In preparing for my upcoming lectures and workshops, I’ve been thinking a lot about ornamentation in baroque music and most importantly, the affect of ornamentation. What often goes missing in the general conversation is what to do when. Ornaments definitely contribute to an expression and should not be applied arbitrarily. And then depending on how you play an ornament, you can achieve so many varied nuances which can truly enhance the overall enjoyment of a piece, for the audience as well as for us performers.
Take a mordent for example, which can usually be characterized as a joyous, brilliant gesture. To play a mordent (pincé) instead of where a port de voix (appoggiatura) should go could change the affect completely and go against the music.
A case in point is the lovely "Le Rossignol en amour" by François Couperin, who indicated that this piece can be played on the flute(originally for harpsichord), if played well.
You see in the opening gesture the first mordent (1), but Couperin continues the phrase subsequently with adding a port de voix and a mordent (2). Couperin didn't write this small differentiation based on his whims, but it was a deliberate choice in this stepwise part of the melody, because it's the appropriate place to introduce the charming sentiment which prevails the piece. Try swapping out the port de voix and just simply play the mordent at (2). You'll find that all of a sudden the music has a very different character. Perhaps proud, or stately, but certainly not tender and endearing, which is what we want to experience in this piece. Try continuing even further with only mordents - at (3) it feels ungraceful and would definitely not belong there.
Not all baroque composers wrote down the little graces so carefully and consistently as Couperin did. So by observing and understanding which ornaments go where and why, we can then also learn how to ornament on our own, more in style and according to the taste of the music!
ABOUT THE BLOG:
I got inspired to document my own observations in flute-playing and music-making. Also, I thought it's important to pass on the teachings of the great Wilbert Hazelzet, as well as many other mentors who have influenced my artistic visions one way or the other. Enjoy this potpourri of tips, inspirations, and musings.
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