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Basso continuo sources from the Dutch Republic c. 1620-c1790

Between 1600 and 1800 countless manuals appeared on the subject: the improvised bass part on the harpsichord, pianoforte or organ. Musician and researcher Kathryn Cok unravels the secrets of the Dutch basso continuo accompaniment for modern-day musicians.

Kathryn Meriel Cok
13 October 2011
Full text available in Leiden Repository

Two concerts

Kathryn Cook defended her dissertation on October 10th 2011 at Leiden University on the subject of the ‘Basso Continuo part in the Republic of the Netherlands’, with two concerts and a public defence. Cok demonstrates the important contribution made by Dutch 17th and 18th century authors to the theory and practice of the basso continuo accompaniment. Her research has revealed an unknown chapter in Dutch musical history.

Melody with bass accompaniment

In the Baroque period and the early classical period, polyphonic music with its independent, equal voices made room for music created on the basis of melody lines with an accompanying chords part: the basso continuo accompaniment.


The chords of the basso continuo parts were not written out in full but were improvised. As is apparent from the many manuals and theoretical works that appeared in Europe between 1600 and 1800, this was by no means a simple task.

All components of the music

In order to play a convincing basso continuo part, a keyboard player not only had to be technically very good, he or she also to know everything about theory, harmony, composition and instrumentation. It was equally important for the keyboard player to intuitively feel the character of the pieces and the intentions of the composer, and to demonstrate a refined musical taste. As a result, the instructions for playing basso continuo ranged from heavily theoretical to practical in the extreme: how to move your hands and how to take the size of the room into account. The works also provide insight into how people thought about all the different components of music.

Important contribution from the Dutch Republic

Much research has already been done on sources from England, Italy, France and Germany, but the Dutch Republic has so far mostly been forgotten. Cok shows that Dutch authors were closely involved in European musical life. They translated and commented on foreign discussions and also produced many original works on all aspects of music themselves. Cok also shows how knowledge was applied in practice and how Dutch composers and performers were influenced by musical styles from the Netherlands and abroad. This style of accompaniment has once again been made available to modern-day musicians.


Kathryn Cok’s dissertation contains an overview of the 26 17th and 18th century Dutch sources. Special attention is paid to a manuscript of Jan Alensoon, an 18th-century Leiden amateur musician who applied a famous treatise by composer Francesco Gasparini.

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