Fast Facts: Continuo and Variation
This piece contains 2 features of Baroque music: Basso continuo and variation.
The continuo (as it is commonly known) is a combination of low (bass) notes and chord sequences. On a harpsichord or organ the continuo is usually played by the left hand – but in this piece the chords are played by both hands at different times. In the Baroque orchestra the continuo is played by the lower instruments such as the cellos and bassoons, often in combination with the harpsichord. The continuo sets the tempo of the piece and the repetitive chord pattern provides the framework for the variations. Variations occur when a melody or theme is embellished by adding extra notes, or by changing the rhythm or the tempo.
Fast Facts: Extra Texture
Texture refers to the different layers of sound in a piece of music.
In Baroque music the three most common textures are: monophony, homophony and polyphony.
Each texture can be heard separately in the song Have You Heard of JS Bach? After listening to the examples students may like to perform a simplified polyphonic version of Have You Heard of J.S. Bach?, for which a score is provided.
Before the Baroque, the emphasis was on melody; composers were primarily concerned with the beauty of individual melodic lines. The sounds created when two or more melodies intersected (creating chords) were not planned, they were incidental. During the Baroque, chords became increasingly important; composers were more inclined to create music, which fitted specific chord patterns or progressions. (A chord usually consists of 3 or more notes played simultaneously).
e.g. when a guitar is strummed, different left hand finger patterns create chords; when 3 or more keys are pressed together on a keyboard this creates chords.
Basso continuo is Italian for ‘continuous bass’. In an era during which the performance of a piece was led not by a conductor but one of the musicians of the orchestra (the concert master) the basso continuo was vital in setting the tempo and thus, keeping the orchestra together.
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Paul Simon and Paul McCartney ripping off Bach! More about texture and a lovely performance of Handel’s Sarabande. Tap here