The art of accompaniment, F.T. Arnold & the greatest work of musicology ever published
Continuo Bibliography - A Selective List

The art of accompaniment, F.T. Arnold & the greatest work of musicology ever published

A performance of a cantata with flute, violins and continuo, from Johann Quantz's Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen ( Berlin: Johann Friedrich Voss, 1752). MR636.c.75.1

The collector F. T. Arnold was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge in the early 1880s. He was also a cellist and had a passion for baroque music, and after a lifetime of study and collecting, in 1931 published The art of accompaniment from a thorough-bass as practised in the 17th & 18th centuries, described by Ernest Newman in the Sunday Times as ‘the greatest work of musicology ever produced in this country.’ Arnold’s personal collection was bequeathed to the Cambridge University Library in 1940. The collection forms one of the major bequests of music to the Library, and contains many of the theoretical sources for his monumental work, as well as a large number of instrumental chamber music scores featuring the continuo.

From the 'Keeping the score' exhibition, Jan-June, 2007. © Cambridge University Library 2007

Below you will find a selective bibliography which has proved useful in my research and teaching.


The normal manner of spreading as outlined by Rameau in his Traité de l'harmonie, 1722.

Rameau states that this is best achieved by playing the bass note and the first note of the spread chord at the same time:

The finger which strikes the first [note of the arpeggiated chord] must always be played together with the bass, the other fingers following it, so that the notes sound as if they were all played together, although a sort of arpeggiation actually occurs, as if three or four demisemiquaver notes were played rapidly one after another.

Source: J. P. Rameau, Traité de l'harmonie, Paris, 1722, translated by P. Gossett, New York, 1971, p. 386. See also J. B. Christensen, Eighteenth Century Continuo Playing, Kassel, 2002, p. 145.



Contemporary Sources
Modern Sources

Contemporary Sources




J.H. D'Anglebert: Principes de l'Accompagnement in Pieces de Clavecin (Paris 1689) Mod.ed. Gilbert (Paris 1975)


G.G. Niver: Motets à voix seule, et quelques autres motets à deux voix propres pour les religieuses avec L'art d'accompagner sur la basse continue, pour l'orgue et le clavecin (Paris, 1689/R)[2 copies BL]


E.D. Delair: Traite de l'Accompagnement pour le Theorbe et le clavessin (Paris 1690 and 1723). Praised by Rameau

St. Lambert (1707)

M. de St. Lambert: Nouveau Traité de l'Accompagnement du Clavecin (1707). Engl. Trans. J. Powell (Indiana 1991)

St. Lambert (1702)

M. de St. Lambert: Principes du clavecin (Paris 1702) Eng.ed.R.Harris-Warrick (CUP 1984)


F.Couperin: Règles pour l'Accompagnement ed.Brunold Oeuvres Complete I (Paris 1933), pp.7-17


J.-F. Dandrieu: Principes de l'accompagnement du clavecin exposez dans des tables (1718-19/R); Nouvelle édition augmentée de la basse fondementale avec des leçons tirées des meilleurs auteurs italiens (announced 1777) See Christensen


M.Corrette: Le Maitre de Clavecin pour L'accompagnement (Paris 1753)


J.Ph. Rameau: Dissertation sur les differentes methods d'accompagnement pour le clavecin, pour l'orgue (Paris 1732). see Complete Theoretical Writings ed. Jacobi (Rome 1967-72) and Engl. Trans. in Dover ed Theoretical writings.

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Facsimile of page 5 from F. Dandrieu, Principes de l'accompagnement du clavecin exposez dans des tables (1718-19/R)



L. da Viadana: Cento Concerti eccliastici (Venice 1602) Frankfurt ed.1613 has Latin and Germ. transl of preface. Bassus Generalis Transcription

Banchieri (1605)

A. Banchieri: L'organo suonarino (Venice, 1605, enlarged 4/1638/R1969 with introduction by G. Cattin)


Adriano Banchieri: Essempio Di Componere Varie Voci Sopra un Basso di Canto Fermo Bassus Generalis Transcription


A. Agazzari: Del Sonare sopra il basso (Siena 1607) repr. in Sacrae cantiones, Liber II (Venice 1609) Basso Generalis Transcription


F. Bianciardi: Breve regola per imparar' sonare sopra il basso con ogni sorte d'istrumento (Siena, 1607); ed. R. Haas,'das Generalbass-Flugblatt Francesco Bianciardis',  Musikwissenschaftliche Beiträge: Festschrift für Johannes Wolf, ed. W. Lott, H. Osthoff and W. Wolffheim (Berlin, 1929/R), 48ff, and V. Gibelli, Antiquae musicae italicae studiosi (Milan, 1965) Basso Generalis Transcription

Bologna MSS

Conservatorio di Musica GB Martini. See Williams


L. Penna: Li primi albori musicali per li principianti della musica figurata (Bologna, 1672, 4/1684/R, 5/1696)


G. Muffat: Regule con centum partiturae (1699) mod. ed. An Essay on Thorough Bass ed.H. Federhofer (Rome 1961) Bassus Generalis transcription


F.Gasparini: L'Armonico Pratico al Cimbalo (Venice 1708) transl. as The Practical Harmonist at the harpsichord (New Haven 1963)


A.Scarlatti: Regole per principianti (MS, c1715, GB-Lbl Add.14244, ff.46v-52)

Rome MS

Rome Biblioteca Corsiniana, MS RI 'Regole per Accompagnare Sopra la Parte..d'Autore incerto' c.1710. Also MusMS 9bis/6


A. Tonelli: Realisation of Corelli's Op.5. Modena :MS. Link to Transcription of MS. See also Mortensen below.

Geminiani (1756)

F. Geminiani: The Art of accompaniment, or A new and well digested Method to learn and perform the Thorough Bass, Op.XI. 2 vols.(London 1756-7) ( Fr. version, 1754; It. trans., I-Bc)

Geminiani (1745)

F. Geminiani: Rules for playing in true Taste, Op.VIII (London 1745)


N. Pasquali: Thorough-Bass made Easy, or Practical Rules for Finding and Applying its Various Chords (Edinburgh, 1757, ?4/c1790; Fr. and Dutch trans., 1760) Facs. OUP.

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Facsimile of page 56 from F.Gasparini, L'Armonico Pratico al Cimbalo (Venice 1708) showing acciaccature (ac.) and mordente (m.)



Michael Praetorius: Syntagma Musicum III: De Basso Generali seu Continuo (Wolfenbüttel 1619) Bassus Generalis Translation

Heinichen 1711

J.D. Heinichen: Neu-erfundene und grundliche.. .des General-Basses (Hamburg 1711).

JS Bach

See Mendel and David: The Bach Reader New edition with commentary by Ledbetter/OUP.


J.T. Johnson: 'The Rules for Thorough Bass and for Tuning Attributed to Handel', EMc, xvii (1989), 70-77. See Ledbetter.


J. Mattheson: Exemplarische Organisten-Probe (Hamburg 1719) 2nd enlarged ed. called Grosse General-Bass-Schule (Hamburg 1731); Eng. Ed. 1734.

Heinichen 1728

J.D. Heinichen: Der Generalbass in der Komposition (Dresden 1728). Partial trails. as Thorough Bass Accompaniment according to Johann David Heinichen by GB Buelow (Berkeley 1966).


G.P. Telemann: Singe-, Spiel- und Generalbass-Übungen (Hamburg, 1733-4/R1983 with introduction by G. Fleischhauer)


J. Mattheson: Kleine General-Bass-Schule (Hamburg 1735)


J. J. Quantz: Chap. 17 of Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte (Berlin 1752). Engl.trans.R.R.Reilly (London 1966). Quoted in Marpurg Clavierstucke (Berlin 1763)

CPE Bach

C.P.E. Bach: Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen, i (Berlin, 1753/R, 3/1787/R), ii (Berlin, 1762/R, 2/1797/R); Eng. trans. of pts i and ii W.J. Mitchell as Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments (London 1949, Eulenberg Ed.1974)


Johann (or John) Casper Heck (c. 1740-91): The Art of Playing Thorough Bass (London: John Welcker, c.1767; later editions John Preston, 1793 and c.1795).


J.P. Kirnberger: Grundsätze des Generalbasses als erste Linien zur Composition (Berlin 1781)

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Facsmile page from the second part of Kirnberger, Grundsätze des Generalbasses als erste Linien zur Composition (1781) showing a realisation to second movement of the JS Bach's trio sonata from Das Musikalische Opfer, BWV 1079.



J. Blow: Rules for playing of a Thorough Bass upon Organ & Harpsicon (Lbl Add MS 34072,ff.1-5)


M. Locke: Melothesia (London 1673)


J.G. Keller: A Compleat Method for Attaining to Play Thorough Bass upon either Organ, Harpsicord or Theorbo-Lute (London, 1705, 6/1717, and as an appx to 1731 edn of W. Holder: A Treatise of the Natural Grounds, and Principles of Harmony)


P. Prelleur: The Modern Musick-Master (London, 1731/R)


J.F. Lampe,  A Plain and Compendious Method of Teaching Thorough Bass. (London 1737) Monuments of Music and Music Literature in Facsimile, II/29. New York, 1969.  


José de Torres's Treatise of 1736. General Rules for Accompanying on the Organ, Harpsichord, and Harp, by Knowing Only How to Sing the Part, or a Bass in Canto Figurado An Annotated Bilingual Edition. Edited and translated by Paul Murphy (Indiana, 2000)


C. Avison: An Essay on Musical Expression (London, 1752, 2/1753)


E. Miller: A Treatise on Thorough Bass and Composition (Dublin, c1780)


A.F.C. Kollmann: A Practical Guide to Thorough-Bass (London, 1801)

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Facsimile of pages 6 and 7 from M. Locke, Melothesia…(London 1673)

Modern sources

F. T. Arnold

The Art of Accompaniment from a Thorough-Bass as Practised in the 17th and 18th Centuries (OUP, London 1930). ‘The greatest work of musicology ever produced in this country.’ Ernest Newman.

P. Williams (1970)

Figured Bass Accompaniment 2 vols (Edinburgh 1970)

W. Hancock

‘General Rules for Realising an Unfigured Bass in Seventeenth-Century England’, Chelys, vii (1977), 69–72. An interesting, if potentially misleading attempt to formulate 17th c. English continuo practice from instructions found in contemporary theory and composition manuals. 

P. Holman

'Continuo realizations in a Playford songbook' (includes song Forgive Me, If Your Looks by R. King with handwritten 17th century realization). Early Music, 1978, Vol. 6, 268-9.

P. Williams (1985)

‘Bach and Handel as teachers of Thorough Bass’, Bach, Handel, Scarlatti: Tercentenary Essays  (CUP 1985) pp. 245-57.

L. Bourmayan & J. Frisch

Méthode pour apprendre la pratique de la Basse Continue au Clavecin à l’usage des amateurs (Editions du Cornet, 1986/1996)

T. Borgir

The Performance of the Basso Continuo in Italian Baroque Music (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1987) and (University of Rochester Press, 1991).

N. North

Continuo Playing on the Lute, Archlute and Theorbo (London, 1987)

D. Ledbetter

Continuo Playing According to Handel (OUP 1990)

L.R. Baratz

‘The Basso Continuo According to Jean Joseph Boutmy’, Early Keyboard Journal, xiii (1995), 39–80

P. Holman

‘“Evenly, Softly, and Sweetly Acchording to All”: the Organ Accompaniment of English Consort Music’, John Jenkins and his Time, ed. A. Ashbee and P. Holman (Oxford, 1996), 353–82

L.U. Mortensen

‘“Unerringly Tasteful”? Harpsichord Continuo in Corelli's Op.5 Sonatas’, EMc, xxiv (1996), 665–79

G. Webber

North German Church Music in the Age of Buxtehude (Oxford, 1996)

T. de Goede (1997)

‘Del suonare sopra il basso: Concerning the Realization of Early Seventeenth-Century Italian Unfigured Basses.’ Performance Practice Review (1997/1), Vol.10, pp.80-115. This article can be downloaded from

R. Zappulla

Figured Bass Accompaniment in France (Turnhout, 2000)

J. Christensen

Eighteenth Century Continuo Playing. A Historical Guide to the Basics (BA 8177, 2002)

T. de Goede (2005)

‘From dissonance to note-cluster: the application of musical-rhetorical figures and dissonances to thoroughbass accompaniment of early 17th-century Italian vocal solo music.’ Early Music, May 2005, Vol. 33, pp.233-50. (abstract on p365).


The Performance of Italian Basso Continuo(Ashgate,2007).

Patrick J. Rogers

Peter Holman

Thomas Allery

Continuo Realization in Handel's Vocal Music (University of Rochester Press, 2010).

'The Conductor at the Organ, or How Choral and Orchestral Music was Directed in Georgian England', Chapter 11 in Music and Performance Culture in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Essays in Honour of Nicholas Temperley, Edited by Bennett Zon (Ashgate: Farnham, 2012), pp. 243-262.

‘Learning from the past: an introduction to eighteenth-century figured bass treatises’, Journal of the Royal College of Organists, Volume 10 (December 2016), pp. 28–40.

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