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See F. T. Arnold, The Art of Accompaniment from a Thorough-Bass (1931, repr. 1965); H. Keller, Thoroughbass Method (tr. by C. Parrish, 1965).
(general bass [German, Generalbass; Italian, basso generale], thorough bass [Italian, basso continuo]), a simplified method of writing down harmonies, by which figures indicating corresponding intervals in the higher voices are placed under the bass voice. The term may also refer to the marked bass voice itself, which is used in this method of notating harmonies.
The figured bass arose in Italy at the end of the 16th century in the practice of organ and harpsichord accompaniment. An organist or harpsichordist playing from the figured bass had the opportunity to improvise the accompaniment on the basis of the given harmonies. The origin of the figured bass was connected with the development of homophony in European music. In the beginning of the 17th century the use of the figured bass spread rapidly throughout Europe. All organists and conductors were expected to be able to perform from a figured bass. The period during which it became widespread in Europe (roughly 1600-1750) has often been called the age of the figured bass. Examples of the figured bass can be found in the works of C. Monteverdi, A. Corelli, A. Scarlatti, J. S. Bach, G. F. Handel, G. Pergolesi, and other composers. Toward the mid-18th century, when the development of musical art had resulted in the rejection of unspecified or approximate accompaniment and the role of improvisation as a performing art had been reduced to a minimum, the figured bass fell out of use. However, it held its own for a long time in the field of music training, where it was considered a discipline that cultivated skills involved in performing centuries-old music. The old theory on the construction and joining of chords also bore the name “figured bass.”
REFERENCESKolbe, O. Kratkoe rukovodstvo k izucheniiu general-basa. Warsaw, 1864. (Translated from German.)
Ivanov-Boretskii, M. V. Muzykal’no-istoricheskaia khrestomatiia, revised ed., vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1933-36.
Arnold, F. The Art of Accompaniment From a Thorough-bass as Practised in the 17-18 Centuries, vols. 1-2. New York, 1965.
IU. N. KHOLOPOV