Ornamentation on Viola d'amore

My first ornamentation page!

Free, or 'arbitrary' ornamentation, is one practice of the baroque that is too little employed today. The main hurdle to a wider understanding of ornamentation is that examples from the period are not easy to obtain. This is too bad, because free ornamentation is fun.

The surviving manuscript of Christian Pezold's partitas for viola d'amore have a number of period graces scribbled in, and on this page I present 4 of these to illustate ornamentation as it was in 1710, just as J S Bach began to compose most of his music.


I presented the following examples at my Viola d'amore Unpetrified lecture demo at TBSI June 2009. Another page will follow soon, with some of my examples from my Corelli Unpetrified Presentation. If you are a string player considering attending the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Workshop, consider learning these examples before you arrive, you'll get so much more from the workshop.

The first example is a Gavott from the Partita in F. What makes this manuscript fascinating to me, is that it is a working copy, with examples of free, or arbitrary ornmentation from some of the first players of the music in the manuscript.

Video of this Gavott

A couple of points: First of all, like hundreds of thousands of similar baroque dances, this movment in is binary form, AB. Because each section is repeated, the form the listener hears is actually AABB. The player has written almost no ornaments except at the Petite Reprise. The second point is that there are two versions of this reprise. Listen to the clip, then ask you: Why are there two sets of graces?


More than one answer is possible. But my feeling is that the player, having got the first version written down, realized that she had not been inventive enough. She did the same elaboration in each half bar, (I am jumping to the conclusion that the first version is in the lower ossia line from bar 12.)


In the second version she fixes this by treating each half bar member in the sequence slightly differently. Maybe it is too strong to say it is "fixed"; maybe it is more accurate to say I feel as a player that it is important to treat each part of a sequence slightly differently.


I say she, by the way, because we know that Pezold′s wife owned two violas d′amore. Some writers, however, say the graces are by Pisendel, a very important violinist of the time.


The next movement is


Saraband from Partita in A

(By the way, all the bass lines in these examples are my own creation. As I have said elsewhere in this site, the original bass part for this music has been lost.)

I am grateful to Leon King for pointing out to me that there are multiple layers/ versions of the music in these manuscripts. I completed the PR in this case. But maybe all that was meant was bar 17 was to be graced.


What I like about introducing graces only at the end of a movement, what I have called the Petite Reprise so far on this page, is the quite amazing impact for the small amount of creative effort. This is very fanciful of me, but for me, adding one of these graced ornaments at the end of a movement, is like reading a famous lyric poem, out loud, and adding your own take at the end. For example: Take Frost′s Stopping in the woods on a snowy evening.


The last lines are


The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep.


Thats the original, now I am going to PR the last line:

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep

I sure hope my daughter hasn′t moved in with that creep!


It seems to me that ornamentation has the potential for a similar transformation, albeit of musical meaning.



The next example is maybe my favorite:


Rondeau from Partita


in A

I would have expected that the rondeau theme itself would have been the subjuct of graces. For a great example of varying the A sections, listen to Mozart's A minor Rondo, K. 511. This time, however, the 18th century player graced the B and C sections.  Rondeau is a kind of layer cake form, where an A section, the rondeau theme itself, alternates with B, and C′s. And I think the reason the player introduced chances in the sections which are heard each only once, is that the original writing is so dorky. The graced version is an improvement, Less Dorky! There are lots of times in life I settle for Less Dorky, know what I mean? Almost every day. This is ornmentation as means of solving technical problems of fingering the instrument, and avoiding the unbearably silly. I used this catagory of ornamentation a great deal in my recordings of the music of Attilio Ariosti.


The most touching uses of arbitrary ornamentation, also my favorite, however, appear in the following Aria:


Aria from Partita in A

I played the graces on the repeats, although I really don′t know what the original players would have done. It seems to me that in this case the addition of graces really transforms this movement, from something fairly anonymous, to a very personal expressive musical moment. I am thinking, the original notes are kind of like a cake without icing. And what kind of a cake is that?


In all of my examples so far, the added graces also give us information about tempo, too, it seems to me. Seeing all the 32nd notes in this aria, I know what kind of tempo the movement pretty much has to have.


So, on this page I have presented some period graces ca. 1710, as a means of adding personal conclusion to a movement, as "graceful" ways of getting around musical/technical problems, and really adding quality to something very ordinary.



On the Corelli page I will present examples for violinists.