"Baroque Ornamentation" an article by Mr. Roseman (1975)
by Ronald Roseman
In the past decade or so, after some hundred and fifty years of neglect, ornamentation of
Baroque music has again become widely accepted. Whereas, in the early 1960's most
conductors would hit the ceiling every time we added so much as a cadence trill in a
Bach suite or a Handel oratorio, now they are usually delighted when players embellish,
even quite elaborately. These days students coming to play auditions have also usually
done their own ornamentations of Baroque works. So, I believe, virtually all oboists
recognize the necessity of ornamentation and want to do their own. The problem is how
to get started, and how to create ornamentation that is stylistic, personal and for lack of a
better word, beautiful.
To begin with, I think it is very important to realize that the addition of the maximum
number of notes is of no value at all. Rather the essential thing is to reinforce the mood of
an individual movement or composition. During the Baroque era, composers and
performers both felt themselves to be partners in serving a higher purpose than just
entertaining their audience. They wanted to deeply move and "instruct" the listeners
through the conveying of various feels (or affects as they were known then) such as love,
sadness, joy or piety. The composer felt that just as the performer knew how to choose
the best dynamics, articulations, nuances of tone color and exact tempi to effectively
present his composition (and therefore rarely, if ever, marked these details), so he would
also be able to embellish the various melodic lines to give them maximum life and
beauty. Ornamentation was simply considered one aspect of the expression of the music,
which was the performer's province. The composer was not worried about these
embellishments being in the correct style since there was at that time a common musical
language. The dichotomy that arose later between the composer and the performer did not
exist then. All the Baroque composers were fine players--some outstanding virtuosi-and
many well-known performers composed. One should, therefore, try in his ornamentation,
as in all other aspects of his interpretation, to effectively communicate the sense of the
music. In a lyrical movement, intensify the expressiveness through the use of smooth
melodic ornaments and appoggiaturas, in a brilliant movement, incorporate virtuosic
ornaments such as fast trills and runs, and in a movement that seems complete, add
almost nothing besides essential cadential trills.
It is useful, I think, to divide ornamentation into two areas: one the addition of standard
embellishments such as trills, mordents, etc.; the other free ornamentation, which
involves the expansion of the melodic lines written by the composer. A good point of
departure for someone wishing to begin to ornament would be to limit himself to the
obligatory ornaments trills and appoggiaturas adding others such as mordants, turns and
slides as he becomes more familiar with the style.
Trills should be added at virtually all principal cadences unless another ornament is
indicated or the text calls for simplicity. (This practice being generally understood,
composers often did not mark such things.) These cadential trills and Baroque trills in
general--with the exception of half-trills--should be terminated either with a Nachschlag
(turned-ending--played at the same speed as the trill) or with an anticipation, whether
such endings are indicated or not. Incidentally, this applies also to words of the classical
period such as the Mozart Oboe Concerto. In the case of the Nachschlag, the trill
continues into it without stop; with the anticipation, however, the trill stops briefly on the
principal note, usually on the dot of a dotted note, before the anticipation is played. For
There are differences of opinion as to whether the anticipation should be played shorter
than indicated and whether it should be slurred from the principal note of the trill. It is
certainly beyond dispute that it may, if desired, be both shortened and separated from the
trill note by what is called a silence of anticipation. For example:
This silence of anticipation can sometimes solve a difficult breathing problem such as is
found in bar 14 of the first movement of the Handel g minor oboe sonata. I personally
prefer in a lyrical slow movement to play the anticipation long, as written, and to slur it
from the principal note of the trill. However, the short, separated anticipation often works
beautifully, especially in a movement with dotted rhythms or a fast movement. Trills may
also be added quite freely on non-cadence notes. These may be long, like cadence trills,
or short (half-trills). Half-trills generally consist of four notes played quickly, starting on
the upper note and stopping on the principal note.
In fact, virtually all Baroque trills should start on the upper note, whether preceded by
that note or not. The upper note (appoggiatura) is best played lengthened with expressive
stress (vibrato) and slurred into the rest of the trill, the effect being that of a slight
diminuendo away from the appoggiatura. On half-trills the upper note, while generally
played short, can be lengthened for expressive effect in slow movements.
Appoggiaturas, particularly long ones, are the other essential ornament. They can be
added in many places and heighten the poignancy and warmth of the music by creating
dissonance. Long appoggiaturas should be played with vibrato. They always slur and
diminuendo slightly to the resolution note. Since they add stress--the word appoggiatura
derives from the Italian appoggiare -(to lean)--they are best used on strong beats--one
and three in duple meters, one only in triple meters. In general, long appoggiaturas,
whether added by the player or indicated by the composer, take the following lengths:
These and any other "rules" given in this article are guides rather than iron-bound laws. Performance
practice was never totally uniform; the player always had wide latitude.
Obviously in each case you should check the bass line to make sure that it does not move
in such a way as to prevent the correct resolution of the appoggiatura. Sometimes a
moderate length appoggiatura--one-forth of the value of the written note--is best. This is particularly often the case is music of J. S. Bach. The length of a long appoggiatura is not
determined literally by its notated value. (2)
(2) An exception would be if the notation indicated a short appoggiatura. See Robert Donnington, The
Interpretation of Early Music or C.P.E. Bach, Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments
(translated by William J. Mitchell) for exact information on this.
Appoggiaturas can be taken from above or below. However, upper ones are more usual,
especially if the preceding notes are above. Lower appoggiaturas are best if they repeat
the preceding tone. They are often raised chromatically. An upper appoggiatura can be
nicely resolved by a full or half trill, a lower one by a mordant.
There are many situations where it is customary and almost mandatory to add long or
moderate-length appoggiaturas. (Composers rarely marked such places because the
practice was so well-understood.) Here are the most important:
1. On cadential trills, as discussed above.
2. When, after a number of quick notes, the music comes to rest on a long consonant
note on the beat. In fact, whenever the melodic motion stops on the first beat,
appoggiaturas can be used to good effect.
3. Before fermatas and at half-cadences.
4. Often on final notes. (This depends very much on taste. Writers of the Baroque
period differed on its desirability.)
5. When the melodic line descends by a third-especially to a strong beat.
6. On feminine endings, particularly in vocal recitatives.
There also are short appoggiaturas. These are played as short as possible, squarely on the
beat and with a sharp accent, except in an adagio movement, where they would be played
a bit slower and more lyrically. There are many rules governing their use. These are
given in the two excellent books by Robert Donnington, his The Interpretation of Early
Music and the more recent Performer's Guide to Baroque Music.
To perform a Baroque composition without these ornaments, cadence trills and
appoggiaturas, is to perform it incorrectly. One should, therefore, first get comfortable
with these and the other standard ornaments, learning to use them freely and with good
style.(3) They should all be played squarely on the beat, with the exception of turns used
between notes and passing appoggiaturas. Any ornamentation more complicated than this
has to be a matter of the player's own musical taste and familiarity with Baroque practice.
You should not feel that you must ornament elaborately. That is totally alien to the spirit of Baroque playing, which is one of freedom and personal expression. All the standard embellishments are fully explained in the two Donnington books.
At this point it is important to emphasize that before you ornament any composition, you
must look at the bass line, and at the other lines too in a trio sonata or obbligato aria.
Otherwise your ornaments may assume the wrong underlying harmonies--with ghastly
results--or else you may produce bad counterpoint such as parallel fifths, octaves or even
seconds. Furthermore, you will also in this way be able to see whether or not a note you
are considering embellishing is already an appoggiatura, which would probably,
therefore, be weakened by the addition of another ornament.
I would also suggest that before you go beyond simple ornamentation, you live with a
piece for a while, sing it to yourself, play it at the piano and consider its structure,
harmony and mood. Then let your ornamentation grow naturally out of your enlightened
feeling for the composition. My best ornamented versions have been done in this way, a
combination of intellectual consideration and intuition. But isn't this what any creative art
really is? As you learn more standard ornaments and formularized possibilities for
expanding melodic lines, you will find that your own creative imagination will grow
richer. You will have a larger palette from which to draw.
To turn now to free ornamentation. First of all, a good deal of what one does here is
simply the addition, singly and in combination, of the standard embellishments already
considered. As for the expansion of the melodic lines themselves, this can be viewed as essentially the substitution of more notes for fewer. The problem is to find notes that work melodically and harmonically, are in style, and fit the mood of the composition. Fortunately, there exist excellent source materials for study. One of the best that I can recommend is the collection of the Twelve Methodical Sonatas for flute or violin by Telemann, published by Barenreiter. Here you have almost every conceivable way of expanding melodic lines done with wonderful taste and imagination. Both the original and ornamented (by Telemann) versions are given. Another good source is the Quantz book On Playing the Flute (translated by Edward R. Reilly, published by Faber and Faber), which has many useful tables of ornaments for common melodic patterns, as well as a wealth of other information about style, phrasing, cadenzas, etc., all done in a marvelous, supremely human style. You should also look at J. S. Bach's symphonias, such as the one from the Wedding Cantata, and at his expansion of the slow movement of the Marcello oboe concerto. Bach's version is in d minor and is for keyboard. The standard published edition of the Marcello is really an ornamented version by an unidentified author.
Probably the greatest difficulty for most people in ornamenting melodically is to free
themselves from being totally confined within the scope of the composer's original line. The most common way of expansion they use is to fill in intervals with stepwise motion or start an occasional phrase with an ascending scale. This works fine, but it can get boring. Furthermore, large intervals often give power and character to a composition and should not be filled in, and what if the original line moves stepwise, as is so often the case? Here are a few ideas of ways that you can go outside of the compass of the given melodic line, assuming in each case the following stepwise melodic pattern:
The procedure for free ornamentation is quite simple. However, its application with taste takes time. Always remember that the idea is not to add as many notes as possible. The ornamentation should follow the general shape of the composer's original line and, of course, maintain the affect of the piece. Quantz suggests using the given note first in any ornament. However, often an appoggiatura that resolves to the original note works well. There are some important principles to bear in mind. In a work that has a theme that appears more than once, it is probably best not to ornament the first statement. In movements with repeats, save any elaborate embellishments for the repeats. Ornamentation should generally grow more complex as the movement progresses unless you intend a special effect or there is a text that calls for such an effect. You should not overdo this, but it is quite anticlimactic to do the opposite. The same goes, of course, for sequential passages. In fugues, however, the subject should be the same each time.
Students often bring in a work where they have embellished the first few bars heavily, and then, having run out of ideas, left a substantial part of the movement unornamented. In such a case it would be better to play the opening bars simply and save the ornamentation that you thought of for later in the piece. Except in French music, an ornament written by a composer should generally be taken as a suggestion not a command. (Just as the lack of a written one does not preclude its use.) Chromatic alterations often must be supplied by the performer. This applies particularly to turns and mordents. There are certain places where ornaments--even quite elaborate ones--are called for. Ornaments are generally added in slow movements, especially those where the melodic writing is quite open. They are good in repeated movements, fast or slow, though the type and complexity will vary with the movement (and the performer. Remember, you have to play them too!). Ornaments should usually be added to holds, particularly ones with dramatic or unusual harmonies, and at the Phrygian cadences that often connect slow movements to the following allegros. Short cadenzas (for two parts in trio sonatas) were sometimes added before the final dominant chord of a movement in the late Baroque period. These grew into the classical cadenza. Quantz has an excellent chapter on this subject.
I should point out that everything I have written about adding ornaments applies only to Italian, and to a lesser degree, German music. In French music, the composers wrote the specific embellishments that they wanted. Free ornamentation was not practiced. German music was a combination of the two styles. More ornaments were indicated, but the performer still had considerable latitude to change them or add others. Remember, it is the style of a composer's music, not his nationality that is the key factor here. For example, Handel, though born in Germany, wrote much music in true Italian style. I personally believe that playing someone else's ornamentation is not a very good idea. If Handel or Telemann did not think it worthwhile and necessary to write the ornamentation for their pieces, I don't think that someone who has studied musicology or another instrument than yours is likely to do better. It might be useful to have another person give you ideas or criticism. However, your ornamentation should reflect your own conception of your instrument, the kind of musical things you like to play and your vision of the composition. I would by the same token, never feel bound to do the ornamentation that comes in an edition, Marcello included. In fact the ornamentation of its slow movement has many serious stylistic errors. You might use such editions as a training tool. I also do not think that the Telemann Methodical Sonatas were meant to be performed with Telemann's ornamentation-at least not as the exclusive way. Rather I believe the ornamented movements were meant as teaching devices--therefore called methodical.
Baroque music is never a set of coded instructions to be followed to the letter. At that time there was not even a metronome. Articulation, phrasing, dynamics, and
ornamentation were all considered to be within the province of the performer. Above all else, you should be free and expressive with the music. I don't mean undisciplined, but your performance in all its aspects should be an expression of your love and
understanding of the piece and of your personality as a player. This is perhaps why
playing baroque music is such as inexhaustible, rich and joyful experience.