My artistic research project at the Norwegian Academy of Music aims to highlight the role of the harpsichord player and the interpretation of basso continuo in G. F. Handel’s continuo cantatas – i.e. cantatas for one voice with continuo accompaniment only. How the continuo realization is shaped in performance of this repertoire is crucial to the overall sound since there are no other obbligato instruments, unlike in the instrumental cantatas. A wide range of possible solutions emerge in the intersection between improvisation, composition, imagination, and speculation within a source-oriented approach. To give these cantatas a musical guise that is rarely heard among performer’s today, I focus on an advanced and soloistic harpsichord continuo that includes different use of imitation, counterpoint, harmonic additions, ‘duet-making’ with the vocal part and other rarely heard features; inspired by certain German 18th-century continuo treatises such as Heinichen’s Der Generalbass in der Composition (Dresden, 1728), Mattheson’s Grosse Generalbass-schule (Hamburg, 1731) and Daube’s General-Bass in drey Accorden (Leipzig, 1756) in addition to several preceding Italian(ate) and English sources, as well as idioms from Handel’s own keyboard music.
There are frequently significant discrepancies between how historical sources describe basso continuo playing and how today’s harpsichordists interpret and perform their part within the context of the HIP-movement. In the last decades, two contrasting approaches stand out: those who accompany discretely with few parts and a transparent accompaniment: unofficially nicknamed ‘Softies’; and those who play generally fuller: ‘Loudies’ – from which my project receives its title.
With this project, I aim to deepen the understanding of the discipline of continuo playing and to develop realizations that go beyond mere chordal playing often heard today in a much-neglected repertoire by one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era. Hopefully, this will challenge existing views and conventions among several branches of today’s early music community, where strong performers and personas foster strong opinions.