ornmentation for violinists

Now, Free or arbitrary ornamentation for the violin:

I would like to share with you what I have found out about Corelli, but lets start with an example by Tartini: (you may want to open the video in a new tab.)

Adagio from varie de plusiurs facons differentes by Tartini. Performed by Genevieve Gilardeau Baroque Violin and Lucas Harris Baroque Lute at the Beaches Baroque concert in Toronto Sept 2009

This is a rounded binary form. which we might write out as AA Ba'Ba'. Here is a score.

The performers take both repeats, and the violinist plays Tartini's Graces on the repeats.

I like this example a lot. It seems to me that Tartini, in his choice of wiggles and wobbles, is the kind of musician who prefers the showy to the profound. Nevertheless, I feel he  has the same feeling for form that many other players of the time exhibit in their elaborations of Corelli. The biggest cadences, that is to say, the ones you need a ritard for, are at the end of the A section, and in this case, at the end of the B and also the end of the small a section.

You can find this Tartini Adagio at the end of Cartier's L'art du violon, 1798.

However, Corelli's violin sonatas are a richer source of information about Free or arbitrary graces, or ornaments, than Tartini, that's how I feel about it, anyway. You may want to have a copy of Corelli's version of this music as a basis for comparison with the later ornamented versions I will be introducing below. You can obtain a very useful edition of Corelli graces in Barenreiter BA 9455,

Here is an example of a movement from Corelli's Sonata # 8 in e, opus 5, graced by the violinist Michael Festing:

The 16th notes in at the bottom fit nicely into the Allamanda of the same sonata. I like Festing's graces because they are simple and effective. And Festing adds cadenzas, even to movements shorter than 20 bars.

It seems to me that if you substitute one of these Corelli sonata movements, for Motet or Madrigal, what Christopher Simpson was describing as the aims of division in his Division Violist of 1659 also accurately describes what Festing was doing to Corelli:

“A Continued Ground used for Playing of Making Division upon, is (commonly) the Through-Bass of some Motet or Madrigal, proposed or selected for that purpose. This, after you have played two or three Semibreves of it plain, to let the Organist know your measure; you may begin to divide, according to your fancy, or the former Instructions, until you come near some Cadence, or Close, where I would have you shew some Agility of Hand. There, if you please, you may rest a minim, two or three, letting him that Plays the Ground go on: and then come in with some Point: after which you may fall to Descant, Mixt Division, Tripla's, or what you please In this manner, Playing sometimes swift Notes, sometimes slow; changing from This or that sorrt of Division, as may best produce Variety, you may carry on the rest of the Ground; and if you have any thing more excellent than other, reserve it for the Conclusion.”

Have a look at what Festing does to Corelli's Prelude to the Sonata in A, opus 5 #9:

Like Simpson, Festing gives the bass player (and the audience) plain eighth note upbeats, the better to be clear about the tempo.  When Festing has a sequence to deal with, he applies variety to each members of the sequence. For example, at the beginning of the B section, after the double bar, Festing could have done the same elaboration two bars in a row. But it seems to have been a point of honor for him, (and for Geminiani and Dubourg and Roman and the other violinists who created graces for Corelli,) not to do the same thing twice in a row. And Festing saves the most elaborate cadence for the end, and even marks in Ad. Lib: which I take to mean out of time.

All these same features can be seen in another one of Festing graced versions of Corelli, another movement from the Sonata in e:

If it seems farfetched to see parallels in the goals of musical ornamentation between Simpson in the mid 17th century, and the English violinists of the 18th, consider the viola bastarda and its music. Despite the very long time period between, and the complete change of harmonic language, it seems to me that if you play dalla Casa and compare his bastarda pieces to the madrigals they are based on, that the objectives of the player of the graced version is similar to that of Festing and his contemporaries, especially in the way the overall form is emphasised by saving the most intense elaboration for the end. You can check this out for yourself here, and at google books: Jason Paras, The Music for viola bastarda. You can also view our performance here.


Here is an example of the kind of ornamentation I am advocating.

Here are some further examples, from Corelli opus 5 #5 sonata. First, an edition of the original Corelli with his own graces:

Now Festing:

And finally Roman: