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Mark Taylor

Ornaments as used by Boehm and Bach

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One of the (many) gaps in my musical knowledge concerns ornaments. They simply didn’t crop up much when I was learning as a child.

 

I currently use as a reference William Lovelock’s Ornaments and Abbreviations, first published in the 1930s. However, I recently found this comment on the internet.

“It is unfortunate that the majority of pianists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries have been "educated" to believe that the symbol [that Bach used for a trill] represents an "inverted mordent"… . Actually, the term "inverted mordent" was never used during Bach's lifetime, and Bach makes it very clear that the symbol indicates a trill, beginning on the auxiliary note.” Quote from
.

 

It seems that I have been playing inverted mordents when I should have been playing trills in Bach's music! Presumably, this also applies to Boehm. I have recently being looking at Boehm’s Vater unser im Himmelreich in Anne Marsden Thomas’ Oxford Service Music for Organ and playing mordants and inverted mordants as (I thought) notated.

 

However, is this issue as black and white as the above quote suggests? And when did the inverted mordent make its first appearance?

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In the early 60s I used to be very annoyed by players that did not begin their trills on the upper note. However the issue was correctly stated in the preface of Dupre Edition Bach organ works; and in the outstanding organ tutor series by Flor Peeters Ars Organi. However the first extensive discussion I found was in the book by Putnam Aldrich on the Ornamentation in Bach's organ music; an online copy can be found here or you can get other formats from here.

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One of the (many) gaps in my musical knowledge concerns ornaments. They simply didn't crop up much when I was learning as a child.

 

 

===========================

 

 

Oh well! We've had our riot, and now we're in the hornet's nest. I'm almost glad I shall be away for a couple of days while everyone mulls over this one. ;)

 

MM

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In the early 60s I used to be very annoyed by players that did not begin their trills on the upper note. ...

 

Thanks, Douglas, I've grabbed the PDF from your second link.

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===========================

 

 

Oh well! We've had our riot, and now we're in the hornet's nest. I'm almost glad I shall be away for a couple of days while everyone mulls over this one. ;)

 

MM

 

It's head down time here too I think........!

 

A

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It seems that I have been playing inverted mordents when I should have been playing trills in Bach's music! Presumably, this also applies to Boehm. I have recently being looking at Boehm’s Vater unser im Himmelreich in Anne Marsden Thomas’ Oxford Service Music for Organ and playing mordants and inverted mordants as (I thought) notated.

 

However, is this issue as black and white as the above quote suggests? And when did the inverted mordent make its first appearance?

 

All of Böhm's organ works have been handed down through transcriptions, ie.no manuscripts survive. The Breitkopf edition prints a moderately ornamented version of Vater unser and reproduces, in the Appendix, a highly (Frenchified?) ornamented version in J G Walther's hand, which also appears in other modern editions such as Faber.

 

I must admit I don't which one I should be playing. The Walther version is attractive, provided one can fit in all those extra notes elegantly and convincingly.

 

JS

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I'd simply say "do whatever fits the music best" - there are times when a trill can be worked out, but others when a mordent is all that can be achieved in the given location at the assumed tempo.

 

Furthermore, one is at liberty to ignore certain ornaments or add one's own. The existence of alternative "ornamented versions" of Bach's Passacaglia and Canzona in d (in Barenreiter Vol. 7) goes to show that one can take things to extremes or keep them plain. After all, the distinction between composer and performer was not so clear cut in those days as it is now, so taking liberty with ornamentation would surely not have the composer spinning in his grave quite so much as ignoring the notes themselves...

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I'd simply say "do whatever fits the music best" - there are times when a trill can be worked out, but others when a mordent is all that can be achieved in the given location at the assumed tempo.

 

Furthermore, one is at liberty to ignore certain ornaments or add one's own. The existence of alternative "ornamented versions" of Bach's Passacaglia and Canzona in d (in Barenreiter Vol. 7) goes to show that one can take things to extremes or keep them plain. After all, the distinction between composer and performer was not so clear cut in those days as it is now, so taking liberty with ornamentation would surely not have the composer spinning in his grave quite so much as ignoring the notes themselves...

 

================================

 

 

Although recognising that there is no ONE way to play Bach, the subject of ornamentation has not only been clouded by "evidence" lifted from the classical and romantic periods, it has been clouded further by a sort of "benefit of hindsight" improvement. Listen to the way many performers of Bach's clavier music have sought to "Frenchify" it by the use of inegales.

 

Now I am the first to acknowledge the fact that Bach may well have started with German and Italian models initially, and then discovered the French tradition, but was it ever to the extent of fully blown inegalite?

 

Somehow, I have serious doubts, because once linear flow is sacrificed to vertical detail and irregular rhythm, the music seems to fall apart to my ears; yet there are those who swear by it. It is also a way that trills can be made to fit the melodic line, and once again, I find this irksome and distracting.

 

Surely, ornaments are minor embelishments in all German baroque music, including Bach's?

 

I'm no linguist. I'm afraid, but it seems to me that there is a formal regularity in the German language, which transfers easily and naturally to the music. The complex rhythms and inegalities of the French language are right for French baroque music.

 

But isn't it a bit like listening to the policeman speaking in " 'Allo 'Allo" when the two are mixed up?

 

MM

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Now I am the first to acknowledge the fact that Bach may well have started with German and Italian models initially, and then discovered the French tradition, but was it ever to the extent of fully blown inegalite?

Not necessarily that much later, if at all. The obituary tells us that, while still a teenage student at Lüneburg, Bach frequently heard the Duke of Celle's band, which consisted largely of Frenchmen, and that this gave him a good grounding in the French taste. Of course, it is a big leap from there to the assumption that his music must be played in the French style. One would think the dotted opening of the E flat major prelude ought to be played in the jerky, detached, French overture style, but Bach's slurs suggest otherwise.

 

I would think that the sort of ornaments we are discussing (as opposed to what the English called "divisions") are best seen as simple graces to the contrapuntal line. I don't think they should ever become an end in themselves.

 

Is the ornamented version of the Canzona actually for organ? I don't know anything about the manuscript concerned.

 

As to when the inverted mordent first appeared, there is some evidence in the organ music of John Redford (d.1547) that one interpretation (not necessarily the only one) of the standard, double-stroke, "English virginalist" ornament is an inverted mordent before the beat.

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================================

 

The complex rhythms and inegalities of the French language are right for French baroque music.

At the risk of digressing too much from the original topic, nothing is clear cut. The Ouvertures of Bach's four orchestral Suites, for example, surely need to be approached with an understanding of French baroque playing styles, as will those various French dances which follow them. The C minor Fantasia (BWV 562) is sometimes given a French interpretation, but it's debatable whether or not it should extend to the use of inegalité. Incidentally, the E flat Prelude (BWV 552i) does work wonderfully in the French Ouverture style, but one needs to hear an orchestra convey the graceful and rhythmic character of the style - and yet maintaining a sense of line - before trying it on the organ.

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At the risk of digressing too much from the original topic, nothing is clear cut. The Ouvertures of Bach's four orchestral Suites, for example, surely need to be approached with an understanding of French baroque playing styles, as will those various French dances which follow them. The C minor Fantasia (BWV 562) is sometimes given a French interpretation, but it's debatable whether or not it should extend to the use of inegalité. Incidentally, the E flat Prelude (BWV 552i) does work wonderfully in the French Ouverture style, but one needs to hear an orchestra convey the graceful and rhythmic character of the style - and yet maintaining a sense of line - before trying it on the organ.

 

 

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Indeed, nothing is clear-cut, even from the pen of J S Bach himself.

 

The second Contrapunctus from the Art of Fugue, is a classic example. Presumably, Bach was trying to notate inegalite, but it is nothing of the sort! What we find is merely a dotted rhythm throughout; even allowing for the German penchant for over-dotting.

 

This does not compare with the inegalite derived from Lute playing, which found a certain complex formality as the baroque reached its maturity; even if no two composers ever agreed on how to do what.

 

Mordents and inverted mordents, you ask?

 

Well, try this if you will.

 

Take the slow (middle) movement of the 1st Eb Trio Sonata, and when everything inverts, try inverting all the original ornaments too.

 

Now I am not saying this is authentic or even correct, but the effect is so utterly gorgeous, it transforms a rather ordinary inversion into something so beautifully melodic, it is difficult to then play it any other way.

 

I think this is what I did by accident and experimentation, and then heard the late James Dalton do something very similar.....I knew I was on safe ground.

 

This is surely the secret of much baroque music.....a willingness to explore, develop and express in a very personal way, which was apprently quite normal; the performer being a part of the compositional process. The exact notation which forms the basis of the classical and romantic periods, marks the moment that musicians became the servants to art and the wishes of the composer.

 

That's why the genius of Bach still inspires, and where musicians become creative.....whether that is James Dalton, Ton Koopman or the Swingel Singers.

 

Indeed, nothing is clear cut.

 

MM

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==================================

 

 

This is surely the secret of much baroque music.....a willingness to explore, develop and express in a very personal way, which was apprently quite normal; the performer being a part of the compositional process. The exact notation which forms the basis of the classical and romantic periods, marks the moment that musicians became the servants to art and the wishes of the composer.

 

Hear, hear!

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Yes, the "correct" interpretation of ornamentation is a major problem, especially for those who are still entrenched in the attitude of if it isn't marked in the score then it should not be played. François Couperin (1668-1733 and mcuh admired by Bach) wrote in the preface to his 3rd book of harpsichord pieces that people were playing his pieces without observing the most careful indication of ornamenst and that this practice must cease!!! Almost certainly an exception. Don't forget that Georg Muffat was one of the earliest to compose in both the French, German and Italian styles.

 

The carefully codified tables from the 17th century onwards from France and Germany of ornament symbols and their interpretation tend towards an agreement between the various composers, but in ENgland during the 18th century there is so much confusion, for example one sign may have up to 6 different interpretations from different method-book authors (none of the three main treatises of the late 18th century offer any advice on ornamentation).

 

Siegbert Rampe has mentioned that trills in Hamburg began on the main note well into the 1720s, and certainly the trills in the 17th century German contrapuntal pieces and Toccatas should follow the Italian model of commecing on the main note. Returning to Böhm, none of the MSS are autograph, and the Walther MSS are notoriously heavily ornamented using many French signs subsequently used by Bach in his table for WF. Another contentious issue is whether to play on or before the beat, the written-out evidence offers scanty clues, especially the early 16th century English composers.

 

I still have great difficulty in getting my college students to play Iberian pieces with any sense of style - but that is another matter! Ultimately there is still a responsibility for today's performer to approach performance practice from a standpoint of historical awareness and to decide which of the treatises one will follow (wheer there is one!).

 

Happy days and enjoy all the research.

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