Italy 1600-1650

Continuo basses of early 17th-century instrumental music are mostly unfigured. This does not make it easy to play a continuo accompaniment that is more or less in agreement with contemporary theory. Frescobaldi’s canzonas (1628 and 1634) are no exception here. This music is clearly not yet tonal but one cannot describe it as purely modal either, so how are we to know what chords a continuo player in Frescobaldi’s time would play? Or Frescobaldi himself for that matter? I believe that first of all we should examine Frescobaldi’s  works, both to find answers to theoretical questions as to matters of playing style and taste. (And this method works well for every composer). In the videos below I show an approach to the problem of playing from an unfigured bass by discussing some treatises of Frescobaldi’s period, and, in the third video (due in June), some ways to analyse Frescobaldi’s elaboration in keyboard canzonas and apply (if not imitate:-)) that to our realizations. The subject is divided over three video’s:

  1. Introduction, Frescobaldi’s theoretical background. The Hexachords and the Two Sytems of Durus and Mollis
  2. The Realization of an Unfigured Bass: Early Seventeenth-Century Harmony and Voice-leading According to the Treatises
  3. Elaboration of a Continuo Realization: Early Seventeenth-century Playing Style

Monteverdi used all kinds of new harmonic tools in order to to evoke in the listener the emotions described in the text and defended this as “a second practice”. He did not mean to replace the prima pratica, but saw the seconda pratica as an additional compositional technique used to make the text the “mistress of the harmony”. These new tools include the use of sudden shifts in the harmony, expressive chromaticism, unprepared or unresolved  dissonances, harsh note-clusters and dissonant rhetorical musical figures.My accompaniment of ‘Questi I campi di Tracia’  is based on the rules explained in the Frescobaldi videos above. In a performance I would play in some places a more dramatic and exuberant realization but in order to make the harmonies as clear as possible I kept the accompaniment simple.

Future projects and recordings include Sonatas by Castello, Fontana, and Montalbano, and more canzonas by Frescobaldi, and also vocal solo music by D’India, Monteverdi, Frescobaldi and Kapsberger.