Lament Bass

The Lament Bass is a Ground Bass or Passacaglia, built on a descending perfect fourth from the tonic to the dominant. 

The Diatonic version of the Lament Bass uses descending 8-7-6-5 in natural minor.

Early harmonizations of this progression commonly used 5/3 on the first and last note (with #), and 6/3 on the passing bass notes. If played only once, this is also known as a Phrygian cadence or a “mi cadence.”

Phrygian Cadence

If considered in the Phrygian mode (E is the finalis), the top and bottom voices create a TC/DC pair. The syllables are different and the half steps are different, but the idea is the same: TC ends with a half step (F-E) and the DC with a whole step (D-E).

A compound mi cadence will look like this:

Rule of the Octave

Another common possibility is to use the descending rule of the octave in minor – note that this will result in a french chord on scale degree 6. Below is the example from Fenaroli’s manual on the Rule of the Octave.

 Chromatic Lamento Bass

This includes a chromatic motion from 1 down to 5. We can still keep 5/3 on the first and last bass note, and 6/3 in between.

Vivaldi: “O qui coeli terraeque serenatis”
Chromatic Lamento with Alto Clausula

Another option is to use 5/3 and 6/3 for the first two bass notes followed by a +4/2 figure on the third bass note. This then resolves as an alto clausula to bass note five.

With Roman Numeral Analysis

The fifth figure can stay 6/3, or become +6/4/3 like in the rule of the octave. However, a common variant uses a +6/5/3 – or a German 6 chord instead.

Chromatic Lament with +6/5/3 chord
Same progression with RN Analysis
Beethoven Variations on this progression.

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