At the turn of the 17th century Italian composers of secular vocal music, especially those associated with the seconda prattica, began to place greater emphasis on textual expression, and expanded their means of musical expression by means of new harmonic tools such as extreme or unprepared dissonances (durezze and heterolepsis), unresolved dissonances in cadences (ellipsis), harsh note clusters (acciaccatura) and the persistent repetition of a bass note in a tenorizing cadence (extensio), or in the vocal part (cadentia duriuscula), thus delaying its resolution. In today's realizations of 17th-century thoroughbass few, if any, of these devices can be heard. On the contrary, many continuo players suppress dissonances, but strive for imaginative melodic lines in their accompaniment, even though this is strongly discouraged in nearly all contemporary thoroughbass treatises. This article examines examples from 17th-century sources, demonstrating how continuo players can learn to recognize and apply these dissonances and musical-rhetorical figures, particularly in unfigured bass lines. The understanding of dissonance treatment is not only a prerequisite for a stylistically appropriate accompaniment of Italian 17th-century solo vocal music; more importantly, the judicious application of these techniques allows the accompanist to enhance the affective expression of the music without impeding the vocal line.
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