Guitar Passacagli and Vocal Arie

We are all familiar with ground bass patterns that are commonly grouped as “bassi ostinati”, such as the folia, the romanesca, the Ruggiero and the ciaccona. Stemming from popular music, their earliest manifestations have not been easy to uncover.1 But whatever the individual origins of these basses, by the early Seicento those origins no longer seemed to matter, although the patterns with more than two component phrases, such as the Ruggiero and bergamasca, probably retained their associations with song. Consisting of regular phrases, such basses easily supported new songs with similarly equal-length (isometric) lines. Other basses like the ciaccona and folia have only one or two shorter repeating units and retain a characteristic strong sense of meter – a trait we often describe as “dance-like”.Margaret Murata

Vocal lines set to them can easily and attractively move in congruent phrases or engage in cross phrasing. We are also familiar with the notion of both melodies and/or chord successions functioning as arie, that is, as promiscuously suitable models for reciting fixed poetic forms like the Spanish romance or Italian ottava or sonetto, more or less all’improviso. Such arie typically take on the rhythm of poetic scansion. This, too, can yield musical forms with isometric phrases; but individual poetic lines can also be rhythmically “distended” in performance, by embellishments and other aspects of vocal declamation or fantasy, whether these are improvised or notated as if improvised. We often say that these arie are formulaic, but in fact, they are not so, since they are many in number and do not bear designations beyond “aria per cantar…” They can resemble each other and are not necessarily either memorably tuneful or harmonically remarkable in themselves…)
Guitar Passacagli and Vocal Arie

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