silly that anyone reverted them. But your history section is under "Figured bass notation" whereas most of the history you cite is of continuo accompaniment itself. It's unfortunate that these two concepts got integrated into one article, but in the meantime you might move the history (and maybe the mysterious "contemporary uses") to a ==top-level heading==.—Wahoofive (talk) 02:34, 1 Jun 2005 (UTC)

further discussion of yesterday's alterations[edit]

I didn't write the "contemporary uses" section. As for the history section, there already was a history heading, so I just put the history where I found it. It might be a bit better to have it at the top level, but we'll see what others think. Vaux 19:39 EDT, 1 Jun 2005


Some intrepid soul make the huge history section readable and break it into paragraphs! --Sammermpc 05:04, 12 March 2007 (UTC)


page text has "Alternatively, a cross placed next to a number indicates that the pitch of that note should be raised by a semitone (so that if it is normally a flat it becomes a natural, and if it is normally a natural it becomes a sharp). A different way to indicate this is to draw a bar through the number itself. The following three notations, therefore, all indicate the same thing:"

this is followed by 3 notes on stave: C, C#, C# (or am i missing something?) Oniscoid (talk) 00:53, 24 March 2009 (UTC)

Layout of sections[edit]

Will anyone mind if I merge the contemporary usages into the history, then move the whole thing up above the notation? Kayau David Copperfield MOBY DICK the great gatsby 02:10, 28 July 2009 (UTC)

Opinion on appropriateness of this external link[edit]

I would like to add Figured Bass — what it is, and how it works as an external link from this article, and would greatly appreciate feedback on its appropriateness. (I'm new to Editing Talk, so my apologies, in advance, for any errors in protocol or etiquette.)


Maberly (talk) 17:57, 2 November 2009 (UTC)

Additional citations[edit]

Why and where does this article need additional citations for verification? What references does it need and how should they be added? Hyacinth (talk) 22:25, 18 August 2012 (UTC)

== German sister article worth translating == The German version of this article ([[:de:Generalbass|Generalbass]]) is easily the most thorough of all articles on this topic in Wikipedia. If you have a reading knowledge of German and too much time on your hands, it really would be worth bringing into English and merging with the English article. <small><font color = "grey">Signed: </font></small>[[User:Basemetal|Basemetal]] <small>(<font color = "grey">write to me </font>[[User talk:Basemetal|here]])</small> 05:36, 29 November 2012 (UTC)Basemetal 12:04, 12 September 2016 (UTC)

Unfigured bass article[edit]

I have AFD's the article Unfigured bass as a nonexistent topic. Feel free to weigh in on that nomination here. However, a sentence or two on the topic of realizing unfigured (or incompletely figured) basses might be appropriate within this article. —Wahoofive (talk) 20:20, 18 June 2014 (UTC)

Is this legal?[edit]

These people perform Corelli's Op. 5 without a bass. Is this legal where you live? No, seriously, does this have any historical basis? Or did these guys just not want to hire and have to pay a cello player? Contact Basemetal here 22:52, 20 November 2014 (UTC)

There is a famous story (I think perhaps reported in Burney, but I 'm not sure of the reference) about Corelli deliberately offending some community where he was on tour, by performing his much-admired compositions with no chording instrument—only a cello on the bass line—because he found the playing of every single local keyboard player to be beneath contempt. The present case is rather different, but Andrew Manze has made a case for performing violin music from before about 1720 senza basso (on grounds that the continuo parts tend to be musically very simple, and even redundant, but also because of documentary evidence from the period), and has even recorded a sampling of music in this way, including Tartini's famous "Devil's Trill" sonata.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 23:08, 20 November 2014 (UTC)
I don't know why but these people performing with only voice and lute Henry Lawes' "Go Lovely Rose" whose score (p. 9 of the book / p. 21 of the PDF document) is for voice and unfigured bass shocked me less, even though it should be as illegal. Of course I suspect (until told otherwise) that Corelli's tantrum was a one off, but the question of the performance of pieces with figured or unfigured bass on only the melody instrument(s) and the bass has intrigued me for a long time. It all started in fact with "Go Lovely Rose" by Lawes. I didn't know at the time what an unfigured bass was and when I asked if a performance with only voice and bass was historically plausible (as one alternative) I was immediately told this was unlikely in the extreme, and as unlikely in fact whether the bass is figured or unfigured. Then a short time later I found a mention of just such a performance practice in Restoration English music in Gerald Abraham's "Concise Oxford History of Music". Unfortunately I don't have that book any more and can't check precisely the page and the wording. I asked about this at the talk page of Unfigured bass. But since that page has probably about three watchers and one of them is Wahoofive who tried to get rid of it (in order to reduce the size of his watchlist most likely) I'm not surprised that question has remained unanswered for two years and is likely to remain so for a good while to come. And it's probable that my question about performing Boccherini's cello sonatas on only two cellos is also not about to be answered. Generally speaking I'm still wondering if for an unfigured bass the option of performing it without a chording instrument was historically a little more likely than for a figured bass. Contact Basemetal here 20:27, 21 November 2014 (UTC)
The nature of the source must be taken into account, of course, but there is really a continuum involved here, rather than a black-and-white, "is it figured, or is it isn't?" (and please don't quote this as an example of potentially acceptable Wikipedia American English style ;-). Keep in mind that manuscripts tend to figured much more lightly than printed editions, and the supposition is that manuscripts were intended more for professional musicians, whereas printed editions were aimed at amateurs. Publishers, with an eye on potential sales, did not want to make their products difficult to use, and so supplied figures more liberally than manuscript copyists were prone to doing. Within this broad division, there are manuscripts with no figures at all, manuscripts with sparse figuring, etc. Variation (and even style of figuring) also varies by nationality. If you compare the bass figuring in the first (Hamburg) edition of Telemann's "Paris" Quartets with the later edition produced in Paris for Telemann's visit there, you will find not only are the specifically French figurings substituted for Telemann's German ones, but the Paris edition is also more densely figured. Perhaps this was because the publisher wanted to optimize sales, but equally it may have been a difference between French and German taste or custom. What I am trying to say is that (as you already know) unfigured bass in no way assumes omission of a chording instrument, but neither is the relative density of the figuring any indicator of the likelihood that the bass line might be played by a melody instrument alone. Ultimately, it is up to the performers to decide what they want to use to realize the continuo, and if Corelli once chose to use only his cellist in order to spite the local keyboardists in that one town, at his next stop he might have used organ, two harpsichords, harp, theorbo, three guitars, and glockenspiel for just the opposite reason. There simply isn't just one correct way to do things. To be sure, different performers are likely to have different opinions about the most effective way of realizing the continuo for any given piece of music, but at the same time circumstances may dictate less-than-optimal choices. When you have got a paying audience seated in the auditorium, are you going to stand by your principles when the pedals fall off of your Neupert harpsichord (as I once saw happen as a Brandenburg Concerto was about to get under way), or do you just go ahead and perform without the beast?—Jerome Kohl (talk) 21:32, 21 November 2014 (UTC)
You do of course. With apologies. Maybe. But my question may have been restricted more to the production of so called "historically informed" recordings of early music. The phrase "historically plausible" should maybe be replaced with "historically typical enough that someone producing a recording may be able to defend their choice to the early music buying public". The people performing Boccherini's cello sonatas on two cellos only (as here) surely will have something to say to defend their choice of not involving a harpsichord. And if someone decided to produce a recording of Corelli's Op. 5 where the continuo group included an organ, two harpsichords, a harp, a teorbo, three guitars, and a glockenspiel (besides of course two cellos, three bassoons, a small and a large violone, four gamba basses and timpani to play the bass line) I do wonder if to a few people it may not seem like an inadequate defense of their choice to simply say: "Tell me that if I take the glockenspiel and the timpani out this couldn't have happened. Once. Maybe." Contact Basemetal here 23:29, 21 November 2014 (UTC)
Well, as a dyed-in-the-wool, indefatigable and fully operational HIP pedant I probably shouldn't be saying this, but sometimes what works in practice is preferable to what the textbooks tell us we are supposed to do. Even if the closest thing I have got to a reliable source is This General-reference Work, I am absolutely certain that no good musician in days of yore looked these things up in a rulebook before deciding how to proceed. Those books were written for rank beginners, and were only meant to serve as a rough guide until the student could gain sufficient experience to know how to proceed, including when it was preferable to violate the rule, rather than follow it. If we are going to base our performances today on such primers, then woe betide us.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 23:49, 21 November 2014 (UTC)
Had a bad day? Settle in front of a fire with a nice mug of Glühwein, your cat on your lap et les doigts de pied en éventail (interjecting some French as is my wont Face-smile.svg) Seems to me you're making these choices sound direr than they need to be. Get stuck at a level the dimmest amateur would soon have grown out of in the 17th/18th c. or give your unbridled "intuition" free rein. The problem with "intuition" is that, for innumerable obvious reasons, today's musician's no longer a "native speaker" of that musical culture. A rule such as "if it sounds good do it" may make a nonsense out of the whole early music and historically informed performance enterprise. What if it "sounds good" to me to perform Corelli on sitar and tablas? Couldn't there be some reasonable middle ground? Today's early music musician ("early musician"?) may've had to reinvent/rediscover a tradition that's died, unable to retrieve so many things the 17th/18th c. musician may've so taken for granted that there's absolutely no trace of them, and all under the conflicting influences of so many musical cultures whose impact it's impossible to avoid. But they're not starting from scratch. The process of "reinvention/rediscovery" of early music is more than a 100 years old. There's been an accumulation of knowledge, of experience, of practice, for more than a 100 years. Also today's early musicians have so many advantages over their 17th/17th c. colleagues: they live longer, smell better, get to keep most of their teeth into their 80s and 90s, have access to so much more information, lead an easier life, practice more so play better and are more respected socially. So ok with "intuition" but an intuition informed, channeled, disciplined and focused by intense study and practice. Contact Basemetal here 11:50, 22 November 2014 (UTC)
All of what you say is perfectly true. If I am making things sound direr than need be, it is just a bit of poetic exaggeration. What I am driving at here is that there is a wrong-headed attitude I encounter from time to time, according to which there is one and only one "correct" way to perform any given piece of early music. There are of course demonstrably unhistorical ways of performing music. As someone once observed, if the saxophone had existed in Bach's day, he probably would have written for it, but of course we cannot begin to imagine what he actually would have written, and it is a dead certainty he never imagined it as a substitute for the trumpet part in the Second Brandenburg Concerto. Whether he may have considered the part for a horn instead of a trumpet is quite a different matter. Insisting on a single "historically correct" way of performing is wrong-headed, in my opinion. Much better to think of a range of possibilities, within which there may be more and less plausible choices.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 03:47, 23 November 2014 (UTC)
Now I understand why you sounded so tragic. But I don't know enough about all this to be dogmatic. I never assumed there was only one way. I was simply curious to know if those various performances I've run into here and there, were among those demonstrably unhistorical ways of performing this repertoire, or not. From your explanations I gather they're not. Incidentally Sparafucil answered my query about Boccherini's Cello Sonatas at Unfigured bass by referring me to the advice François Couperin gave for performing his Goûts réunis, in particular how he advised to perform without chords some of his Concerts. Live and learn. Thanks guys. Now if I ever find out where that guy (who long ago told me this sort of practice was "unlikely in the extreme") lives... Contact Basemetal here 17:30, 23 November 2014 (UTC)

Basso vs. Figured 3[edit]

Besides agreeing with John Holly and Dreamword (see here below), I would like to point out that in the different language versions of Wikipedia, sometimes it is called (the translation of) "figured bass" sometimes (the translation of) "basso continuo", and when you look at the list of articles in other languages on the left side of the page you only see those languages whose entry corresponds word by word. Which does not mean an opposition of meaning. And last but not least, why is it called Figured bass in English, and Basso continuo in "simple English"? --Nisanslims16 (talk) 15:28, 20 March 2016 (UTC)

[Note: "see here below" means "see here above", after move to chronological position.]—Jerome Kohl (talk) 15:37, 21 March 2016 (UTC)