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Ungrounded Base

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Kathryn Salfelder

Kathryn Salfelder

General Info

Year: 2012
Duration: c. 8:30
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Kathryn Salfelder
Cost: Score and Parts - $175.00   |   Score Only - $15.00


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II
Oboe I-II
Bassoon I-II
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
C Trumpet I-II-III-IV
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II
Bass Trombone
String Bass
Percussion I-II, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Crotales
  • Orchestra Bells
  • Suspended Cymbal, large
  • Tom-Tom
  • Triangle
  • Vibraphone



None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Ungrounded Base is a double entendre on the term "ground bass," the compositional device of the seventeenth century, in which a series of variations occurs over a recurring bass line. The dual structure of Ungrounded Base relies on a modified sonata form over the ever-repeating ground bass line. The seven pitches of this descending chromatic bass (B A# A G# G F# F) differ from historical practice with the addition of the final pitch (F), which extends the range by a half-step and obscures the tonic/dominant relationship of B-F#. Unlike earlier repertoire (from the keyboard works of Couperin and Frescobaldi to Beethoven's 32 Variations in C Minor and Brahms' Symphony #4 Movt. IV, to name just a few examples), each pitch of the chromatic bass line is not necessarily assigned the same rhythmic duration. This deviation often obscures the aural traceability of the ground bass figure.

The first theme, rooted in the harmonic implications of the chromatic bass, is an ascending gesture introduced by the solo cello at the onset of the work. The more distant and haunting second theme integrates the ground bass as a melodic line. This theme quotes the recitative that precedes Purcell's When I Am Laid in Earth (also known as Dido's Lament), from his opera Dido and Aeneas, an aria commonly referenced in music history texts as an example of ground bass, chaconne and chromatic expressivity in late seventeenth century music. Development ensues, and the mirror recapitulation presents the two themes in reverse order. Upon arrival at the first theme, the bass line is left unfinished; the brass section continues its ascent, rising to a soaring conclusion.

Ungrounded Base was commissioned by the United States Air Force Band, Washington D.C., as a follow-on commission toCathedrals, winner of the 2009 United States Air Force Arnald D. Gabriel Award.

-Program Note by composer


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

Works for Winds by This Composer


  • Powell, Edwin. "Ungrounded Bass." In Teaching Music through Performance in Band. Volume 10, Compiled and edited by Richard Miles, 854-859. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2015.
  • "New Music Reviews." The Instrumentalist, 69/8 (March 2015), p. 31-32.