Author (Your Name)

John Saunders, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Senior Scholars Paper (Open Access)


Colby College. Music Dept.




The technique of the basso continuo (or firgured bass) serves as one of the major unifying elements in almost all music written between 1600 and 1750. As such the realization of the basso continuo forms a particularly sensitive area of performance. This paper investigates some specific genres of music as well as historical evidence in order to draw conclusions about the kinds and number of instruments that should be used to perform continuo parts The study begins With an investigation of chamber music continuo practice. The paper examines 86 Italian trio sonatas written between 1680 and 1699. This examination focuses on patterns of continuo instrument designations in these pieces. By doing so. the study attempts to settle the controversy over whether or not performers \ may use either a cello or a harpsichord to realize continuo parts in trio sonatas. In contrast to chamber music, continuo practice involves consideration of both the number and kinds of bass instruments that should be used. Additionally, composers left open to interpretation both the number of continuo instruments that should accompany solo sections of ensemble pieces and the number that should play in tutti passages those pieces. This multi-faceted problem forms the crux of the last half of the paper. In concluding I have summarized my major points. In trio sonatas, composers called for one of two distinct types of continuo instrument combinations. These instrument combinations, in turn, corresponded to two distinct styles of trio sonatas. Thus in choosing continuo instruments for one of these pieces, we must consider what style .of trio sonata 1s to be performed. 'When performing ensemble music, the musician must select a combination of cellos, double basses, bassoons, and harpsichords for his continuo section. The performer can also follow a set of guidelines that this study develops. 1n choosing the correct number of bass instruments for an ensemble. Carrying out all of these procedures will lead to a performance of of baroque music which 1s closer to the way lath century musicians actually played and Which, it is to be hoped. Will therefore be more musically successful.


Germa Music, Italian Music, Basso Continuo, historical evidence, genres, kind of instruments, number of instruments

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