Ground bass

Michelangelo:  Caro m’è ‘l sonno, e più l’esser di sasso

Caro m’ è ’l sonno, più l’ esser di sasso,
mentre che ’l danno el la vergogna dura:
non veder, non sentir, m’ è ventura;
però non mi destar, deh! parla basso.

Slumber is sweet, but it were sweeter still
To turn to stone while shame and sorrow last,
Nor see, nor hear, and so be freed from ill;
Ah, wake me not! Whisper as you go past!


ground bass, also called basso ostinato (Italian: “obstinate bass”),  in music, a short, recurring melodic pattern in the bass part of a composition that serves as the principal structural element.

Prototypical instances are found in 13th-century French vocal motets as well as in 15th-century European dances, where a recurrent melody served as a cantus firmus, or fixed theme.

With the rise of idiomatic instrumental music in the 16th century, the practice of improvising or composing new melodies above a repeated bass pattern became widely popular, especially in music for the lute and guitar (especially in Italy, England, and Spain) and harpsichord (especially in England); this practice, known in Spanish music as diferencias and elsewhere in Europe as divisions, is an early manifestation of the technique of theme and variations.

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