Basso Continuo: to realize or not to realize?

Discussions relating to performance, interpretation, score preparation, musica ficta etc.
D-fished
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Joined: 01 Dec 2010 04:03
Location: North Vancouver BC, Canada

Basso Continuo: to realize or not to realize?

Postby D-fished » 19 Jan 2012 19:20

I'm broaching this possibly sensitive area with some trepidation, but here goes.

The trend I have noticed in recent scholarly editions of baroque music involving basso continuo in its various forms (figured bass, unfigured bass, basso seguente etc.) is to leave it alone. That is all very well for scholars' 'urtext' editions, but it hinders a lot of performers. Personally, as an organist and harpsichordist, I generally appreciate not having some else's editorial realization staring me in the face. Quite frankly, the continuo realizations in some of the published editions of early music are quite horrific and should never be presented to the ears of an audience.

That said, I also have to acknowledge that for most users of CPDL, scholarly purity is not the number one concern. I have found, in my browsing at CPDL, that for whatever reason, many of the editions of baroque music have left the continuo unrealized. Possibly, that is for the better. Keyboard parts with multiple voices are fiddly and time-consuming to produce in any music software. Many editors likely don't feel up to the challenge of producing a realization. Most (and this would also include a large number of keyboard players who can play from figured bass) would hardly know the difference in style required for say, an Italian bass of 1710 versus a German bass of 1710 (let alone an Italian bass of 1610 versus an Italian bass of 1710). A realization for organ is not the same as one for harpsichord, and both differ dramatically from what would be played on the theorbo or chittarone. There is no 'one size fits all' here.

Still, CPDL is about making music available to performers and I would wager that a great many performing groups who want to play this music don't have access to a keyboard player/lutenist who can play from an unrealized bass. In my contributions, I will elect to provide at least a rudimentary realization of the bass so that the work can be performed 'as is' by anyone who doesn't have a good continuo player (see my recent edition of Ghizzolo's Epitalamio for an example). I will grant, of course, that individual players have their own styles and preferences, and some will disagree vehemently with what I have done. I also freely admit that what I put on paper is not at all the same as what I would play in performance. Still, in the interest of less experienced performers, I think my approach is justified.

Do any other CPDL contributors have opinions on the subject?

David Millard

Cdalitz
Posts: 139
Joined: 24 Apr 2007 14:42

Re: Basso Continuo: to realize or not to realize?

Postby Cdalitz » 19 Jan 2012 19:48

As a lute player myself, I find editorial B.c. realizations very annoying, because they add little value while introducing tons of awkward page turns. From the practical point of view, an empty staff system above the bass line might be a good solution for those who cannot sight read figured bass.

That all commercial editions include a realization, has primarily not a practical, but a commercial reason: it makes the edition copyighted and the publisher can charge for public performances an basis of the "pay per play" terms of the performing rights societies.

About CPDL's goals, I am not so sure whether napkining the performers is one of them ;-) Performers, who have trouble realizing a figured bass always have the option to either learn it, or hire a professional organ/harpsichord/lute player.

Most would hardly know the difference in style required for say, an Italian bass of 1710 versus a German bass of 1710


Leaving the question aside, whether there actually is a difference and what it is, I wonder whether an editorial realization would help being "stylish" when it was made with an organ in mind, but is played on a harpsichord or (shock, horror) modern grand. Those who actually care about such a difference also know how to read figured bass, so I do not see the point of this argument.

CHGiffen
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Re: Basso Continuo: to realize or not to realize?

Postby CHGiffen » 20 Jan 2012 03:24

I see nothing wrong with preparing more than one edition: one with unrealized continuo realization, and one or more realizations - if one is so inclined. I do not subscribe to the idea that one should only provide unrealized continuo editions, expecting the performing group either to have a competent performer or be able to hire one - because many choral organizations (especially nonprofit groups such as choirs) do not have the financial means to support the cost of having on-staff a truly skilled Renaissance keyboardist.
Charles H. Giffen
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Early Choral Music? Zephyrus (I sang 12 seasons 1992-2004 with this group).

cjshawcj
Posts: 41
Joined: 04 Jan 2011 00:21

Re: Basso Continuo: to realize or not to realize?

Postby cjshawcj » 30 Jan 2012 00:07

D-fished wrote:Still, CPDL is about making music available to performers and I would wager that a great many performing groups who want to play this music don't have access to a keyboard player/lutenist who can play from an unrealized bass......Do any other CPDL contributors have opinions on the subject?

David Millard


Anyone performing this stuff who has not sprung from the Cranium of Jove with an inate capabilty of realizing the figuring to the finest nuance is, of course, some sort of untermensch. They didn't oughter be allowed. :twisted:

However, in this less than perfect world, it is only fair to provide a crutch for the more inexpert general performer. I do not consider that I have made an edition until I have either made a reduction (although I draw the line at 8 parts) or realized the bass, if more appropriate to the piece in hand.
When realizing a bass, I view my approach as akin to that of the best practice of the museum ceramics conservator tackling a prehistoric pot: my work is intended to be sufficient to enable the piece to be displayed, but undisguised yet so unobtrusive as not to detract attention from the original elements. In practice I produce an unexceptionable to the point of dull realization on a reduced stave, whilst also shewing the figuring in a full-sized bass part (enabling an alternative more "stylish" rendition by the more confident.


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