I never planned to write about editorial thoroughbass arrangements – I thought this was unnecessary. We all know that they often are overfrought and frequently neglect the accentuation required in the music; that they occasionally contain faulty counterpoint and wrong harmonies; and that the few less overloaded continuo elaborations tend to be self-evident and hence superfluous.
Another reason why I did not want to write about this subject is that I used to find it unfair to complain about the existence of a worked-out continuo part in modern editions of Baroque music. I had a music teacher in high school who proclaimed that in our times, nobody is able to sight-read a figured continuo line. I also remember a participant at a baroque course who got aggressively upset when the teacher of the ensemble class asked him to play lower inversions of some of his chords – he was playing the editorial continuo concerto, and clearly believed that it was part of the original composition. More recently, a colleague with excellent sight-reading skills, who was my co-continuist in a Christmas Oratory performance, admitted, somewhat embarrassed, that he was using the “organ part” instead of a figured bass. Of course, music publishers need people like these to buy their books, so they must supply continuo arrangements, whether I like it or not.
A professional continuo player can always ignore these arrangements. If one likes to play from a full score, one will have to put up with the fact that they take up four or six additional lines per page, thus increasing the number of page turns. If one feels secure with a piece, a better solution is to play from the figured cello part.
Recently, I learned that this can be illegal. (more…)