all about that figured bass

loeillet cover

One of the best parts of being a parent is how your childrens’ interests shape and enhance your own life. Because of Opie and her sister, I know now more about gymnastics and American Girl dolls than I ever expected knowing, as well as guinea pigs and flower fairies.

The oboe has come with its own sets of interests branching off into the unknown. Because of the oboe, we started piano lessons. Because of lessons, we got a piano. Because the piano was there, I started playing again, trying to resurrect neurons I thought long deceased. And that’s how we get to figured bass.

One of Opie’s new songs is Largo, from Sonata No. 4, Op. 3, by Jean-Baptiste Loeillet. It is gorgeous, even the first couple of times she tried playing it.

My first discovery with piano was IMSLP.org – I used it to find copies of pieces I used to know how to play. It’s absolutely amazing that all that music is out there and available. Well worth its own post sometime.

After listening to the Loeillet a few times, it occurred to me that it was likely to be in IMSLP. There was digging on the internet, I learned about Jean Baptiste Loeillet of Ghent as I realized I wanted his cousin Jean-Baptiste Loeillet of London (or John Loeillet). I was mislead by someone calling the piece “Sonata in C major for oboe and piano” but eventually found it under “Recorder Sonata in A minor.” No cool scan of ancient text, only clean typeset copy, but there were these odd numbers underneath the music?

loeillet numbers circle

I googled “numbers under bass baroque” and the first site that came up is wikipedia on “Figured bass.”  Now the numbers made sense.

The rest of this week I’ve spent my evenings learning about figured bass and looking for chord cheat sheets. In the meantime I remembered that Opie’s book came with accompaniment, so I’m using their realization for the Largo. Fingering is a challenge but it is coming along. I went one more level deeper when I realized I could change the piano settings to harpsichord or guitar and pretend to be my own basso continuo group.

Opie is humoring me and has agreed to play together once we both learn our parts.

I’m not sure playing basso continuo is any more useful than knowing about gymnastics or dolls, but it is keeping me well entertained, and all thanks to Opie and her oboe.

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