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Realization on the
Cello and Viol

Robert Smith
February 2009

A Masters Thesis at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam

Table of Contents
Part 1
Historical contexts for basso continuo realization on the cello and viol............................................12
1.1 Introduction..............................................................................................................................14
1.2 Italy 16th Century Lirone to Lyra-Viol ...............................................................................14
1.3 England 17th Century The golden age of the Lyra-Viol .....................................................14
1.4 The Cello in Italy in the 17th Century .................................................................................16
1.5 What's in a title? Violone o Cembalo, Cello, harpsichord or both? .......................................21
1.6 The Viol in 17th and 18th Century France .............................................................................23
1.7 Tra le Fiamme Solo viol continuo........................................................................................28
1.8 Frets ........................................................................................................................................29
1.9 Idiomatic cello accompaniment in the 18th Century ..............................................................29
1.10 The first cello tutors and the accompaniment of recitativo in opera ....................................31
1.11 Conclusion to Part 1...............................................................................................................36
Part 2
A personal account of developing and practising basso continuo realizations on the cello and viol.38
2.1 Introduction..............................................................................................................................40
2.2 The Cello..................................................................................................................................40
2.3 The elements of basso continuo realization on the cello.........................................................41
2.4 The Viol...................................................................................................................................44
2.5 The elements of basso continuo realization on the viol...........................................................44
2.6 Developing Harmonic Skills....................................................................................................45
2.7 Breaking Chords......................................................................................................................47
2.8 Notation Figures and Fingers................................................................................................48
2.9 Bass Violin...............................................................................................................................48
2.10 In Practice..............................................................................................................................49
Part 3
A short guide for other cellists and violists who wish to realize basso continuo...............................52
3.1 Introduction..............................................................................................................................54
3.2 Harmony Exercises..................................................................................................................54

3.3 Timing......................................................................................................................................55
3.4 Doubling..................................................................................................................................55
3.5 Recitative.................................................................................................................................56
3.6 Other advice.............................................................................................................................56
General Conclusions...........................................................................................................................60
Appendix B: Track list of audio examples
Appendix C: Log of basso continuo

on CD......................................................................62

realizations to date...........................................................64


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I would like to thank Johan Hofmann, my harpsichord / harmony / basso continuo teacher, for his
advice, interest, help and encouragement in all the activities that have led to this thesis. Mr.
Hofmann's willingness to share his broad knowledge with me and his open-mindedness to the
subject made it a joy to explore.
I would also like to thank my musical colleagues and friends who during recent times have
willingly endured my basso continuo experiments, not all of which were successful.
I am indebted to my parents whom, not knowing the ins and outs of the subject, spent hours
proofreading this thesis for me.

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Long before I had thought of research, and even before I played the viol, I was fascinated by the
little numbers appearing in the bass lines I played on the cello, known to everybody as figured
bass. Without understanding much about the harmony, I enjoyed playing the numbers and
observing how another element was created in the music something like an inner-part.

Learning to play the viol, and being influenced by its rich harmonic repertoire, opened up even
more possibilities of playing chords over a figured bass. Over time I realized that if I was going to
continue realizing bass lines seriously, I would have to gain a deeper insight into the matter. Was
it historically appropriate to play harmonies on these instruments in accompaniment, and how
could I develop my technique to make such realizations presentable on a professional platform?

There were no easy answers to the questions above. There are no treatises or tutors from the
baroque period which provide a method for realizing basso continuo on the cello or viol though
there are many for other instruments such as lute, guitar and keyboard. Recent research has
thoroughly documented the development and performance of basso continuo in general, (e.g.
Borgir, The performance of the basso continuo in seventeenth century Italian music, 1971 and
Zapulla, Figured Bass Accompaniment in France, 2000). However, references in this literature
to basso continuo realization by the cello and viol, if there at all, are usually vague or not followed

Valerie Walden devotes an entire chapter to cello accompaniment in One Hundred Years of
Violoncello, (1998), that surveys many sources from 1740 1840. The chapter contains a useful
summary of late 17th and early 18th Century methods for realization of basso continuo in opera
recitative, but still leaves the early history of the cello in the dark. David Watkin takes initiative in
his article, Corellis op.5 sonatas: Violino e violone o cimbalo? (1996), by probing the

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question of what the cello might have done in terms of realization if it was accompanying alone.
The article by Watkin was very important to me as the issues discussed raised both my interest and
questions that I wanted to find answers for myself (for instance, is it really possible to make a
convincing realization of Stradella's Sinfonias on the cello alone?).

I found more fuel for gaining insight in various recordings such as David Watkin's accompaniment
of Corelli's Sonata a Violino, Op. V, (1996, Appendix B, CD Tracks 1 11), and viol
accompaniment in Biber's Mystery Sonatas by Ars Antique Austria (1996, Appendix B, Track

The shreds of evidence that can be found in such literature as the above led me to define the first
area of my research, namely to carry out a broad survey of music for the cello and viol that
contains harmonic writing. This harmonic writing is usually apparent in chords but also
appears in other guises e.g. alberti bass. The aim of this first part of research was twofold: firstly
to gain a knowledge of, and feel for, what kind of harmonic capability would have been be
idiomatic on the cello and viol; and secondly to see what historical instances, if any, would allow
basso continuo realization by these instruments.

The second area of my research is practical and looks at the way I have tried, and continue to try,
to bring my skills of realizing basso continuo to a high level on the cello and viol. This area forms
two parts: Part 2 is a description and discussion of the way I worked on these techniques, and Part
3 is a short instruction book. The instruction book of Part 3 is necessary to help me
summarize the most important aspects of my practical work and also to help others wishing to
realize basso continuo on the cello and viol since until now no method exists, at least for the
baroque period.

Musical examples are largely found in a separate accompanying volume, Appendix A. The
intention is that the reader can benefit from seeing music in a larger context than just a few bars
without disturbing the flow of the text. Appendix B is a CD of audio examples. The tracklist for

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this CD can be found at the end of this thesis.

English terminology is largely used for instruments: cello for violoncello, viol for viola da gamba
or viole, and bass violin for basse de violon.

Bibliographical references in footnotes contain the name of the author and the date of the
publication, full details of which can be found in the bibliography.

Part 1
Historical contexts for basso
continuo realization on the
cello and viol

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1.1 Introduction
Both the cello and the viol have been playing chords as long as they have been around, and this has
often been in the context of accompaniment. Whether such chordal playing could constitute a real
basso continuo line or not is sometimes clear and sometimes debatable. Examining chordal
playing in both solo and accompanying roles can bring us closer to the nature of an instrument. If
playing chords is really in the nature of an instrument, then it follows that such an instrument can
make basso continuo realizations.

1.2 Italy 16th Century Lirone to Lyra-Viol

One of the earliest examples we find is in Ganassi's Lettione seconda printed in Venice in 1543
(Example 1 see Appendix A). Here, a bass viol accompanies a tenor viol, or voice, using some
simple double-stops. This can be seen as one of the first examples of what came to be known
(especially in England) as playing the viol lyra-way.
Lyra-way is a reference to the lirone which was an instrument in use in Italy approximately 1500
- 1700. Between the size of a bass and tenor viola da gamba, it was played between the legs, had
between nine and twenty strings, frets, a re-entrant tuning system, and an almost flat bridge. It was
difficult to play less than four strings at any one time, and this meant the primary use of the
instrument was to supply blocks of sustained harmony in (usually vocal) accompaniment. It was
used for example by Giulio Caccini (La liberazione di Ruggiero, 1625), Luigi Rossi and
Bernardo Pasquini.1

1.3 England 17th Century The golden age of the Lyra-Viol

In the early 17th Century, a great many compositions were printed in England for the viol to be
played lyra-way, for instance by John Playford (Ex.2) and in the so-called Manchester Lyra Viol
Book. Perhaps the great popularity and fashion in playing the viol lyra-way was that as well as
accompanying other instruments, one could simply accompany oneself. Music was written for one,
two or more viols playing lyra-way together, and even a piece for two to play upon one viol.
1 Headley Lirone, Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 21 Feb. 2009

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It is interesting that in the two books of Ayres (1610 and 1612) by William Corkine, one can find
songs with a chordal accompaniment of the lute and only the bass line for the viol (Ex.3c). In the
second half of each book, only pieces for one or two lyra-viols are found. Moreover, in the Second
Booke of Ayres (Ex.3a), a number of songs have accompaniment of Base-violl alone (Ex.3b)
which is always a bass-line and never chordal. Perhaps this is Corkine telling us that he likes the
lyra-viol, but for harmonic accompaniment of the voice, the lute cannot be beaten, and the viol
should stick to the bass-line. If this is the case, he would be in disagreement with the likes of
Tobias Hume and Robert Jones (Ex.4) who did write lyra-viol accompaniments for the voice and
for the treble viol.2
One of the few known facts about William Corkine is that he did play with John Dowland in 1612.
If Corkine happened to be on Dowland's side in the battle for supremacy of the viol over the
lute, then it would surely have been looked down upon by his colleagues had he written a full
chordal song accompaniment for viol. Though we will probably never know if this was the case or
not, it is easy to imagine a group of traditional musicians opposed to the viol developing new
idioms in the hitherto lute-territory of song accompaniment.
Around 1680 the Italian violinist, guitarist and composer, Nicola Matteis, published The False
Consonances of Musick in London. Intended as a thorough bass manual for the guitar, the title page
also states that it would be a great help likewise to those that would play exactingly upon the
Harpsicord, Lute or Base-Violl, Shewing the delicacy of all Accords and how to apply them in their
proper places. Regardless of whether it is a great help or not, no specific instructions for the viol
are found inside the manual.
According to Rousseau, it was the English who were the first to compose and play chordal pieces
on the viol, and who exported their knowledge to other Kingdoms3. At the turn of the seventeenth
century this influx of English viol players into Germany, the Low Countries and Spain must also
have had an effect on the development of basso continuo skills on the viol across Europe.

2 Robert Jones, London 1601. Tobias Hume, London 1605 and 1607.
3 Ian Woodfield and Lucy Robinson. "Viol." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 8 Feb. 2009

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It is almost certain, looking through his works, that a violist such as Tobias Hume would have no
trouble in realizing a simple bass line on the viol. Already by the beginning of the 17th century, the
viol possessed the capability to provide a full bass realization and the English had gained an
international reputation for their chord-playing skills. Whether Hume or any other violist at this
time would have chosen to realize a bass in ensemble settings or even been permitted to, remains

1.4 The Cello in Italy in the 17th Century

In 17th Century Italy, bass lines were often intended for either a keyboard instrument or a cello (or
similar instrument) alone (Tharald Borgir4 pp51-59). In the second half of the 17th Century, along
with the development of the solo- and trio- sonate da camera we begin to see in printed works the
term ... e violone o cembalo, appear in regard to accompaniment. One of the first instances is in
the Correnti, e Balletti of G. B. Vitali in 1666. Vitali was based at the time in Bologna as a
member of both San Petronio and the Accademia Filarmonia. One wonders if the appearance of
this new term had anything to do with the new liberties brought to the cello by the invention of
metal-wound gut strings, which also came from Bologna around 1660.5 The increased mass of
these strings, whilst maintaining a manageable thickness, allowed cellists a much sought-after
combination of low bass notes and agility comparable to that of the violin.
Perhaps the most well known and most often performed of these works today is Corelli's Opus 5,
Sonata a Violino e Violone o Cimbalo (Rome 1700). Despite the fact that it was common to hear
sonatas with accompaniment of a lone cello in the 17th Century,6 it is very unusual to hear such a
performance of Corelli's Op. 5 now. Today, performers choose to use a harpsichord, or a
harpsichord and cello. However they would only resort to an accompaniment of a single cello if
circumstances were unfavourable (usually lack of funds to rent and transport an instrument). It
4 Borgir, 1971.
5 Bonta, 1977.
6 Borgir, 1971p.57: Works in which both violone and spinet are required normally refer to the keyboard part as the
basso continuo. The same is true of the organ part in church sonatas. The expression "violone or spinet" therefore
carries no implication that both instruments should be used.

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would not be unfair to say today's preferred choice (of three possibilities) is harpsichord and cello.
It would be very interesting to know the preference of 17th Century performers (of two possibilities
given by Corelli) in this matter, although it is unlikely that we shall ever find the answer.
David Watkin is one of the few performers I know of who has taken issue with the question of
accompanying Corelli's Op. 5. In his article Corelli's op.5 sonatas: 'Violino e violone o
cimbalo'?7 Watkin presents practical and historical arguments for the use of a cello alone in
accompaniment, and this article gave me many leads to follow up for this research. One big
question that remains is, would a cellist accompanying an instrument or voice in the baroque time
play the bass line as written, or would he add extra notes? And if he added extra notes, how would
he add them?
In Corelli's Op. V we find no double stops at all written in the bass line. This is not at all out of the
ordinary but it makes life difficult for somebody like me who is very interested in realizing a bass
line on a cello. Keyboard and lute players in the 17th Century may have had treatises and tutors to
guide them but the first cello method appeared in 1741 (Michel Corrette) and that only gives the
briefest mention of playing chords! So we have to look a little harder to find hints of what a cellist
might have done to realize a bass line.
Borgir's research shows that a bass-line instrument is obligatory in canzonas and church sonatas
when the part is contrapuntal. (1977, pp 62.) In Corelli's Op. V, we find many different functions
of bass line from purely contrapuntal to simple harmonic support. Perhaps we could take from
Borgir that when Corelli's bass is highly contrapuntal, the cellist should concentrate on bringing out
the counterpoint rather than adding extra notes, but when the bass is more vertical the cellist could
look for possibilities to add extra notes (Ex.5). Compare Borgir's findings with Sbastien de
Brossard's entry for "Suonata" later in this text.
Alessandro Stradella was active in Rome for around ten years in the 1660's and 1670's. He is
especially of note because he was the first known composer to use Concerto Grosso textures.
Being in Rome at that time, Stradella must have had some influence on Corelli who is known to
have written a concerto grosso at least as early as 1690.
7 Watkin, 1996, p. 645

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Watkin, in his article, quotes passages such as the one in Ex.6, which show added notes in the bass
parts of some of Alessandro Stradella's instrumental works. Would Corelli have also expected bass
lines to be realized something like this?
According to Watkin, these added notes suggest a cello accompaniment. The bass lines of
Stradella's works for violin(s) and bass are sparsely figured and Watkin correctly points out that,
Many of these can be realized by a cellist.
Thought: Having looked at many of Stradella's instrumental works myself as a result of reading
Watkin's article, I find however that it was not Stradella's main intention that a cellist should play
these bass lines and add extra notes. Although the excerpts Watkin gives do suit the cello very well,
there are other passages that do not fit the cello well in terms of figuration (e.g. Sinfonia 6 mm
24- 26, Ex.6), and in terms of range (e.g. Sinfonia 8 (II) mm 11-12, Ex.7).8 Passages such as these
would seem to fit an archlute better than a keyboard or cello. Stradella uses the archlute in the
concertino section of the first known concerto grosso. I find it much more likely that Stradella had
an archlute in mind as the main candidate for playing the bass of his sinfonias. Watkin only
mentions the lute briefly and seems to play down the probability of its use in favour of the cello.
The evidence is again inconclusive: since Stradella did not publish his sinfonias as a set they
come down to us through various sources we will never know if he intended the same instruments
for basso continuo in each of his sinfonias or not and therefore it is difficult to make any
generalizations regarding performance of his bass lines.
There is an interesting set of (undated) pieces for bass instrument violone - by Giuseppe Colombi
(1635 1694). Colombi never worked in Bologna, but he shared the position of assistant Maestro
di Capella to Duke Francesco II with the cellist G. B. Vitali from 1674. Vitali was new in Modena
after many years in Bologna. Though he was known as a violinist, perhaps Colombi was inspired to
write for violone by his colleague. The pieces in question appear to be for a solo instrument (with
an option for a simple continuo line) which we might today call the bass violin, that is with four
strings and a tuning one whole-tone below modern cello tuning. The pieces are interesting because
8 We could assume that a cello with more strings or higher-pitched strings (e.g. one fifth higher than the instrument
we call a cello today) was used, but then we are still confronted with difficult figures such as a 7 over d'. Even if
this was realized on a cello, the idea of doubling the solo line at pitch on such a familiar instrument (the result of
playing the figures) is dubious.

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they are characterized by many double-stops that very, very rarely go out of first position (Ex.8).
The lack of shifts in the double-stopping passages of Colombi is an argument against a full
realization of the works in question by Corelli and Stradella since these would require many shifts
in position. I think Colombi's pieces do not represent high-level virtuosity but it is a very big jump
from playing his harmonically-simple realizations to the more complex ones of Corelli.
In the Ricercarte and Sonatas of Domenico Gabrielli (1659 1690) we see the first solo works
written for solo violoncello in name. These pieces contain occasional double-stops, added for
special or grand effect. These chordal passages do present more of a technical challenge than those
of Colombi, but again are not advanced enough to make a cellistic realization of Corelli's Op. V. In
the last twenty years of the 17th Century, Gabrielli became famous as a cello virtuoso earning
himself the nickname Mingin dal viulunzl, or Domenico of the Violoncello. If the cello
technique of such a master had been appropriate to make realizations of Corelli sonatas, wouldn't
more chords have found their way into his solo works?
Thought: David Watkin suggests the realization in Ex.9 of a passage from Corelli's Op. V.
Although I think it can sound very beautiful and appropriate in the hands of a good cellist, I find it
hard, looking at our evidence so far, to imagine the famous cellist of Bologna, Domenico Gabrielli,
making such a realization himself if we look at his published cello works we see no sign of this
style, not even in his double-stopping passages (Ex.10).
Intervals of 6ths and 3rds fit very well on the cello, and we find many examples of this in the 12
Sonatas of Antonio Maria Bononcini (1677 1726). Bononcini was active as a musician in
Bologna for the last fifteen years of the 17th Century before leaving for Vienna. Apparently written
in 1693, when Bononcini was only 16, the sonatas contain lines full of alternating 6ths and 3rds
(Ex.11), with the occasional 2nd and 7th. There is a much bigger range of double-stops than found
in Colombi and Gabrielli, but they mostly fall under the hand and the shifts, though there are
many of them, are quite manageable. We see from these sonatas that in one respect it is quite
practical to harmonize a bass line using simple 3rds, 5ths and 6ths on the cello. However, when it
comes to accompaniment, a bass realized on a cello in this way will often double the solo voice and
that can lead to problems of sonority.

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Thought: Example 12 shows sample realizations I made of Corelli's Op. V No. 1, Adagio (extract).
The first example is how a cellist familiar with Colombi and Bononcini might realize the bass
naturally, though unaware of the solo voice and therefore creating unisons. This realization on its
own has good voice leading. The second version avoids the unisons but also avoids a large amount
of shifting, leaving some areas a bit empty and creating an inconsistent texture. The third version
throws caution to the wind and aims for a full harmony despite creating more work for the left hand.
Despite maintaining nice voice leading, this realization is quite cumbersome and risks dominating
the solo voice.
Tomaso Pegolotti was an amateur musician and worked as a court clerk not far from Modena in the
town of Scandiano. His only publication is the Trattenimenti armonici da camera of 1698, for
solo violin and violoncello. We find some interesting text in Pegolotti's preface to the work where,
apologizing for his limited compositional abilities, he suggests the cellist may add additional notes
above the bass if it is found too empty. This tells us that certainly Pegolotti would find it normal for
a cellist to realize a bass in some way when accompanying a solo. However we do not know if it
reflected any general trends of the time. Scandiano was not the musical centre of Italy, but its
proximity to Modena may have allowed a cellist such as Vitali to be of influence, and Vitali, as we
know, worked for almost twenty years in Bologna before moving to Modena.
Something else to consider about the Trattenimenti is that the only surviving examples were printed
in two part-books, one for violin and one for cello. Perhaps Pegolotti did not mind the cellist
sometimes doubling the violin whilst adding extra notes, since publishing in score format would
have made doubling much easier to avoid. In the twelfth Trattenimento, Pegolotti adds an
alternative violin part. Perhaps he would also expect an alternative cello part to look like this too
Giovannino del Violone was the nickname for Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier (1662 1700) who was the
cellist of choice for Corelli, and known as an excellent player. We might hope to find some cello
sonatas by this person with such a close connection to Corelli but alas none exist and we are none
the wiser. Lulier composed mostly vocal works but in a survey of many works by La Via9, none
were found to have outstanding cello parts. Though Lulier and A.M. Bononcini both worked for
9 S. La Via: Il violoncello a Roma al tempo del Cardinale Ottoboni: ricerche e documenti (diss., U. of Rome, 1983
4), pp. 10919, 18792 quoted in Lindgren. "Lulier, Giovanni Lorenzo." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.
21 Feb. 2009, <>

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Cardinal Pamphili, it was only when Pamphili was relocated to Bologna from 1690 93 that
Bononcini was in his orchestra, Lulier staying behind in Rome with Corelli.
Unlike the viol in England, the cello in its early development as a solo instrument did not show
itself to be as at home playing chordal passages as playing melodic figures as illustrated by the
ricercarte and sonatas of Gabrielli. Of course, cellists must have enjoyed passages of chords
(prolonged ones in the case of Bononcini) but these passages usually seem to gravitate back towards
melodic work again. In light of this, when considering the idea of realizing Corelli's Op. 5 on the
cello perhaps one should not aim for a full and consistent realization, but rather to add extra notes
here and there, if they happen to fall under the hand, and have good reason be it textural, rhythmic,
dramatic and so on.

1.5 What's in a title? Violone o Cembalo, Cello, harpsichord or both?

Although not directly related to the question of realization on the cello or viol, it is very useful to
consider what instrumentation a basso continuo line requires. In a larger continuo group with a
variety of instruments, a bowed-bass would logically do best to sustain the fundamental bass line of
the music, and leave realization to instruments with a more obvious chordal facility. If a cello or
viol is playing alone or in a smaller group on the bass line, it could possibly improve the music by
adding extra notes, if not a full "realization."
If one was always to take title pages of works literally in their meaning, then it would usually leave
no question about the instrumentation of the accompaniment. Earlier I looked to Borgir and
Watkin regarding the performance of bass lines in 17th Century Italian sonatas and found that in
this time and place "or" really did mean "or," especially without the qualification of the term basso
continuo. However, it is very hard to believe that all composers who published works were rigid in
their scoring of the basso continuo (intending the exact specifications of the title page), and we
should probably accept that sometimes "and" or "or" meant "and/or." This leaves us with the
difficult task of deciding whether the composer meant and, or or and/or or if he did not mind. One
argument on the side of ambiguity is that and/or does not look as attractive as one word on its own,
and takes up more space - title pages are designed to please by their appearance and are limited in

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space for words.

Looking through the first several hundred pages of the bibliography of works published by John
Walsh10, one of the leading European publishing houses in the 18th Century, one can find a large
variety of titles. We can divide certain works into two categories:
Category 1: publications that have " ... with a thoroughbass for harpsichord or bass-violin" or
something similar in the title.
Category 2: publications where basso continuo instruments are either not specified (...and a bass) or
something other than the cello e.g. "... and a thoroughbass for Ye Organ, Harpsichord or Archlute."
The instances of publications in each category can be found in the following table:
Approx. Instances in Volume 1 Approx. Instances in Volume 2



of Walsh's Catalogue, 1655 -

of Walsh's Catalogue, 1721 -


1766. (A - G)







In the years after 1720, we find a rise in the number of Cat. 1 publications (the or category) relative
to those of Cat. 2. This could represent the intentions of the published composers in specifying the
continuo group, but I find this hard to believe, especially as it is approaching the era where,
according to C. P. E Bach, the combination of cello and harpsichord is free of criticism.11
It is also conceivable that the rise was purely due to fashion and not musical intention - perhaps the
term of "violone o cembalo" which appeared towards the end of the 17th Century in Italy took a few
decades to become fashionable in England.

10 William C. Smith A bibliography of the musical works published by John Walsh during the years 1695-1720.
London Bibliographical Society1948, Bibliographical Society publication for the year 1941.
William C. Smith and Charles Humphries A bibliography of the musical works published by the firm of John Walsh
during the years 1721-1766. London Bibliographical Society1968, Bibliographical Society publication for the year
The first volume contains works listed chronologically whilst the second lists composers and publications
alphabetically. I looked at the entire first volume, and the second up to the letter "g."
11 C.P.E. Bach, 1753-1762.

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More insight into the meaning of "bass" can be easily found by looking into a publication to see if
the parts specify the instruments. For instance L'Art de la Modulation / Quatuors / Pour un Hautboy, 2 Violons, et Basse12 by Philidor (1726 - 1795) actually contains parts for Flauto Traversiero,
Violino Primo, Violino Secondo and Violoncello. The Violoncello part contains a full figuring so it
is likely a keyboard instrument is also required to play from this part. Where it is not possible or
practical to look through the parts, we are left in the dark. In this respect, my small survey of
Walsh's catalogue is not very useful. Given more time, it would be interesting to look inside the
works to see how the parts correspond to the title.
In 1736 the French cellist J.B. Masse (c. 1700 c. 1757) published his Sonates Deux
Violonchelles, Op. 2. We can see from the title page that they can also be played on other
instruments such as two bassoons, two viols and two violins. The part of the second cello contains
figures for realization - note that no mention of a keyboard instrument or basso continuo is given in
the title. Valerie Walden (1998, pp. 257) uses it as "Evidence...that chord filling [by cellists]
was...added to accompaniments of continuo sonatas," and that the figures are, "presumably for
realization by the second violoncellist." Unfortunately, looking beyond the title page shows that the
figures are obviously not for a cello. Only a small number of the figures can be added by a second
cellist with a degree of ease and without doubling the first cellist (Ex.14). They must be intended
for a keyboard instrument even though it is not mentioned in the title.
In a brief review of title pages, I have found that information given in title pages on accompaniment
is often misleading. A better idea of the intended instruments for accompaniment can usually be
arrived at by looking inside a score or publication to see what it is practically suited to.

1.6 The Viol in 17th and 18th Century France

The period around 1680 1690 was somewhat of a crossroads for the viola da gamba in France.
Here we find the first book of solo viol music published in France (de Machy, 1685), the first basso
continuo accompaniment to solo viol music (and indeed any solo instrumental music in France13) by
12 Franois-Andr Danican Philidor, L'Art de la Modulation..., Paris 1755.
13 Dunford, Marin Marais

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Marais in 1689 and treatises by Danoville and Rousseau both in 1687.

There was conflict in the nature of the instrument, especially between de Machy and Rousseau. It is
difficult to read more than a few pages of Rousseau's 150-page Trait de la viole without
encountering some pejorative reference to l'autheur de l'avertissement i.e. de Machy. This
conflict stemmed from the instrument's old association with harmonic instruments such as the guitar
and lute on the one hand (jeu d'harmonie), and the progressive melodic style being developed on
the other hand (jeu de mlodie).
De Machy sought to preserve the harmonic style characterised by style bris and chords (Ex.15),
considering it the true nature of the instrument. He agreed that a simple melody could be played
beautifully on the viol but likened it in his Avertissement14to playing beautifully on the
harpsichord or organ but with only one hand.
Rousseau found the art of the jeu de mlodie in imitating the pleasantness and charm of the human
voice: the melodic style is simple and consequently requires a lot of delicacy and tenderness.15
Perhaps more profoundly, the jeu de mlodie represented for the progressives a path of
independence away from old associations with the lute.16
In the end, looking through the music for viol of the following 50 years, there was no clear winner
and we find highly developed pieces fully integrating both melodic and harmonic style (take, for
instance, the first two movements of C. P. E. Bach's Sonata for Viola da Gamba and Basso
Continuo in D c.1745, Ex.16). The implications of this heated argument however are very
important to the subject of this paper. If the composer sees the viol in the same group of
instruments as the lute, theorbo and guitar, then he might expect it to realize basso continuo. If the
viol is seen in the same group as the voice and the violin then it would not be expected to play
realizations of the bass. Does it belong to one group or both? There is unfortunately no black-andwhite answer as we shall see by looking through some pieces of evidence from this time in France.

14 Le Sieur De Machy, Pices de violle, en musique et en tablature (Paris, 1685).

15 Rousseau, 1687. p.56, Translation of the author.
16 Bol, 1974, p.46.

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The continuo group in France in the 17th and first half of the 18th Centuries was usually made up of
both chordal and sustaining instruments in various combinations, one of the most common being
bass viol, theorbo and harpsichord.17 In this latter combination, perhaps the most obvious role for
the viol would be sustaining the bass line something it can do much better than the harpsichord or
theorbo. Jacques Bonnet would also have agreed with this role. Bonnet complains, in a criticism of
bass group execution, that the continuo group (in this case just a harpsichord and viol) often
resembles more a solo Pice de viole than an accompaniment, which smothers the solo voice
through chords and arpeggiation. He points out that one should play the simple bass whilst the
other makes a realization.18 Bonnet's advice does not hide the fact that it became quite common in
early 18th Century France for a viol player to make a realization, even at the same time as the
harpsichord. It is also evident that there was some disagreement as to whether such a manner of
realization was in good taste or not.
In 1699, Nicolas Derosier (guitarist and composer) published his Nouveaux principes pour la
guitarre, avec une table universelle de tous les accords qui se trouvent dans la basse-contine sur
cet instrument. Ce qui peut servir aussi aux personned qui joent du luth, du thorbe et de la basse
de viole.19 However, just like the treatise by Nicola Matteis mentioned earlier, there is no
reference within the publication for the viol.20 I would like to read into his title page that Derosier
was one of a group of musicians who considered the viol as an instrument with the capability of
basso continuo realization. It is also possible that Derosier thought the viol should only play the
bass-line but nevertheless could find some useful information on accompaniment in general from
his treatise e.g. rhythm, articulation, dynamics, etc, but this was the case, wouldn't Derosier have
also mentioned the basse de violon in the title?

17 Zappulla (2000) p.56 in reference to Julie Ann Sadie, 1980, The bass viol in French baroque chamber music (UMI
Research Press) p.25.
18 L'on n'entend en gnral dans la Musique qu'une basse continue tojours double, qui souvent est une espce de
batterie, d'accords, & un harpegement ... de ceux qui accompagnent ou du clavessin, ou de la viole; il faudroit donc
que des deux Instrumens, il y en et un qui jout le simple de la basse, & l'autre le double; ces B.C. Passeroient
plutt pour des Pices de viole, que pour un accompagnement qui doit tre soumis au sujet, & ne point prvaloir.
Jacques Bonnet, Histoire de la musique, et de ses effets, Depuis son origine jusqu' present Paris, 1726 pp. 297-298.
Quoted in Bol 1974, p.50.
19 Derosier, Nicolas. 1699. Nouveaux principes pour la guitarre, avec une table universelle de tous les accords qui se
trouvent dans la basse-continu:e sur cet instrument. Ce qui peut servir aussi aux personned qui jou:ent du luth, du
thorbe et de la basse de viole. Paris, Ballard, 1699.
20 According to Zappulla (2000) p.7

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When reading the Grove Music Online article on Continuo,21 I was happy to find Jean Rousseau
quoted as saying in his Trait of 168722, Chords should mostly be played with generous bow
strokes, and smoothly connected like an organ... For a few days after reading this I attempted to
connect chords on the viol as they might sound on an organ. Later, when I read the facsimile of
Rousseau's Trait, I found that the Grove article appears to have misinterpreted Rousseau.
Rousseau concludes one paragraph that appears to be about blending into an ensemble thus:
...c'est pourquoy il faut sur tout estre attentif couter les autres
Parties, afin de frapper les accords bien propos.
And begins the next paragraph:
Le Jeu de l'accompagnement doit estre un Jeu li avec de grands
coups d'Archet qui succedent les uns aux autres sans interruption
de Son, comme un Tuyau d'Orgue...
I found this information made more sense when applied to the idea of playing one bass note at a
time rather than chords, especially as Rousseau speaks of an organ pipe in the singular. However, a
question mark still remains over exactly how one might frapper les accords in the context of the
previous paragraph.
Sbastien de Brossard, unlike Derosier, clearly belongs to the group that believes the viol (and the
bass violin) should play only the bass-line as written. In his Dictionnaire de Musique, first
published in 170123, under the heading Basso Continuo, Brossard writes One also often plays
basso continuo simply and without figures on the bass viol or bass violin....24 He later confirms
this view under the entry Suonata, stating that sonatas are, usually for solo violin, or two
different violins with a basso continuo for the harpsichord and often a more figured (figure not

21 Williams and Ledbetter, Continuo. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 2 Dec. 2008
22 Rousseau, 1687
23 Brossard, c.1708
24 On la jou aussi souvent simplement, et sans chiffres sur la Basse de Violle, ou de Violon, avec le Basson, le
Serpent, et cetera

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chiffre) bass for the viol, the fagot etc.25

Shirley Thompson provides us with more clues in her article Marc-Antoine Charpentier and the
viol26. We learn that, although the precise instrumentation of the continuo group often remains a
mystery, Charpentier (1643 1704) sometimes offers interesting insights such as an instruction
under the final note of Psalmus David nonagesimus 9nus, H194, that the viol should play a chord
of D with a major 3rd (Ex.17a). Thompson also draws our attention to other instances of
Charpentier colouring final notes in this way e.g. a written-out five-note chord in the continuo line
of the cantata La descente d'Orphe aux Enfers, H488. Most interesting is a passage for two
obbligato bass viols in lvation, H408: one viol essentially makes a realization of the bass with
2, 3 and 4-note chords whilst the other adds double stops on top of this (Ex.17b). This writing for
the two obbligato viols elicits the questions from Thompson: did viols take some part in realizing
harmonies? And did Charpentier notate the parts more fully here because of the presence of two
players, and the need to avoid collisions?27
It is a pity that there are no accounts of Marais accompanying on the viol instead we have to
imagine how he might have played a bass-line, and if he would have realized a bass line how would
it have sounded? Presumably, and hopefully (he was the Angel after all), rather different to that
which Ancelet reports of Forqueray (the younger?) in 1757:
He never executes the bass just as it is written; he claims to greatly
improve it with the great number of brilliant traits he throws at it; he
fights, so to say, with the person playing the solo; and often the
Composer is just as unhappy as the violinist who is playing.28
We can say from looking at the viol repertoire in France that to play harmonically or the jeu
25 ordinairement elles sont Violon seul ou deux Violons diffrens avec une Basse-Continu pour le Clavessin, et
souvent une Basse plus figure pour la Violle de Gambe, le Fagot, et cetera.
26 Thompson, 2004
27 Ibid, pp. 501.
28 Ancelet, Observations sur la musique, les musicians, et les instruments, A Amsterdam, Aux dpens de la
Compagnie, 1757, Quoted in Bol, 1974, p.50.

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d'harmonie is in the nature of the instrument and therefore it clearly has the means to make a
basso continuo realization, but of an idiom clearly different from the lute and keyboard families.
We know that viol players did realize basso continuo in practice but this knowledge is often brought
down to us through sources that found it done in rather bad taste and it would be good to heed the
warning not to make a pice de viole out of a basso continuo. Some thought the viol should stick to
the bass-line, like the bass violin, and in many circumstances this will be the most useful application
of the instrument. Could Charpentier have been suggesting that a little bit of realization here and
there goes a long way in creating certain colours at special moments?

1.7 Tra le Fiamme Solo viol continuo

Perhaps two of the most famous examples of realization on the viol are in Handel's oratorio La
resurrezione (Ex.18) and cantata Tra le Fiamme. The viol has its own line of figured bass in
the score of Tra le Fiamme in addition to the line for the other continuo instruments (Ex.19). In the
first movement Handel writes out the first seven chords for the violist (though not very "handy"
chords as far as a viol player is concerned - perhaps Handel was just giving a sketch). It is a very
interesting part since it switches from an obbligato instrument to continuo instrument several times.
Handel gives an idea of what kind of realization he wants in each movement, and leaves the rest up
to the player. It is thought this cantata was written for Hesse who had earlier studied (with and
abrupt end29) with both Marais and Forqueray. Hesse was a virtuoso player and could well have
inspired Handel to write such a part.
The famous aria, Komm, Ses Kreuz, from J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion, is essentially a
written out continuo part for the viol that only occasionally departs from the bass. Bach saw the
capability of the viol to realize figured bass in a similar way to that of the theorbo, since the theorbo
also has a written out accompaniment for the same aria in a different version.

29 Dunford, The Viola da Gamba,

Marais and Forqueray were jealous rivals at court. One story has Ernst Christian Hesse, a German violist, attempting
to study with both masters. Knowing of their rivalry, Hesse studied with one under his real name and with the other
as Sachs. Unfortunately for him, Forqueray and Marais eventually got around to bragging to one another about
their respective brilliant German students. A competition between Sachs and Hesse was arranged. Needless to say,
poor Hesse showed up alone and tried to calm the roiled waters by playing first in Marais style, then in
Forquerays. For this impertinence he was packed off home to Darmstadt and was seen no more in Versailles.

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1.8 Frets
We tend to assume that the viol is an instrument with frets, and a cello is an instrument without
frets. This is true most of the time, but not all of the time:
If the violoncello has frets, as is customary upon the viola da gamba,
the violoncellist must, in playing notes marked with flats, depress the
strings a little above the frets, and apply a little more pressure with his
fingers, in order to stop them with the additional height (that is, of
about a comma) that their ratios require as opposed to those of notes
marked with sharps.30
In the big switchover from viol to cello I am sure that not every violist became a cellist, and not
every cellist was previously a violist. Surely there must have been quite a number who did switch
from one to the other, or made the best of each world and played both instruments at the same time
(which is the case of this author). With this category of musicians one can imagine that frets would
sometimes have been kept as a feature on the new cello, and with it, the viol system of fingering
that has a facility for chordal playing.
Thought: To what extent does the presence of frets affect the nature of an instrument (melodic /
harmonic) and even its player? The great-grandfather of the viol, the oud, is without frets and does
not play chords though it is held and strummed as a guitar - the Arabic music is much stronger in
the elements of melody and rhythm than it is in harmony. At what point were frets added? When
the musician wanted more resonance or chords, or both?

1.9 Idiomatic cello accompaniment in the 18th Century

It is not difficult to find examples of "basso continuo" lines from the 18th Century that are
obviously written down with the cello in mind. Tartini would have been only one of several
violinists touring at this time with only a cellist (for obvious logistical reasons) and it would not be
surprising if that cellist took a few liberties in filling out the bass lines. In Tartini's Op.2 we can see
examples of Tartini specifying exactly which extra notes he wanted added (Ex.20). It is also
30 Quantz, 1752, Chapter XVII, Section IV 15, p. 245.

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possible that Tartini only wanted the cellist to play extra notes exactly where they were written, but
that possibility could make life less exciting for the cellist.
Jean Barrire (1707 1747) expanded the virtuoso cello technique with his four books of cello
sonatas published between 1733 and 1739. Though double stops are rarely found in the basso
continuo line, the way the harmonic outline is given in places like the Andante of the first sonata of
Book 1 (Ex.21) shows us that it is very much for the cello. A different composer may have only
written simple repeated crotchets (quarter notes) for the bass.
The solo part aside, it is quite common to see passages of double stops in the bass parts of
Boccherini's cello sonatas. A rather interesting example can be found in the first movement of two
different versions of a sonata in E-flat (Ex.22). The bass parts are almost identical except that most
of the double stops in one version are inverted in the other. Perhaps Boccherini was of the same
mind as Baudiot, mentioned below, in that the particular inversion of a chord does not have to be
something of major importance. Whatever the reason, both versions of double-stops, like all the
other double-stops I looked at in Boccherini's bass lines, fall neatly under the hand. Boccherini
never asks the accompanist to perform a difficult task with the sole purpose of filling out
Another cellist, famous for accompaniment of recitativo secco, was James Cervetto (1748 1837),
son of the Father of the solo cello in England, Giacomo Cervetto (1682 1783). James Cervetto
worked in the King's Theatre from 1774, earlier than Robert Lindley, and published several works
almost entirely for cellos. In his Three Duets for Two Violoncellos, Op. 6, (1795) we find
technically challenging material for both cellos these duets are obviously aimed at very
accomplished cellists. No matter how challenging the passage work, when Cervetto asks for
double-stops (often tremolo-ed several to a bow), they almost always fall under one hand position
(Ex.23). Also as one might expect from this kind of repertoire, there are many other clever ways in
which Cervetto outlines the harmony without playing chords at all.
Lots of inspiration can be found in basso continuo lines and cello literature for elaborating on a
bass. When adding extra notes on the cello, we can take heed from Boccherini and Cervetto and
only add what comes naturally under the hand. They did not ask us to exert ourselves to reach a

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certain special harmony, so why should we ask it of ourselves? (Perhaps the author is referring in
particular to his own aspirations at present.) Looking at examples such as these show us that there
are also many other ways to add harmony than just playing chords.

1.10 The first cello tutors and the accompaniment of recitativo in opera
In 1741 the first cello tutor was published by Corrette in Paris.31 As well as all the basic instruction
one might expect from a cello tutor (including special advice for viol players who wish to play the
cello) we find chapter 12 devoted to chords and arpeggios (Ex.24). Corrette gives examples of the
augmented fourth, diminished fifth and seventh along with their resolutions. The main point seems
to be giving advice on how to finger such intervals. The Arpegio section shows a handful of
different ways to arpeggiate a 3-note chord, again with a little fingering advice. Alas Corrette gives
us absolutely no hint on the context in which we might like to use these skills. Was it too obvious
to even mention? The only other help we get is to hardly play chords on the lowest string due to the
heavy and obscure sound produced.32
Johann Baptist Baumgartner (1723 - 1782) was a German cellist active in Nothern Europe and
England. Baumgartner's Instructions de musique, thorique et pratique, lusage du
violoncelle33 was printed in Den Haag in 1774 and it is particularly interesting because of its
emphasis on accompaniment:
I give in this method the most sensible and easiest approach, not only to
play pieces but even to accompany well since that is its [the cello's]
primary role and consequently the essential thing to know.34
Chapter Nine of Baumgartner, On technique and shifting, is a much more thorough version of
Corrette's effort on fingering chords. Perhaps the aspect that we can most benefit from in this
fingering advice is that it is always given in a harmonic context, e.g. Fourths are always played
31 Corrette 1741
32 Corrette, 1741, p. 38: Sur la 4e corde on ne fait guere d'accords, les sons tans trs graves, et par consequent trop
33 Baumgartner, 1774.
34 Baumgartner 1774, in To the Reader

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with the little finger and the second finger since the resolution is to the third. I am sure any cellist
thinking of chordal accompaniment would benefit from Baumgartner's advice here, since it is not
only the head and the ears that learn good harmony, but also the fingers. At the end of the chapter
Baumgartner refers the reader to an exercise (Ex.25), warning,
It is not sufficient to know the rules. It is also necessary to have the
technique which is the effect of exercise and practice which depends on you
and not me.
Baumgartner devotes Chapter Twelve to the Accompaniment of Recitatives: accompanied and
ordinary, or secco. Regarding "accompanied" recitatives, the option of not playing extra notes is
given, since the harmony is provided by the other instruments. With ordinary recitatives, there is
no option but to play chords. Here follows a summary of his guide:

One should be able to read all clefs (of the solo part) quickly in order to play unfigured

The tone is never sustained. In the rest between chords, find the next notes. [by plucking

The bass note of the chord comes on the beat.35

Octavation is permitted when the bass note is too high.

Triple-stopped chords are more likely to be out of tune, so use double-stops most of the

Do not play a wrong chord.

Read Rameau or Rousseau etc. for a more thorough explanation of chords and harmony than
given here.

Chapter Thirteen, On General Bass is the only explicit evidence I have seen advising cellists to
play extra notes in a regular basso continuo situation:
It is very good, when you accompany a symphony or other large
ensemble music, to sometimes play chords if there is occasion.
35 Baumgartner 1774, Chapter 12 give a dry stroke with your bass note at the same time as the principal chord note
of the melody. You have enough spare time while following the melody to search for your concordant note.

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Baumgartner advises playing certain chords based on the way the bass line moves, enabling the
cellist to play without figures. He advises playing without chords only when the line is highly
figured and finishes with the general observation: The ear, if you have one, will guide you.
In his General instructions for Good Accompanying, we are told never hazard to accompany a
solo, trio or a quartet. Whether this means not to play additional notes or only to play them if one
is completely sure, I do not know. I think it is probably the latter since he immediately goes on to
suggest practicing realization in symphonies as the other cellists will cover the mistakes you will
make. We are also told, it is good to play figures when accompanying a symphony or a choir,
and to play the notes down an octave if there is no contrabass. Again, regarding accompaniment of
solo, duet, trio or quartet, there is an ambiguous instruction of, play the notes exactly, which
could mean without realization or without mistakes (quite possible given his ironic nature seen
elsewhere in his Instructions).
Valerie Walden, writing on accompaniment in 1998,36 summarizes the instructions on
accompaniment of recitative from the major early cello tutors37 (e.g. Baillot, Ex.26) and evidence of
its implementation:

It was considered normal for a cello to accompany recitatives with chords from around
1790, across most of Europe.

The core instruments of the recitative group were the cello and the contrabass. The presence
of a keyboard instrument varied in different places, however there is evidence that in the
absence of a cello, the keyboard was not able to satisfactorily provide a strong enough
harmony on its own.

It was common for the contrabass to sustain the bass note of the recitative (as written) whilst
the cellist arpeggiated chords in various manners at the changes of harmony.

Some (like Baumgartner) said that the bass note must not be changed (except in the case of
octavation downwards), whilst others (Baudiot, Stiastny) considered that changing the
inversion of the chord did not create any bad effect for the listener one can imagine that it
does not matter which inversion the cellist plays so long as the fundamental bass note from

36 Walden, 1998, Chapter: The Art of Acoompaniment pp. 241 269.

37 e.g. Baumgartner, 1774; Baillot, Levasseur, Catel, Baudiot, Mthode de violoncelle et de basse d'accompagnement,
Paris 1805; Baudiot, Mthode pour le violoncello, op. 25, 2 vols, Paris 1826, 1828.

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other instruments is strong enough.

Some cellists played their arpeggios in a way that the highest note was the next note of the
singer. Others did not even include the singers note in their arpeggio.

Personality appears to have had as much effect on the way of accompanying as the style of a
particular place or time.

An intriguing yet questionable source is found in Raoul's cello method of 1797. Two pages are
devoted to chords and the accompaniment of recitative. Raoul gives examples of chords in a kind
of regola d'ottava but strangely harmonizes from the top-note downwards (Ex.27). The chords also
go very high up on the cello with an unusual fingering recommended, and I wonder if Raoul
seriously expected such risky chords to be used in the accompaniment of recitative.
Perhaps the most famous accompanist of recitative on the cello was the Yorkshire-born Robert
Lindley (1776 1855). Together with the contrabass player, Domenico Dragonetti, Lindley
achieved something like a superstar status for his recitative work (Ex.28) at the King's Theatre in
London. From around the turn of the century until 1837 they were: without rival in the
performance of their parts, which light the musical heavens like sudden thunderbolts of Jupiter.38
Several contemporary reports of their work are found in Fiona Palmer's book on Dragonetti.39 From
these reports we get the impression that no matter where one went in Europe, nothing compared to
the, fanciful and exquisite manner in which Lindley does this at our Italian Opera-house.40 Useful
to know is a quality that one commentator, never found in any other violoncellist, viz. that when
accompanying a recitative, he gave the full chord, and frequently the note on which the singers were
to commence. Some one or two tried his mode, but all failed. Needless to say, Dragonetti received
just as much praise. Disappointment was reported when finally in 1837, a piano took over the
accompaniment of recitativo secco at the King's theatre.
In the first cello tutors there appears to have been a natural expectation that cellists should develop
not just a strong theoretical knowledge of harmony, but also a motoric reaction to it in the fingers,
entirely specific and unique to the cello. The latter, if not the former, is missing from today's cello
38 Planyavsky quoting a contemporary report. Quoted in Palmer, 1997.
39 Palmer, 1997. pp. 115 118.
40 Ibid. p. 116.

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Accompaniment of recitativo secco by a cello and contrabass, and often but not always a keyboard
instrument, was the norm across Europe towards the end of the 18th Century and the beginning of
the 19th. (The score for Mendelssohn's recreation of Bach's St. Matthew Passion had a bass part
for two solo cellos playing chords and the double bass on the bass line.41) Currently this scoring is
not the norm when performing works of that period, even with groups on historical instruments.
Realization of basso continuo by a cello outside of recitative probably did happen, but the contexts
in which it might have happened are still vague. When cello accompaniment of recitativo secco
died out in the second half of the 19th Century so did the skills needed for it, and also the
motivation for the next generation of cellists to continue to learn these skills. Since this practice of
performing recitative is well documented, we can look forward to its rebirth in the field of historical
performance in the coming years.

41 Brown, 1999, p.603.

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1.11 Conclusion to Part 1

I can summarize the historical evidence I looked at above as follows:
1. There is solid evidence that says it was a common practice for able viol players to realize
basso continuo.
2. No evidence or accounts have been found that suggest it was common for the cello to realize
normal basso continuo lines.
3. It was normal practice for the cello to realize harmonies in the accompaniment of recitative
at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries.

1. It would have been useful in completing the picture of the viol as a harmonic continuo instrument
to have found a tutor or method from that period. During this investigation none has been found
and so it seems that the viol player of the 18th Century might have had to select the relevant points
of tutors for other instruments in order to develop their own harmonic continuo skills. Aside from
this the picture is complete with Ganassi's accompaniments, English lyra-viol song, Charpentier's
colourings using the viol, Handel's fully independent continuo lines in Tra le Fiamme, and
written accounts from the likes of Bonnet. The independent viol lines that Handel wrote, along
with their figuring, shows that at least Handel, if not others, expected a real continuous basso
continuo from the instrument.
It is no surprise that today that various viol players are using chords as an extra colour in the
continuo group this can be heard in recordings as varied as Biber (Gunar Letzbor, 1996, Appendix
B, Track 25), Cipriano de Rore (Paolo Pandolfo, 2006, Appendix B, Track 26) and Handel (Cecilia
Bartoli, 2005, Appendix B, Track 27). The viol was abandoned and lay forgotten for around 150
years before it was reanimated in the 20th century. Perhaps it tells us something about the nature of
this instrument that, even in the absence of a viol-continuo tutor, today's revivalists are
incorporating continuo realization into their playing, just as did good viol players of the 17th and 18th
Centuries. Perhaps it just comes naturally.

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2. We know that the cello had the capacity to play chords even from its earliest solo repertoire
(Gabrielli, Bononcini) but chords on the cello were rarely more than a special effect in the baroque
period. The cello has not had any tradition of jeu de harmonie where the presence of chords
forms the basis of a composition although J.S. Bach shows us many ways in which the cello can
accompany itself without chords. Together with the absence of any contemporary reports of basso
continuo realization on the cello, these facts seem to say that the cello did not usually play more in
accompaniment than what was written in the music.
The two instances we have looked at that tell us otherwise (Pegolotti's permission to add more
notes, and Baumgartner's advice that it is sometimes good to play chords if there is occasion.)
are vague and suggest that cellists sometimes added extra notes here and there rather than a full
realization of the bass line. This is not a negative finding, since nowadays it is unusual for a cellist
even to add occasional extra notes, and it presents another path to be explored by today's baroque
3. It is something for cellists to look forward to that before long they will hopefully be playing
luscious chords in recitativo secco from the early 19th century and before. There is too much
evidence of this practice to ignore since there is an abundance of contemporary accounts and
several methods on how to perform it. Perhaps the good things to remember are that everybody did
it differently, and, as Baumgartner suggested, to let our ears guide us.

Part 2
A personal account of
developing and practising
basso continuo realizations on
the cello and viol

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2.1 Introduction
This section charts my attempts to methodically develop my skills at realizing basso continuo. The
way it is written represents the way I organized my thoughts and is often intended to be thought
provoking for my own benefit as much as the reader's. One and a half years of research into
these skills does not make one an expert, but it opens up many paths to follow and it is my
intention in this section to show these paths to the reader.

2.2 The Cello

A cello can always produce an extra note of harmony above the bass as long as there is higher
string free. In first position, this means G on the D-string is the highest note on which one can play
a chord. I like to stay in the same position (usually first) when playing chords on the cello since it
is easier to take care of intonation and maintain the flow of the bass line. This is also the example
set to us in historical examples of chord playing (see section 1.8).

Case study: I remember one of my first errors in playing some figures was to realize the following
typical progression:



What came naturally to the fingers did not make good accompaniment. The 7th is not resolved and
the voice leading is not good. With hindsight, a better solution could have been:


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However the above solution involves a shift to 2nd position which is not very difficult, but
nevertheless can interrupt the flow of the bass line and has more intonation risk. We can find a
safer 1st-position solution by octavating the bass:


Figures iii or iv could both be good solutions. Only the context can determine which is most
suitable. One solution might be chosen over another to avoid doubling the solo line, or because of
texture (4 has a richer texture). To play no extra notes is, of course, always an option.

2.3 The elements of basso continuo realization on the cello

The mini case-study above illustrates the main issues (or elements) confronting a cellist who wants
to realize a bass, namely:

how to maintain good voice leading

how to shift as little as possible

how not to double the melody line / lines

how to create the appropriate texture

how to shape the fundamental bass line whilst playing chords over it

All these elements make up a dynamic whole. It is not possible to alter one issue without
affecting one or more others. In particular, improving one element will usually take away from
another so that any successful basso continuo realization on the cello is a delicate balance of all the
elements. This balance allows the cellist to provide as much harmony as possible with the least

Voice Leading
Voice leading is the way different voices move in the same piece of music. Good voice leading is
considered to be when each individual voice progresses to the next one in the way it should, with

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minimal jumps and a good balance between contrary and conjunct motion. One of the limitations
of the cello is that there are often only one or two possibilities to realize a bass with good voice
leading. This is due to the instrument having only four strings and a tuning in fifths. A keyboard
instrument has almost endless possibilities for good voice leading because ten fingers can make
sure that every voice is leading into another without offending the rules of counterpoint. Often a
good voice leading on the cello will double the melody. When it is not possible to have good voice
leading without doubling the melody, it is perhaps better to play the simple bass, and focus
attention on playing it very well. (See Keeping the bass line, below.)

Shifting whilst playing chords has two main implications. The first is that it poses a risk to good
intonation, and secondly it can disrupt the way a bass line is normally articulated on a cello if one
is not playing chords. We could say that the more sure a cellist is of his intonation, the more he
can shift to increase the possibilities of chords at his disposal.

Doubling the melody

I have found that doubling the melody with the highest notes of a chord is never good. Although
doubling can work with a plucked instrument such as the harpsichord, I think the nature of the
cello as a sustaining instrument prevents it from doubling successfully. Since it accompanies other
sustaining instruments, the result of doubling is something like a sonorific clash.

Another reason not to double is wasting effort on a note that is already present in the harmony. In
a composition for one melody and a bass there is usually one, occasionally two voices missing.
Perhaps the cellist should concentrate on filling in the missing voice wherever possible.

Out of the usual group of continuo instruments it is the cello that has the most presence (also the
bassoon, but the bassoon obviously cannot play chords). The cellist should always be aware of his

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capability to overpower the solo instrument and cloud the texture. The advice we get from
Corrette (Section 1.9) not to play chords on the lowest strings is a good one. Keyboard players are
often warned against playing chords too low on the keyboard. Perhaps today's cellist is used to
playing chords in loud places (opening of Dvok and Elgar Concertos, Boccherini's famous sonata
in C major etc.), but we should put some effort into exploring different ways of playing chords.
How transparent can a four-note chord sound on the cello?

Keeping the bass line

It is easy to lose track of the bass, especially when one is not used to playing chords,. The bass
note is the most important one the cellist plays and it should not be sacrificed for an interesting
harmony. A bass line normally played legato by a cellist (such as figure v. below) can easily suffer
if chords are played above it (figure vi.).


To perform figure vi. well with the suggested fingering, a cellist would have to take into account
the following:

placing of the bass note (i.e. on the beat)

the volume of the bass note in relation to the others

the length of the bass note in relation to others or how long the bass note is sustained
before breaking the chord upwards

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the beginning articulation of each bass note as it would be when played without chords

to keep the finger on the bass note as long as possible with sufficient pressure to sustain its
resonance, especially between chords 2 and 3 where there is a shift if the bass note is lost
too early, we have the effect of a different inversion.

All these things taken into account, the cellist can give an effect of a legato bass line, whilst
providing a full harmony. Needless to say it takes a lot more concentration and precision than
playing the bass line alone.

2.4 The Viol

As Section 1 shows, the viol is an instrument on which chords come naturally. Frets, quartal-tuning
and a greater number of strings make the viol more flexible than the cello at realizing basso
continuo. These attributes should be kept in mind to make good realizations on the viol. The
general principle of holding down the fingers as long as possible for resonance is as important as

2.5 The elements of basso continuo realization on the viol

The viol shares the same elements of basso continuo realization as the cello, but since it is a another
instrument, they are treated differently. Through practical experience I have found that these
elements on the viol are more independent than on the cello - that is to say often one element of
basso continuo can be varied with little or no effect to another.

Voice Leading
The viol usually has several possibilities for a chord (see figure vii below) and these possibilities
should be used to make good voice leading. Often one has to learn a new chord shape and it can
take a while for the fingers to find it quickly so that it becomes useful in continuo playing. It is
always worth the effort and it is not only continuo playing, but also solo playing, that will benefit
from this extra dexterity.

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I try to avoid doubling the melody with the top note of a chord on the viol (as is the general
practice in accompaniment of French music), but it often happens that a melody note is doubled
within a chord (I often play chords of three or more notes on the viol and mostly two notes on the
cello). I have not found doubling the melody within a chord to be a problem so far, and it is not
always unacceptable when the top note of a chord doubles the melody. Perhaps this is due to the
more subtle sound the viol produces compared to the cello.

If the cello's tendency is to be a bit too brash in playing chords, then perhaps the viol tends to be
too watery. This is often an advantage because it allows the viol to play lots of notes in a chord
without getting in the way. It is a disadvantage when the bass line needs strong articulation. I
sometimes find myself playing a lot of harmony just because I can, so it is very good to be aware
of moments when the bass alone or a simple third is the best solution.

Keeping the bass line

Sustaining the bass line while playing chords above it is easier on the viol than the cello because of
the extra resonance that the frets give. The fingers on bass notes still need to be kept down as long
as possible, at least until the next bass note and perhaps longer if it does not sound bad. Shifts in
position are sometimes necessary in this case it can be helpful to organize the fingers so that
they travel to their new destinations at different times. If all the fingers move at once, there might
be an undesirable gap in the sound.

2.6 Developing Harmonic Skills

I knew about Dandrieu's Principes de laccompagnement du Clavecin (Paris, 1719) from
elementary harpsichord studies. It is a simple and effective method for learning basso continuo on
the harpsichord. Because of its simplicity, it is also easily adaptable to other instruments such as
the cello and the viol. The method introduces harmonies and harmonic progressions step-by-step.

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Each step consists of three pages of progressions, all identical except the first contains a full
figuring (obbligato figuring, to learn and understand what is considered to be good voice leading),
the second part has the basic shorthand figures (that form the usual abbreviation of whole chords
in scores of that period) and the third part is unfigured. In this way Dandrieu leads us to understand
harmony without relying on the figures.
I have been practising these exercises regularly and found them very useful. They help to develop a
physical feel for the harmony as well as the aural. Since Dandrieu's obbligato figuring is only
applicable to a keyboard instrument I made my own adaptations and some of these are to be found
in Appendix A (Ex.29).

I found it useful to set myself small tasks such as how many different G major chords can I play?
The answer to this particular question is below in figure vii. Tasks like these helped me to get to
know the cello and viol harmonically. Other tasks that helped were downward scales of 7-6 chords
(see figure viii.) or upward scales of 5-6 chords. Many simple harmonic exercises can be made up
in this way and it has the advantage that it is naturally specific to the instrument

fig.viii. Descending scale of 7-6 chords, with obbligato figuring for the viol.

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Scales in 3rds, 4ths and 6ths are always useful on the cello, but they become especially important
to a cellist wishing to realize basso continuo since he will use them much more frequently. The
viol does thirds very well, and since thirds are needed in most chords it will help to practice them
in scales as well.

2.7 Breaking Chords

One big difference between a bowed instrument (e.g. viol, cello, lirone) playing chords and a
plucked one (e.g. lute, harpsichord etc.) is the ability to strike all notes of a chord simultaneously or
not. The cello and viol cannot usually play more than two notes at the same time. This limitation
aside, there are still endless different ways of playing chords. However, because of this limitation,
extra care should be taken with the placing of the bass note. Logically the bass note of a chord
should be played exactly where it is written, on the beat. In practice this can be more difficult a
problem I experienced is that my brain would start counting from the moment I reached the top note
of a chord the result being that the next bass note was late.
Different ways of breaking the same chord can give different effects such as a percussive accent, a
cloud of harmony, rhythmic ostinato etc. Figure ix, below, shows several possibilities to break a
simple C major chord on the cello. More ways are possible. It is good to develop and master many
of these ways so that continuo realizations become more flexible and can provide any texture for
any situation.

fig.ix. Ways of breaking chords on the cello.

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2.8 Notation Figures and Fingers

Since a cello cannot always play all the figures printed (if there are figures at all), I would often
prepare a bass by writing down which figures I wanted to play, next to the printed ones. Which
figure(s) I chose, would depend on consideration of the elements mentioned in section 2.2. In
addition to figures, I would sometimes add fingerings to a score, and lthough the page begins to
look rather messy I have not found a more efficient solution so far. An examples of my working
scores can be seen in Appendix A, Examples 30 and 31.

2.9 Bass Violin

Fig.x. Photo of frets

on bass violin.

Almost one year ago I was having difficulty preparing a realization of Corelli's violin sonata Op.5,
V on the cello. My realizations only seemed to make the music more cumbersome and did not at
all improve the music beyond playing the bass line alone. Around the same time I had noticed
Quantz's mention of the cellist using frets (see section 1.7). Since part of my frustration was to do
with not being able to sustain the bass note when breaking a chord, I decided to put frets on an
instrument (see figure x). I immediately noticed the advantages, and made a good realization of
the sonata (Appendix A, Ex.30).

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The bass violin which I used is basically a large cello which could have been typical in Corelli's
Rome. The hard surfaces of the added frets , compared to the soft pad of the finger, allow the
strings to resonate much longer. Every note approaches the quality of an open string (as on a viol).
The main advantage of this is that the bass continues to resonate strongly under a chord after the
bow has moved to another string.

I often found myself using viol fingering (i.e. using two fingers to stop two adjacent strings at
the same point) in order to take advantage of the extra resonance, particularly in a chord like the
one shown in figure xi:

fig.xi. Viol fingering used on a cello chord.

Stopping intervals of a fifth without frets is always a bit tricky as one has to balance the finger
across two strings. Slight changes in weight from one string to another can make a fifth obviously
impure. Being able to use two different fingers to play a fifth increases resonance and leaves the
hand in a more natural position. The presence of frets also makes intonation with two fingers (4
and 3 in the case of figure vii) reliable.

The main disadvantage I have found to the use of frets is playing for an extended time with no
opportunity for tuning e.g. in an opera. When the strings go out of tune as they naturally do, it is
very hard to blend into the continuo group, and there is nothing that can prevent this except being
very good at tuning very quickly, very quietly.

2.10 In Practice
I have kept a log of all the basso continuo realizations I have made over the last two years, and that
can be found in Appendix C. I have covered a wide variety of repertoire though as can be seen, it
has mostly been on the viol.

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I feel more invited to realize basso continuo on the viol, and it comes very naturally. It blends in
with other instruments and is easily accepted by other musicians whom I play with. My abilities to
realize basso continuo on the viol have really benefited from this, and I hope they will continue to
improve. Several recordings, some more successful than others, can be heard on the CD of
Appendix B. Two examples of accompanying recitative have been written out in Appendix A,
Examples 32 and 33.

Realizing chords on the cello is quite different. I often feel awkward and too present to
continuously add notes, and it is difficult to make a good blend in an ensemble. (Though it is
notable that when I played some chords in a concertino cello part, it was not very audible above
the orchestra, on the recording made of the concert (Appendix B, Tracks 12 - 14). I have had the
most success on the bass violin with frets but am mostly happy just playing the bass line well on
the cello.
Despite not realizing basso continuo as extensively as on the viol, I think my harmonic awareness
on the cello has increased greatly and my fingers are often hovering around a possible harmony
that could be played, even if eventually I do not play it. One area I have not yet practiced is
accompaniment of recitativo secco on the cello. It is my intention to explore this practice in the
future and the large amount of documentation about it (see Section 1.9) demands that it receives a
lot of attention.

Part 3
A short guide for other cellists
and violists who wish to realize
basso continuo

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3.1 Introduction
The third part of this paper is intended to be a short and practical guide for experienced cellists and
viol players wishing to learn more about, and experiment with, techniques of basso continuo
realization for accompaniment on their instruments. A basic knowledge of figured bass is expected.
This section is partly a summary of the practical information contained in Parts 1 and 2, so some
repetition of content is to be expected, hopefully to the benefit of the reader (especially if he/she
wants a quick start).

3.2 Harmony Exercises

Practise harmonic exercises such as those contained in Dandrieu's Principes

Frequent practice of simple harmonic progressions will train the fingers and the ear well, and make
them more reliable in performance. It is fun to realize Dandrieu exercises especially because the
progressions can be very beautiful.

Be creative and find a variety of ways to play chords and express harmony.

It is also stimulating to find many different ways to realize the bass plain chords quickly become
boring! If inspiration is lacking, look to historical examples of harmonic playing (see Section

Always be aware of good voice leading.

The figures in Dandrieu are usually obbligato for the harpsichord, so they should be read in no
particular order on the cello or viol. Instead, the cellist or violist should take the spirit of
Dandrieu's obbligato figuring and always play with good voice leading.

Use sensible fingerings

Viol players usually have a good idea of what fingers to use because of the luxury of original
fingerings printed in much of their music. For cellists it may be more difficult at first, but bear in
* The Dandrieu book can currently be found online at

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mind that every dissonance has to resolve and it is useful to finger accordingly. e.g. A diminished
5th resolves to the 3rd and there is only one possible fingering for this as shown in figure xii.
Chapter nine of Baumgartner's Instructions (1774) gives detailed information on fingering chords
for cellists.

fig. Xii. Resolution of

a diminished 5th.

Hold fingers down as long as possible.

This will create more beautiful resonance. It is especially important with regard to the bass note to
keep it ringing after the bow has moved to another string, If the bass note is not strong enough, or
disappears, there can be the illusion of a different (or wrong) harmony.

3.3 Timing

Play the bass note on the beat.

Do not get distracted away from the proper placement of the written bass note when playing chords.
Playing chords and keeping a good flow in the bass line requires more brain power than playing the
bass alone, but it should be a priority that the placement of the bass note in a chord does not suffer.
The bass note is the most important note and should usually be played on the beat as opposed to
the top note of a chord. There may be exceptional circumstances where the bass note is not wanted
on the beat.

3.4 Doubling

Avoid doubling the melody line(s).

It usually sounds bad when the melody line is doubled for a note or two by the highest note of a
chord on the cello or viol. It is fine if the doubled note is within the chord.

Baumgartner, Jean, Instructions de musique, thorique et pratique, lusage du violoncelle Den Haag, 1774.

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Read the melody line as well as the figures.

This will help to avoid doubling. It will also show what notes are missing from the chord, and these
are the best notes to add wherever possible and suitable.

3.5 Recitative
The cello usually played short chords in the accompaniment of recitativo secco from around 1790
1840. This was performed together with sustained notes on the double bass. There are several
methods which teach this practice, including Chapter twelve of Baumgartner's Instructions (1774).
It is possible to make the highest note of the chord the next note of the singer.

3.6 Other advice

Change the octave if the bass note is too high.

Always ask yourself if playing more notes really improves the music.

Playing lots of extra notes just because it is possible is not a good reason to play them. The cello
and the viol can play beautiful bass lines without any chords, and should also remain beautiful when
played with chords.

Use your ears (in the spirit of Baumgartner)

If it sounds wrong or bad, then do not do it!

General Conclusions

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General Conclusions
Part 1 shows that it was common for the viol to realize basso continuo in the baroque period. In
Part 2, along with the recorded examples in Appendix B, it is shown how I explored and developed
basso continuo realization on the viol to a high level, using it regularly in concerts. Overall I feel
that the techniques on which I worked fit very naturally with the viol.

Despite the lack of a specific method for realizing basso continuo on the viol, the rest of the
historical evidence is supported by my positive practical experience of developing these
accompanying skills on the instrument. The instrument invited players to play harmonically then
just as it does today. I would like to see basso continuo realization on the viol become more
normal and more widespread not as something to replace already established elements of the
continuo group, but to add another unique colour.

Just as the historical and practical areas of my research complement each other in terms of the viol,
so they do with the cello, however differently. Part 1 shows that the cello can play extra notes and
chords above a bass but nothing points to it being a common practice until the late 18th Century in
opera recitative. There is always a certain vagueness that seems to surround the shreds of evidence
that suggest the cello might have been realizing basso continuo. Similarly in Part 2, I found many
possibilities to expand my harmonic capacity on the cello, but never felt entirely comfortable using
this way of playing in accompaniment. I can, and I know how to, play plenty of extra notes above
the bass on the cello, yet most of the time I now choose not to, unless it is for a special effect.

The practice of accompanying opera recitative with chords on the cello is something I did not
know about before beginning this research. This surprises me for a couple of reasons, firstly that it
is so well documented and secondly that it must be a lot of fun! I am looking forward to exploring
this practice, and I also hope to see it become more widespread.

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I have been struck by one aspect of the old cello methods and that is the focus on harmony to
know where all the dissonances and their resolutions are and even use it to dictate fingering. This
is a very interesting aspect of learning the cello and it is perhaps missing from today's cello
teaching. When I began to study baroque cello at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, I also
took second study basso continuo lessons on the harpsichord. On retrospect, it would have made
more sense to have taken basso continuo lessons on the cello because gaining this knowledge and
the skill to use it (even if I choose not to most of the time) is an invaluable tool in interpreting any
basso continuo line, and that is the primary job of a baroque cellist.

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Appendix A: See separate Volume

Appendix B: Track list of audio examples
on CD

Artist, Composer, Track Name and Info



David Watkin and John Holloway, Corelli, Op.V

(Novalis, 1996). Sonata 4, Adagio (extract)


Ibid, Allegro (extract)


Ibid, Vivace (extract)


Ibid, Adagio (extract)


Ibid, Allegro (extract)


David Watkin and John Holloway, Corelli, Op.V

(Novalis, 1996). Sonata 5, Adagio (extract)


Ibid, Vivace (extract)


Ibid, Adagio (extract)


Ibid, Vivace (extract)


Ibid. Giga: Allegro (extract)


David Watkin and John Holloway, Corelli, Op.V

(Novalis, 1996). Follia (extract)


Robert Smith and Academia Montis Regalis.

Avison, Concerto Grosso (extract)

I play the concertino cello,

and add a couple of extra



As above



Chords played on repeat, not

the first time.


R. Smith and ensemble, Liebhold, Cantata


Playing fretted bass violin.


R. Smith and M. Arbouz, Lawes, Speak speak at

last reply

Lyra style realization on viol.


R. Smith and M. Arbouz, Lanier, Weep no more

As above


R. Smith and M. Arbouz and A. Verhage, Purcell,

What a sad fate

Song on a ground with

theorbo and viol continuo.

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R. Smith and Les Elements, Campra, Arion recit.

lirone style sustained

chords on viol, with theorbo.
See also Appendix A, Ex.32.


R. Smith and Les Elements, Bernier, Aminte et

Lucrine recit.

Solo viol accompaniment

See also Appendix A, Ex.33.



As above


R. Smith and Les Elements, Boismoitier, Diane et

Acteon recit

As above



Viol, then theorbo



R. Smith and R. Kimura, Francoeur, violin sonata


Solo viol Accompaniment.


Ars Antique Austria, Gunar Letzbor. (Arcana A

901, 1996), Biber, Mystery Sonata 1

Arco and pizzicato used


Paolo Pandolfo (Improvisando 2006), Cipriano de

Rore, Ancor che col partire

Improvised accompaniment


Cecilia Bartoli (Opera Proibita, 2005), Handel,

from La Resurezzione.

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Appendix C: Log of basso continuo

realizations to date

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Essay on the true art of playing keyboard instruments by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Berlin,
1753-1762, transl. and ed. by William J. Mitchell, New York Norton, ca. 1980.
BAILLOT, P., Levasseur, Catel and Baudiot, Mthode de violoncelle et de basse
d'accompagnement, Paris, A l'Imprimerie du Conservatoire, 1805.
Instructions de musique, thorique et pratique, lusage du violoncelle Den Haag, Daniel Monnier,
1774. Translation by [unknown copy] Year [unknown].
BOL, Johan Hendrik Danil,
La basse de viole du temps de marin Marais et d'Antoine Forqueray, Proefschrift ter verkrijging
van de graad van Doctor... 15 February 1974, Rijksuniversiteit te Utrecht.
BONTA, Stephen,
From Violone to Violoncello: A Question of Strings?, Journal of the American Musical Instrument
Society, 3 (1977), pp.64 99.
Terminology for the Bass Violin in Seventeenth Century Italy, Journal of the American Musical
Instrument Society, 4 (1978), pp. 5 42.
BORGIR, Tharald,
The performance of the basso continuo in seventeenth century Italian music (PhD diss., U. of
California, 1971).
BROSSARD, Sbastien de,
Dictionaire de Musique, Contenant une Explication Des Termes Grecs, Latins, Italiens et Franois
les plus usitez dans la Musique, Troisieme Edition (Amsterdam: Estienne Roger, c.1708; repr. ed.
Genve: Minkoff, 1992).
BROWN, Clive,
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