How thorough was Bach's thoroughbass? A reconsideration of the trio texture

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Although J. S. Bach is known to have taken great care over the notation of his figured bass in general, passages exist in some of his compositions that seem to call for an added chordal accompaniment, notwithstanding the absence of figures. This article examines relevant examples from the obbligato and trio sonatas. In some cases, contextual clues indicate that the keyboardist in an obbligato work can add inner voices that amount to a modest continuo realization. This suggestion is supported by accounts of Bach's own habits as an accompanist, which report that he cultivated a rich, expressive thoroughbass texture whenever possible. Modern-day writers and performers who advocate a 'do-no-harm' approach to thoroughbass realization in Bach's music-suggesting that Bach's 'genius' in continuo playing cannot be matched today-arguably forfeit a means of expression and musical interest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-97
Number of pages15
JournalEarly Music
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 27 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Music


  • Basso continuo
  • Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Obbligato
  • Performance practice
  • Thoroughbass
  • Trio sonata


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