Baroque Phrasing


In Baroque music, it is important to have separation between phrases so it is audible to the listener. This can be achieved either by a moment of silence before playing the next note or by making an ostensible silence as a stolen time.

As always, line comes first, but punctuation is itself an element in line.

Other factors that can contribute to good phrasings are:

  1. A certain structuring of the tempo,
  2. A certain placing of the next phrase with a silence of separation after a very slight delay,
  3. In situations where the sound may rise slightly to the climax of the phrase and then fall slightly to a close.

The comma sign is sometimes found in French music for a silence of separation between phrases. Usually, phrasing is left to the discretion of the performer.

‘A pause prevents confusion between one phrase and another’

Girolamo Frescobaldi

Joachim Quantz quoted ‘the end of what goes before and the start of what follows, should be well separated and distinguished one from the other’.

Thoughts which should belong together must not be divided; just as in the contrary: those where a musical sense ends, and a new thought begins.

CPE Bach wrote certain notes as well as rests can sometimes result in the expression being a longer value than the notation shows.


All degrees of separation can occur within a phrase from none legato to very staccato. Just as phrasing, articulation is the most vital element in Baroque music and capable of the highest subtlety. The refinements can be varied from note to note, although the separation may be the same.

Good phrasing, like good articulation, is an important element of a good line.

Slurs sometimes occur in notation as a hint rather than as instructions. That is intended for the performer to work out good and consistent bowings, breathings, articulations, fingerings etc.

Dots are intended to imply a light staccato, dashes, wedges and dots. Staccato signs are not different from one another until very late in the Baroque period.

One must be careful not to show notes that ought to be detached and vice versa.

‘In general, the liveliness of allegro is conveyed by detached notes, and the expressiveness of adagio by sustained, slurred notes even when not so marked!’

CPE Bach

Slurs should be laid out very simply and symmetrically, usually in pairs, threes, fours or in six notes placements. Within any chosen pattern of articulation, ‘ordinary’ articulation is recommended for average use.

The bass part of an allegro requires a very important use of this varied finesse of emphasis and articulation: ‘ordinary movement’. There is an intermediate articulation that is not massive but quite crisp into the string, yet with the imagination to move each note with a little more legato or staccato, it becomes a little more stressed and relaxed. In order for the bass part to become not just a monotonous support for the harmony, but a melodic line of its own right.

In conclusion, all patterns of articulation in Baroque music is kept classically simple and unpretentious.  It requires an imagination that can subtlety make the articulation unfailingly interesting by slight variations of intensity and separation.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: