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Music: AOS 1 Western Classical Music
Most popular in the 17th and 18th Centuries, a ground bass is a way of varying a theme. It
will contain a bass ostinato where the bass always stay the same and a melody which keeps
The bass is usually a four or eight bar phrase normally played by the piano (harpsichord if
baroque) or by the cellos and basses in a chamber orchestra. Although the same pattern
of notes is played, the ostinato could start on a different note each time.
As the piece progresses the melody becomes more decorated, more instruments/voices
are added to create a thicker texture and a more advanced harmony.
Monophonic the ground bass plays alone (often at the beginning)
Homophonic the melody parts play similar but not identical rhythms (middle of the
Polyphonic the melody parts move separately and not in unison (towards the end).
There are two types of ground bass styles:
in a chaconne, the ostinato is a repeated chord pattern
in a passacaglia, the ostinato is tuneful and usually in ¾
Variations are pieces which develop an original theme to create a set of variations. The
theme is a simple memorable tune, thus giving the audience something to relate the
The variations are played with a pause in between each other, and there is no limit to the
number of variations. They can be varied by:
melodic decoration (adding notes)
motivic development (taking one bar and developing it)
change of metre/rhythm
change of key/tonality
retrograde/inversion (played backwards/upside down or both!!)
change of accompaniment
Sometimes composers use existing tunes to write variations on such as Mozart's Twinkle
Twinkle Little Star or Mahler's First Symphony (Frere Jacques).
Ternary means `three parts' and thus a piece in ternary from is split into three sections
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Section A normally ends in a perfect cadence to sound like a whole piece.
Section B can modulate into a related key but will return to the original key
and ends with an imperfect cadence.
When the music goes back to A for the second time it can either be identical to the first
A or slightly varied (A1). If it is varied then it can't be so varied that it sounds a whole
new idea.…read more