Ornamentation

Historically Baroque Ornamentation was without notation but of improvisatory tradition. Ornamentation was increasingly popular later but never completely replaced by notation. The notation was commonly completed but was not always capable of sounding complete in performance; the composer, mainly obligatorily supplied the figuration. The more or less improvised ornamentation was chiefly through the influence of long appoggiatura.

Thus, ornamentation is not a luxury in Baroque music, but a necessity. In early Baroque music, instrumental figuration more or less improvised by the performer occurred predominantly in operatic prologues, dances and ritonelli, organ, lute and harpsichord playing, trumpet fanfare and in division on a bass.

As ornamentation flourished through the Baroque period, some ornaments achieved a more or less independent existence as units of embellishment. Later, the Baroque music either music editor and performer or both will have taken action to obligatorily complete the performance with ornamental figuration, although the nature of this figuration is at the performer’s option. Figuration are intact without altering the music. This however may change the details of the harmony as well as the rhythm.  The structured notes of a melody are mainly its harmony notes instead of the accented or unaccented passing and changing notes.   In a variety of other instances where some ornamentation is less obligated, performers may improvise to a desirable completion. This remarkably appeared in cadenza especially if a fermata appears.

The function of ornaments serves as a melody, rhythms and harmony and as colouration like a long Trill to help sustaining the tone on the harpsichord. It may fall in between beats which makes them more or less unaccented passing or changing notes, including littles note of anticipation before the ensuing beat. These are between beat ornaments.

Conversely, ornamentation may fall upon the beat. Which means they are more accented passing or changing notes, as such they cannot anticipate beat. These are on-the-beat ornaments.

Baroque ornaments when unattached to a beat, fall between beats; when attached to a beat, fall on-the-beat. CPE Bach wrote ‘while the previous note never curtailed, the subsequent note looses its value to the ornamented note’. He added, ‘it might be necessary to repeat that the remaining parts including the bass must coincide with the first note of the ornament.’ This style was more reliable in the late baroque era.

Ornamentation can be taken diatonically and chromatically as CPE Bach wrote ‘the notes of an ornamentation adapt themselves to the sharps and flats which the trained ear can discern’.

The interpretation of ornaments must make good and correct harmony, but that is not always the case. Consecutive fifths are incorrect but are perfectly acceptable in ornamentation since at that speed they cannot be heard.

Since music is made for the ear, a fault which does not offend, it is not a fault

Michel de Saint Lambert

Most Turns are chiefly melodic that appears in-between-beats and unaccented can hardly be offensive to the ear by making of bad harmony. Most on-the-beat Mordent are accents that may be mostly rhythmic and have little or no influence on the harmony. Care and consideration is greatly needed for long Appoggiatura to have influence on the harmony.

A thorough understanding is very necessary for the music specialist to study the inconsistent ornaments their names and their sign especially the manners of its inconsistency. For an average performer it is only necessary to master the working principles of a very small number of common ornaments and know the musical context in which there may be desirable or any sign or other indications, which may or may not appear in the written notation.

Certain baroque ornamentations are more or less essential and some are obligatory. Those obligatory ones must appear when they are strongly supplied by the musical context. These are cadential Trills particularly in recitative and long Appogiaturas.

The absence of any ornament should not be taken for granted by the performer to introduce an optional ornament that suits the context but rather excuse him from introducing an obligatory ornaments that the context implies.

Contrarily, the presence of any sign of an ornament should not be taken as obliging the performer to introduce a particular ornament, nor prevailing him from introducing another ornaments or none.

Some French Baroque keyboard music shows ornaments notated by complex signs carefully applied with intention of making them more or less literal by the performer. The signs are never mandatory as it would be entirely unbaroque attributes to treat them as mandatory.

Conversely, it is entirely the baroque attitudes that regard signs for ornaments not as commands but as a hints guided ultimately by taste, context and suitability. This prevents over-use of ornaments or any abuse to an expressive piece or any use of ornaments against the natural characteristic of an instrument.

Suitability implies making ornaments consistent throughout fugal entries, imitations and matching passages. CPE Bach taught that ‘all imitation must be exact to the last details including ornaments’.

The element of consistency in ornaments is always necessary for good taste and sound musicianship. However, does not necessarily mean to be identical. In contrast, some variations within the overall consistency may be required to avoid autonomy.

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