Definition of continuo in US English:


(also basso continuo)


  • (in baroque music) an accompanying part that includes a bass line and harmonies, typically played on a keyboard instrument and with other instruments such as cello or bass viol.

    • ‘I am going to limit myself to the three concertos for four solo violins without basso continuo.’
    • ‘The basso continuo, an abbreviated chordal notation, called for one or more singers to be accompanied by a single chordal instrument, while allowing for variation and improvisation in the accompanying instrumental harmonies.’
    • ‘The 17th and 18th-century trio sonata was a favourite chamber ensemble, using two treble instruments and one bass, with a keyboard or lute continuo to fill in the harmony.’
    • ‘In both the concertos and cantatas, the continuo consists of harpsichord, cello, and theorbo.’
    • ‘His generally lush and highly coloured realisations of the instrumental continuo adds further dramatic weight.’
    • ‘This collection covers eight sacred solo/duet cantatas for soprano and/or bass with a quartet of period strings - two each of violins and viols de gamba with continuo.’
    • ‘The group favours fast speeds and the use of single instruments means that the solo passages with continuo accompaniment integrate well into the overall texture, though the element of contrast is lost.’
    • ‘Further unity is provided by the fact that both composers notate the detailed division of the continuo material with unusual precision, distinguishing the violin from the keyboard and cello continuo.’
    • ‘I detest recitative in its baroque continuo form.’
    • ‘His touch is light, and the same could be said of his continuo playing.’
    • ‘However, I did find that the imbalance between the rather heavy cello/bass continuo line and the two soloists tended to obscure the more refined solo details, especially during the quieter moments.’
    • ‘That afternoon the congregation would also get to hear a brand new work - the largest Bach had produced in Leipzig so far - a Magnificat for five vocal parts, trumpets, timpani, recorders, oboes, strings and continuo.’
    • ‘Upshaw sings the first five Purcell songs with cello and keyboard continuo, turns her attention to the Bach cantata (with the addition four strings and an oboe), and then returns to Purcell for the last three songs.’
    • ‘The texts are all Italian, and the accompaniment is a continuo of lute, cello and harpsichord or organ, nimbly directed here by Emmanuelle Haïm.’
    • ‘Indeed, the Sonata in G essentially transcribes an earlier work for two flutes and continuo.’
    • ‘Curiously, Holloway uses both harpsichord and organ as basso continuo instruments.’
    • ‘The distinguished cellist and educator Claudio Jaffee played his continuo line with artistic authority.’
    • ‘Additionally, in his chamber works, he gave a more prominent role to the instrument, which often had been assigned a subordinate continuo role in his earlier chamber music.’
    • ‘A special revelation is the imaginative and varied use of a wide range of continuo instruments, which add colours and textures that enhance musical perception and listening pleasure.’


Early 18th century: Italian basso continuo ‘continuous bass’.