Lament bass

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Chromatic fourth: lament bass bassline in Dm (D-C#-C()-B-B-A) Play (help*info)
. Lament bass.png
Chromatic fourth: lament bass bassline in Dm (D-C-C()-B-B-A) Loudspeaker.svg Play  .

In music, the lament bass is a ground bass, built from a descending perfect fourth from tonic to dominant, with each step harmonized. [1] The diatonic version is the upper tetrachord from the natural minor scale, [2] known as the Phrygian tetrachord, while the chromatic version, the chromatic fourth, has all semitones filled in. It is often used in music to denote tragedy or sorrow. [3]


However, "A common misperception exists that the 'lament bass' of Venetian opera became so prevalent that it immediately swept away all other possible affective associations with this bass pattern...To cite but one example, Peter Holman, writing about Henry Purcell, once characterized the minor tetrachord as 'the descending ground that was associated with love in seventeenth-century opera'." [4]

Lament bass without chromatic semitones: descending tetrachord in a minor: --- (a-g-f-e). Play without harmonization (help*info)
and Play with harmonization (help*info)
followed by Phrygian cadence. Lament bass harmonized.png
Lament bass without chromatic semitones: descending tetrachord in a minor: Scale deg 8.svg - Scale deg 7.svg - Scale deg 6.svg - Scale deg 5.svg (a-g-f-e). Loudspeaker.svg Play without harmonization   and Loudspeaker.svg Play with harmonization   followed by Phrygian cadence.
Lament bass from Vivaldi's motet "O qui coeli terraeque serenitas" RV 631, Aria No. 2 Play (help*info)
. Vivaldi lament bass from RV 631, Aria No. 2.png
Lament bass from Vivaldi's motet "O qui coeli terraeque serenitas" RV 631, Aria No. 2 Loudspeaker.svg Play  .
Tonally coherent harmonization from Beethoven's C-Minor Variations. (1806) Play (help*info) Lament bass harmonization Beethoven.png
Tonally coherent harmonization from Beethoven's C-Minor Variations . (1806) Loudspeaker.svg Play  
Passacaglia ground bass in Bach's Crucifixus
from the Mass in B minor, based on the first choral movement of his 1714 cantata Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, BWV 12 Play (help*info) Bach's Crucifixus B Minor Mass ground bass.png
Passacaglia ground bass in Bach's Crucifixus from the Mass in B minor , based on the first choral movement of his 1714 cantata Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, BWV 12 Loudspeaker.svg Play  
Dido's Lament chromatic fourth ground bass, measures 1-6 Play (help*info) Dido's Lament ground bass.png
Dido's Lament chromatic fourth ground bass, measures 1–6 Loudspeaker.svg Play  

Compositional form

There exists a short, free musical form of the Romantic Era, called complaint or "complainte" (Fr.) or lament. [9] It is typically a set of harmonic variations in homophonic texture, wherein the bass descends through some tetrachord, possibly that of the previous paragraph, but usually one suggesting a minor mode. This tetrachord, treated as a very short ground bass, is repeated again and again over the length of the composition.

Musical works

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Brover-Lubovsky, Bella (2008). Tonal Space in the Music of Antonio Vivaldi, p.151-52. ISBN   978-0-253-35129-6.
  2. Ellis, Mark R. (2010). A Chord in Time: The Evolution of the Augmented Sixth from Monteverdi to Mahler, p.200. ISBN   978-0-7546-6385-0.
  3. Brover-Lubovsky (2008), p.153. "In the eighteenth century...the lament bass almost automatically invoked somber affection, gravity, and oppressiveness."
  4. Thompson, Shirley (2010). New Perspectives on Marc-Antoine Charpentier, p.64. ISBN   978-0-7546-6579-3.
  5. Williams, Peter (1998). The Chromatic Fourth: During Four Centuries of Music, p.69. Oxford University Press. ISBN   0-19-816563-3.
  6. Frisch, Walter (1996). Schubert: critical and analytical studies, p.10. ISBN   978-0-8032-6892-0.
  7. Blatter, Alfred (2007).Revisiting music theory, p.240. ISBN   978-0-415-97440-0.
  8. Kapilow, Robert (2008). All You Have to Do Is Listen, p. 151. ISBN   978-0-470-38544-9.
  9. Dupre, Marcel (1937). Cours Complet d'Improvisation a l'Orgue: Exercices Preparees, v. 1, p. 14, trans. John Fenstermaker. Paris: Alphonse Leduc.
  10. Carter, Tim and Butt, John (2005). The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music, p.182. ISBN   978-0-521-79273-8.
  11. Ossi, Massimo (2003). Divining the Oracle: Monteverdi's Seconda prattica, p.173. ISBN   9780226638836.
  12. "Dumbo," Walt Disney et al., Walt Disney Productions, 1941
  13. Knapp, Raymond (2009). The American Musical and the Performance of Personal Identity, p.260. ISBN   978-0-691-14105-3.
  14. Lambert, Philip (2010). To Broadway, to life!: The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick, p.205. ISBN   978-0-19-539007-0.
  15. The Cat Came Back (original lyrics)
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 eNotes: Lament Bass
  17. Wright, Craig (2010). Listening to Music, p.115. ISBN   9781439083451.

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