Bach’s Quintessential Continuo Playing: Quartets Out of Trios

Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra

Thursday, June 23, 8:30 AM

Bach “was able, instantly, to play [improvise] a trio or a quartet

from a single given bass part; …

he even … add[ed] extempore a fourth part to three single parts, …

to make a quartet of a trio.” –J. N. Forkel

Unlike the vertical chord-driven keyboard continuo realizations often heard today, Bach’s continuo playing modeled linear-harmonic principles of dialogue, debate, and duet. Bach’s approach to continuo improvisation deserves fresh examination. His compositions provide a continuo treatise-in-practice, rich in pedagogical information for harpsichordists and organists alike.

Taking continuo cues from Bach’s violin and obbligato harpsichord sonatas, BWV 1014–19, I will demonstrate how a Musical Offering trio, BWV 1079, can be converted into a quartet via continuo playing. Traversing the path Bach forged in his compositions and continuo playing could quintessentially revolutionize current continuo practices.

Dr. Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra resuscitates historic improvisation pedagogy in her acclaimed CHI Presss publications, Bach and the Art of Improvisation, and Muse (a capella vocal works for children). An international performer, improvisateur, and pedagogue, Ruiter-Feenstra composes liturgical organ and choral works; conducts choral and chamber music ensembles; and leads improvisation, choral, historic keyboard, and sacred music workshops. Ruiter-Feenstra served as Professor of Music at Bethany College, Eastern Michigan University, and Senior Researcher at GOArt (Sweden). Organ CDs: Tunder; Bach and Improvisation: (; Harpsichord CDs: Froberger, Böhm, and Bach: ( Fleur De Son Classics recording artist and Windwerk Artist (

Download the handout for this workshop here.