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Stylus Phantasticus

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I am acutely embarrassed at having to ask this, but when I was a student no one ever so much as mentioned the term.

 

How do you interpret pieces in the "stylus phantasticus"? As far as I can gather, it means treating the notated rhythm very freely indeed, subjugating it entirely to the rhetoric of the music. Is that correct, or have I got it all wrong? If I'm right, can I go and dance on the grave of the chap who insisted that I play Bach's Fantasia in G minor BWV 542 in strict time?

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I am acutely embarrassed at having to ask this, but when I was a student no one ever so much as mentioned the term.

 

How do you interpret pieces in the "stylus phantasticus"? As far as I can gather, it means treating the notated rhythm very freely indeed, subjugating it entirely to the rhetoric of the music. Is that correct, or have I got it all wrong? If I'm right, can I go and dance on the grave of the chap who insisted that I play Bach's Fantasia in G minor BWV 542 in strict time?

 

------------------------------------

 

I'm not sure that I know what it means either, but isn't the term used to describe the free, improvisatory style of Northern German virtuoso violinists?

 

I seem to recall Biber and his mistuned strings come into it somewhere.....but that may be just a gut reaction. :rolleyes:

 

It's interesting that the G minor Fantasy could be thus regarded, because it seems to me to not especially improvisatory except, perhaps, in the idea of a certain freedomof interpretation.

 

There is, however, one organ work which really MUST qualify for this description, and that is the wonderful Bruhns E minor (the one we all play, not the other one).

 

If one sticks to strict rhythm and the notes as writ, this is quite a tedious work.

 

Do things with it, pull the timing this way and that, invent interludes, runs, arpeggios, fill in the block chords with elebaorte ornamentation, and think in terms of rhapsodic, improvised violin playing, and the work just leaps into life.

 

I think this is far, far closer to the mythical "fantasticus" than the Bach G-minor, and it comes straight from the pen of a virtuoso violinist/organist full of youthful exuberance and wild imagination.

 

Who knows? Bruhns may well have turned out to be a leading figure in this style of playing, but he probably died far too young for him ever to be included in the circle of violinists who were the most celebrated exponents of the art.

 

 

MM

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Here is a page (in german):

 

http://www.funline-skaten.de/musiche/stylus_phantasticus.htm

 

It seems to be a kind of improvisatory way of interpretation, a "free"

style, of the 20th century. Maybe a reaction against academism

in the baroque music.

See the names cited in the article like Les arts florissants, William Christie...

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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Here is a page (in german):

 

http://www.funline-skaten.de/musiche/stylus_phantasticus.htm

 

It seems to be a kind of improvisatory way of interpretation, a "free"

style, of the 20th century. Maybe a reaction against academism

in the baroque music.

See the names cited in the article like Les arts florissants, William Christie...

 

 

 

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

 

 

Some weeks back (in what context I cannot recall) I mentioned the existence of Italian musicians in the far northern Hanseatic region of Germany during the 17th century. I also mentioned that there was a very large music library in the same area, but I don't know the prime sources for this information, which came to me via an article written by Prof. Turner of Newcastle University here in the UK.

 

However, sources or no sources, there are certain things we do know.

 

Travelling Italian musicians were very commonplace in northern Germany, and there were complaints about the sheer numbers of them in many German orchestras. (I think Mattheson was one complainent?)

 

They brought with them the highly florid and developed style of Italian violin playing, at a time when the violin was not entirely respectable in Germany; the court instrument being the lute and the church instrument being the organ.

 

The lute had long been the instrument on which florid melody was accompanied by often improvised harmony and elaborate accompaniment, with numerous flourishes and arpeggios (expanded chords), which of course, spilled over into the world of keyboard playing.

 

At a time when Lute and Keyboard music was indeed "fantastic" in the extreme, it was Biber (among others) who adopted and transcribed the same style, and with his famous (infamous?) style of "scordatura" playing (with mistuned strings) he could use chords and arpeggios which were not normally possible on the violin.

 

Thus, there is this very strong element of free-improvisation and melodic invention found in the genres of string and keyboard playing in the Italian baroque.

 

Now, not only did string-players sweep North from Italy to capture the attention of German musicians and the aristocracy, they must have brought with them at least some of the elements of this "fantastic" style.

 

It may not be apossible to answer the question, but one might reasonably raise it.

 

Why did Bach stagger 200 miles on foot to Lubeck?

 

Was it just to hear a few organ recitals?

 

Somehow, that doesn't seem quite a good enough excuse to suffer blisters, downpours and the pain of walking that sort of distance, yet he was motivated to go to hear for himself, what great things were happening in the far north.

 

Bach took up the slightly "naughty" violin, we known that.....a bit like picking up a saxophone to-day.

 

Bach was a Lutenist, we know that also.

 

Throw them in the pot and boil for a while, adding to it the florid stylistic elements of Buxtehude and Bruhns, and you begin to see the music of Bach a little differently.

 

C P E Bach, in writing to Bach;s biographer Forkel, suggested that hif father had studied the work of Bruhns carefully and admired him. Bruhns himself was a gifted violinist; again surrounded by other equally gifted Italian violinists. It is know that Bruhns improvised on the violin and accompanied himself with the organ-pedals as he did so.

 

Look at the sectional writing of Buxtehide and Bruhns (his pupil), and what you see looks like a collection of bit-parts from the movies very often. This applies especially to the Bruhns E-minor. Applying the Italian concept of arpeggios, freely improvised embelishment and elastic timing, the creative fantasy lies in the ability to make the mood of the music change suddenly, and with great dramatic impact.

 

We don't know how Bach played his organ-music, or even hos he conducted his great choral works, but I would instinctively say to all those who think that Bach was an academic composer who stuck to one manual, never quickened or slowed his rate of knots on the hoof and who played in a straightforward way.....go and listen to the evidence of the music in which he immersed himself as a young man, and which must have greatly moved and influenced him as a STRING player.

 

We can so easily become too organ biased when looking at baroque music generally; forgetting that music was both a popular form of entertainment and a courtly form of entertainment.

 

For me, the WHOLE of Bach is, indeed, "Stylus Phantasticus" from start to finish.

 

MM

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There is, however, one organ work which really MUST qualify for this description, and that is the wonderful Bruhns E minor (the one we all play, not the other one).
Um... don't we all play both? Just to clarify, I take it you mean the longer one? That is indeed wonderful (the other is only excellent).

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Guest Lee Blick
We don't know how Bach played his organ-music, or even hos he conducted his great choral works, but I would instinctively say to all those who think that Bach was an academic composer who stuck to one manual, never quickened or slowed his rate of knots on the hoof and who played in a straightforward way.....go and listen to the evidence of the music in which he immersed himself as a young man, and which must have greatly moved and influenced him as a STRING player.

 

I agree. Nothing worse then hearing Bach played in a totally controlled and souless way.

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I agree. Nothing worse then hearing Bach played in a totally controlled and souless way.

 

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

 

I recall something Peter Hurford said when interviewed about the double-take recording sessions he did of the entire Bach organ-works. (I'm not sure if they were recorded at the same time or seperately).

 

One set of recordings he regarded as "archive" material, and in the BBC recordings, he set out to simulate the effect of "live performance."

 

I can't recall his words exactly, but to paraphrase, Peter Hurford said something on the lines of:-

 

"The first set are very accurate (The LP recordings), but the BBC recordings were less pedantic, slightly less accurate and more spotaneous."

 

I seem to recall that he went on to suggest that he enjoyed doing the BBC recordings rather more than the LP "archive" recordings, but please don't quote me on that......it was about 25 years ago when I listened to that interview.

 

Recently, I've been dotting every crotchet and getting very cross with myself, trying to learn the 12/8 C major P & F down to the last tiny detail, with a view to recording it. There are one or two tricky moments in both Prelude and Fugue, where inner-parts are held, and in the past, I've been quite happy to make life a little easier and ignore absolute accuracy; concentrating instead on the artistic overall effect.

 

Could this be what Peter Hurford meant?

 

I find that placing too much emphasis on being absolutely correct, can so easily detract from musicianship.

 

Is this why great scholars are sometimes (but no always) relatively unconvincing performers?

 

I wonder if I have the right mental attitude, but whenever I play a recital, I learn the notes well enough beforehand, but on the day, I just throw caution to the wind and "go for it."

 

I suppose it's the difference between creative-writing and doing the Times crossword.

 

Which benefits mankind most?

 

MM

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------------------------------------

I'm not sure that I know what it means either, but isn't the term used to describe the free, improvisatory style of Northern German virtuoso violinists?

I seem to recall Biber and his mistuned strings come into it somewhere.....but that may be just a gut reaction.  :rolleyes:

The context of the term is actually a bit different. I don't have Athanasius Kircher's "Musurgia universalis" at home, but I remember his categorization: There is the "Church style" -- strict polyphonic writing, stylus antiquus --, the "Chamber style" -- music for dancing and entertainment --, and the "Theatre style" -- operatic music that is meant to move the soul of the listener. These styles can be applied to all kinds of musical writing, be it keyboard, violin, vocal etc.

 

The "Stylus phantasticus" is the most extreme form of "Theatre style" in that it not only moves the "affectum" of the listener -- "affectus" being a somewhat mechanistic term for emotion --, but changes the affects often and drastically. An opera singer in an Arioso recitative, a violinist in a Biber Sonata, or an organist in a Praeludium can do that by permanently and surprisingly changing the pace, genre, and texture of the music, by applying all kinds of expressive ornamentation and modulation etc. Bruhns' E-Minor is the most extreme example for this kind of writing.

 

Bach, in a way, never got it right, and apparently wasn't aiming at it. Look at his his E-Major Praeludium, that follows the five-section model of the North-German praeludium, but is not half as exciting as any Buxtehude toccata. Apparently, Bach always tried to find unity in variety. For example, the BWV 532 (D-Major) praeludium was as close to "stylus phantasticus" writing as he ever got; but still, he braces the three-section praeludium with virtuosic scales (the first, notoriously, for the feet) that designate the sections and bind them together.

 

The G-Minor Fantasia, in a way, uses "stylus phantasticus" writing in that it changes the mood, pace and key quite unexpectedly in some places. Only the writing is confined to two or maybe three different textures (recitative, durezze ed ligature, and maybe pedal point toccata), where Buxtehude, Bruhns e tutti quanti would use five or six different kinds of texture, including dances, strict polyphony, chaconnes etc. Bach apparently wanted to avoid too much variety in order to create the piece as a whole, avoiding the danger of the sections falling apart. With the F-Major toccata BWV 540, he arrived at the longest "praeludium" type of piece ever known to organists, and he managed to use not more than two different kinds of texture (pedal toccata and concerto-style writing).

 

Bach must have been more than glad to find a model like the Italian ritornello concerto, which allowed for as much unity and variety as anyone could whish for, without endangering the listener to lose track of the music in its entirety.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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Guest Lee Blick
but is not half as exciting as any Buxtehude toccata

 

I really do love playing Buxtehude. I know they are technically easier to play but to me they are all distinctively difficult and you can really let go on them. At the end of the performance I get a sense of enjoyment. At the end of a Bach work, after all the technical concentration, I feel I am happy to have made it to the end.

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The context of the term is actually a bit different. I don't have Athanasius Kircher's "Musurgia universalis" at home, but I remember his categorization: There is the "Church style" -- strict polyphonic writing, stylus antiquus --, the "Chamber style" -- music for dancing and entertainment --, and the "Theatre style" -- operatic music that is meant to move the soul of the listener. These styles can be applied to all kind of musical writing, be it keyboard, violin, vocal etc.

 

The "Stylus phantasticus" is the most extreme form of "Theatre style" in that it not only moves the "affectum" of the listener -- "affectus" being a somewhat mechanistic term for emotion --, but changes the affects often and drastically. An opera singer in an Arioso recitative, a violinist in a Biber Sonata, or an organist in a Praeludium can do that by permanently and surprisingly changing the pace, genre, and texture of the music, by applying all kinds of expressive ornamentation and modulation etc. Bruhns' E-Minor is the most extreme example for this kind of writing.

 

 

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

 

 

Now this is what I call a bit of scholarship Friederich!

 

That's filled in all those little details I was far too lazy to remember, and also provides a better perspective of Bach's music than my own miserable efforts.

 

I'm sure that Friederich is absolutely right about the linear nature of Bach's organ-works, and the sense of structural-integrity in the writing.

 

It is perhaps, more in the choral works that sudden and dramatic emotional change surfaces, and there can be no better example than the St.Matthew Passion, where it can be absolutely hair-raising.

 

Remember the criticism of Bach's "operatic" style at Leipzig, which did not meet with universal approval by any means.

 

I was out driving last evening, and listened to the Bach Easter Oratorio, an organ Trio Sonata (the C major) and a couple of Cantatas. The conductor made the point about Bach's use of the German word "Lacht," and how it was impossible to sing it without looking as if one was laughing and smiling. Bach went to town and made this a very prominent feature of the Cantata.

 

I listen to something like the St.Matthew Passion, and my jaw drops when I hear Bach's musical word-painting time and time again. The crowd really do shout "Crucify", people really do mock and scorn and God gets seriously angry as he pulls the big thunderstorm trick.

 

But of course, Bach was the first great romantic, though others will immediately dispute that.

 

However, his music....all of it.....is full of life and humanity, and if we don't play it that way, it dies.

 

MM

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Nothing worse then hearing Bach played in a totally controlled and souless way.

But be careful to separate those. I have heard many "rhapsodic" performances that actually were merely flabby; but Anton Heiller's recordings (as a particular example), although strict, have a compelling drive that makes them marvellous rather than tedious - I wish there were more of them!

 

Paul

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

Recently, I've been dotting every crotchet and getting very cross with myself, trying to learn the 12/8 C major P & F down to the last tiny detail, with a view to recording it. There are  one or two tricky moments in both Prelude and Fugue, where inner-parts are held, and in the past, I've been quite happy to make life a little easier and ignore absolute accuracy; concentrating instead on the artistic overall effect.

 

MM

 

Do you mean the 9/8 P&F? If so, try the Cochereau recording - it is probably the least scholarly or pedantic version which you will ever hear....

 

Personally I love it!

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Do you mean the 9/8 P&F? If so, try the Cochereau recording - it is probably the least scholarly or pedantic version which you will ever hear....

 

Personally I love it!

 

 

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

 

Oh yes, 9/8 it is.....well we WERE discussing Stylus Phantisticus!

 

 

 

:blink:

 

 

MM

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Well, quite.

 

Actually, I had never heard of it, either.

 

Initially, I was unable to decide whether it was a useful accessory for my old LP turntable - or whether it was something to do with Virgil Fox....

 

:)

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Reading about Bruhns and all that's been said of him in this discussion, I idly wondered whether bars 96-111 of the E minor Praeludium & Fuge could/should in fact be played on the violin, with organ pedals at the appropriate points ?

 

I'm no fiddle player but it looks pretty straightforward from where I'm standing.

 

Any thoughts ?

 

H

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Reading about Bruhns and all that's been said of him in this discussion,  I idly wondered whether bars 96-111 of the E minor Praeludium & Fuge could/should in fact be played on the violin,  with organ pedals at the appropriate points ?

 

I'm no fiddle player but it looks pretty straightforward from where I'm standing.

 

Any thoughts ?

 

H

 

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

 

 

I think it could indeed be played thus, but whether it SHOULD be played thus is another thing!

 

What a good idea in might be to describe musical performance in words, but as we're now quoting bar numbers (Thank God it's only got one # .....I get a bit lost after three! :) )

 

Going through the Bruhns E-minor; this is how I play it.

 

Opening single line of notes on full pleno with pedal reed, starting off quite slow, but rapidly accelerating until the second crotchet measure of bar 3, when I stamp on the brakes just before the pedal point E, back to the original starting tempo. Quick burst of acelerator and then brake through bar 4 and a long pleno chord through bar 5. Throughout this section, slightly detached playing style.

 

At bar 6 (18/16 time), I play super legato on 8 & 4ft flutes, with a quiet pedal supporting it....fairly strict timing throughout, but with a slight rallentando for the end of bar 10.

 

Bar 7.....fairly strict timing on 8, 4 & 2ft chorus with suitable pedal, but adding trills on ALL the G#'s found in bars 7 & 8 (including the pedal).

 

Bars 9, 10 and 11 fairly relaxed but slightly jaunty.

 

Bars 12 to 20 tricky.......they need, IMHO, to be pulled around a little, but they are essentially fanfares which lead to the first fugal section. However, I always add registration at bar 18, taking things back to the pleno with pedal reed heard at the start.

 

I don't personally play around with timing too much in the fugal section, but I do tend to add trills to the leading notes as and when the occur in all parts. I think things jog along nicely until bar 78; the texture of the writing constantly changing as voices drop in and out, and requiring no registrational changes or dramatic help.

 

At bars 78-80, I tend to have a grand rallentando which almost grinds to a halt.

 

I find bars 81 to 89 the trickiest of all, and it is here that the work can fall apart.

 

I use the Peters edition (are there others?) and at bar 81, there is, I think a slightly misleading editorial "Allegro" which is similarly inserted at bar 86, but I think the "Adagio" at the end of bar 84 is original. I suspect that this is merely Bruhns' way of ensuring that there is a sesne of drama with the use of a very pointed rallentando at the close of bar 84, which I instinctively feel really only applies for that brief moment only. The reason for this, is the repeat of the fanfare motive at bar 86, so it shouldn't be too bity. I thinks it's a case of balancing freedom against strict fanfare motives. Also note, there MAY be an error or two in the Peters edition with the fanfare motives in bars 82 and 87. Sorry to be a bit pedantic here, but drop the F# of the second crotchet measure of bar 82 into the bass clef, and re-write the similar fanfare motive of bar 87 so that it matches what I do with the fanfare motive in bar 82. I'm sure that's what Bruhns intended, but whether he got it wrong or not, I don't know. It makes a difference however!

 

Bar 89, I would suggest that the same comments apply to the Adagio of bar 89 as before.

 

Bars 90 to 94 are straightforward enough, but in the Peters edition, there is an editorial pianissimo marked for the last measure or so of bar 92, which I feel is absolutely in the spirit of the work, and which makes a lovely contrast when played on a different registration such as 8 & 2 ft flutes.

 

Bar 95 and the 6/8 is marked "Harpeggio"......pure string writing, with almost an added plucked bass. Think violin....think Paganini....but don't kill the line in favour of bit-section drama. There is a treble melody in each two-bar sections, which deserves to be heard unmolested by unnecessary fragmentation. Nevertheless, there is room for great freedom and expressive use of rubato throughout this section.

 

Bar 112 should, I think, be mysterious and quiet....perhaps a single 8ft diapason or flute, with free embelishments as take your fancy....be inventive; perhaps adding little string-like flourishes to fill-in the gaps. It is possible (and my own preference) to add registration through this section, as it builds up to the Presto at bar 120. This would be possible even on a period instrument.

 

Bar 120...full pleno with pedal reed....detached and highly dramatic. I always use an extended double trill on the top G in the RH and the E in the LH, just before the "Adagio" mark at the start of bar 126.

 

Bars 126 - 131 fairly straightforward, but always difficult to keep under firm control....perhaps a little puling about of the timing, but nothing excessive.

 

For Bar 132 (12/8), the "Allegro" mark in the Peters is just a resumption of the normal pace. I always over-dot the dotted quavers slightly, to make the "hop, skip and jump" routine a marked feature of this section; knocking off any pedal reeds for the sake of clrity, and leaving something is reserve for the big "Hollywood" ending.

 

Bars 132 through to the end are straightforward enough, but I tend to follow the editorial dynamic markings, after bar 150, changing registration and/or manuals as a way of making a pointed diminuendo. My only point, would be to freely add trills and other ornaments, but if that be the case, they should be matched with others in the innder parts and even the pedals; not just for the sake of musical nicety, but for very valid musical reasons.

 

Bar 154 should have, I think, a very staccato last chord, but if this is so, then the end of the next bar needs to be re-written to match. I can't help thinking that the dotted minims are just plain daft, and possibly a bit of musical sloppiness on Bruhn's part.....but hey-ho....to be a music-critic eh?

 

Bar 160.....32ft reed please, if you've got one or have an assistant who knows how to fake one.

 

Now the big "Hollywood" ending.....don't laugh!

 

I always think of a line of chorus-girls (or boys....no prejudices here). They line up, join hands, and as you reach that last chord, just insert a tiny bit of delay and daylight as they all drop to their knees to (hopefully) thunderous applause.

 

It works every-time, unless it's in a catholic church, and you discover that "they" have all gone across to the church hall for the weekly numbers "draw" and a pint!

 

It's a wonderful, dramatic work and I think you can guess that I enjoy playing it; especially since I have an organ which sounds like a junior version of St.Bavo in an acoustic to match

 

MM

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

 

 

Going through the Bruhns E-minor; this is how I play it.

 

Thanks, MM, for this very informative description. It so happens that I've had a copy of the Bruhns in the cupboard for years, and I think you've inspired me to learn it!

 

The edition I have is the Breitkopf (orange cover), and you may be interested to know that your changes to bars 82 and 87 are consistent with this edition. Also, it has none of the "Allegro" marks you mention.

 

JJK

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I've just bought Ulrik Spang-Hanssen's 6-CD set of complete Buxtehude organ works (there are copies going cheap on Ebay). There's a lot of stylus phantasticus in his playing and very instructive it is too. My feeling is that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but I think that's probably inherent in playing in this style - you have to live dangerously! My main criticism is that the bravura and panache more or less dictates a fast pulse - or at least it does in his case - and I'm not convinced that the music always needs it. But I'm sure there are ways of bringing this style off at a slower speed - or rather, perhaps, woith more flexibility of speed - and I'm currently working on it with encouraging preliminary results.

 

I've slowed a lot of my Buxtehude playing down a tad recently. A case in point is the well-known D minor P&F - the one that begins with semiquavers in sixths over a tonic pedal. I've come to prefer an imperious opening (not slow, but certainly not dashing): it gives the music more power and depth. Another one is the Bruhns small E minor where I've heard some ridiculously fast openings that make the oscillating pedal octaves sound terribly trite. Slowed down they sound quite menacingly insistent and the isolated manual chords are all the more dramatic for having extra space between them. But needless to say it all depends on the organ and acoustic.

 

Despite my reservations about the playing, I'd recommend this set to anyone. Complete Buxtehude may be a bit too much of a Good Thing, but with 6 CDs for little more (or even less) than the price of one, you can't go wrong.

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Guest Roffensis

And there was me thinking Stylus Fantasticus referred to the old BSR record decks that all the cheapo Dansettes boasted, and which were guaranteed to chew your valued record collection to bits as they played. One sighs as one recalls the delightful Fablon covered box sounds of the "Ballroom Princess" with fitted stiif stylus chewing up Widor's Toccata from Selby Abbey (Germani), tracking at about 5 grammes. Oh well, my bubble is burst.

Richard :angry:

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As I understand it, Stylus P refers to a specific performance style within the set of c16-17 German/Baroque styles known as Stage (as opposed to Churh or Chamber). ie it is essentially dramatic/flamboyant an non-metrical.

 

Some years ago I was told, by an Italian Tutor, that SP was either 'free' or 'metrical'; this depended on whether the music was 'improvisatory' or 'imitative'.

 

It seems to work when I try this, but...

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