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date: 25 August 2019

Bass(i) (Fr. basse; Ger. Bass; It. basso)locked

  • James Webster


(Fr. basse; Ger. Bass; It. basso)

The lower part of the musical system, as distinguished from the treble, specifically: that part or voice in a composition executed by the lowest-range performers (‘bass part’); the lowest pitch in a sonority; hence the succession of lowest notes in a passage or composition (‘bass line’); the lowest segment of an instrument’s range, or the lowest octave or octaves articulated in a composition (‘bass register’); and those notes which ‘support’ the other parts, which determine the harmonic identity of sonorities and which are in the main responsible for harmonic progressions, cadences, modulations and large-scale tonal relationships (‘harmonic’, ‘functional’ or ‘musical’ bass). These distinct but overlapping meanings are all usually simply called ‘bass’. They share the original modifying sense ‘low’, as in Bass and Bass; ‘bass’ is cognate with the adjective ‘base’ (‘low’, ‘unrefined’), both deriving from Late Latin ‘bassus’ (‘low’, ‘thick’, ‘fat’).

The term first appeared in music about the middle of the 15th century: in expanding from three- to four-part texture, composers wrote two contratenor parts, the lower of which was distinguished by the title ‘contratenor bassus’. By ...

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