Oakeley, Sir Herbert (Stanley)

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5. Italy, 1650–1750.

(i) Sources.

(ii) Ornamentation in vocal music.

(iii) Ornamentation in the continuo.

(iv) Instrumental music.

Ornaments, §5: Italy, 1650–1750

(i) Sources.

Few ornament symbols were used in Italian music in the period 1650–1750, and of those that do appear, roughly half are associated with Geminiani or Pasquali, both of whom spent their musical careers in the British Isles. Insofar as there was an internationally understood set of symbols for ‘essential’ ornaments in the late Baroque period, it was predominantly French or German. J.J. Quantz (Versuch einer Anweisung, die Flöte traversiere zu spielen, I1752) observed, ‘In the Italian style in former times no embellishments at all were set down, and everything was left to the caprice of the performer’ (although he added that ‘for some time … those who follow the Italian manner have also begun to indicate the most necessary embellishments’). Thus, for example, the first edition of Corelli's Sonate a violino e violone o cimbalo op.5 (1700) lacks not only the celebrated free ornamentation of the 1710 Estienne Roger edition, but any ornament signs whatsoever – not even cadential trills are indicated. Even when Quantz explained that an Italian adagio required both free embellishment and the use of essential ornaments, he identified the latter with a French patrimony and implied that the Italian style subsumed the French: ‘In the second manner, that is, the Italian, extensive artificial graces that accord with the harmony are introduced in the adagio in addition to the little French embellishments’.

Nicola Matteis, in his Le false consonanze della musica (Gc1680), after advising guitarists to develop a ‘clever shake sweet and quick’, insisted that, ‘To set your tune off the better, you must make severall sorts of Graces of your one Genius, it being very troublesome for the Composer to mark them’. Roger North, writing in 1728, put the reticence of ‘the elder Italians’ down to an unwillingness to patronize competent musicians: ‘in their finest cantatas [they] have exprest no graces, as much as to say, Whoever is fitt to sing this, knows the comon decorums’. P.F. Tosi (Opinioni de' cantori antichi, e moderni, G1723) seems to confirm this view:

If the Scholar be well instructed in this, the Appoggiatura's will become so familiar to him by continual Practice, that by the Time he is come out of his first Lessons, he will laugh at those Composers that mark them, with a Design either to be thought Modern, or to shew that they understand the Art of singing better than the Singers. If they have this Superiority over them, why do they not write down even the Graces, which are more difficult and more essential than the Appoggiatura's?

Tosi dismissed as a ‘foreign infantile practice’ the tendency to indicate ornamentation in scores, a barb which struck home with his German translator, J.F. Agricola, who inserted a slightly aggrieved justification for being explicit about both appoggiaturas and free ornamentation (Anleitung zur Singekunst, I1757).

Not only are ornament signs few and far between in Italian scores, but there is little comment on the subject in Italian music treatises. As Frederick Neumann observed (I1978), ‘about 1620, a long silence, which lasted more than one hundred years, settled on Italian ornamentation theory’. A number of figured-bass manuals make passing mention of ornaments, especially cadential trills. The most informative of these is Gasparini's L'armonico pratico al cimbalo (F1708) where three chapters cover the use of acciaccaturas, mordents and embellishment in figured-bass accompaniments. Tosi has a fairly lengthy discussion of ornamentation from a singer's point of view. Tartini's Traité des agréments de la musique, probably written about the middle of the century and eventually published in a French translation by Pierre Denis (F1771), deals extensively with ornamentation. Geminiani's later scores are laden with ornament and dynamic indications; but by 1739, when the revised edition of his op.1 violin sonatas (‘con le grazie agli adagi’) appeared, his eclectic style, influenced by his fascination with French music, had become so idiosyncratic that he could no longer be regarded as a spokesperson for Italian performance. This was recognized by various 18th-century commentators and stated most forcefully by John Hawkins in 1776: ‘It is much to be doubted whether the talents of Geminiani were of such a kind as qualified him to give a direction to the national taste’.

Italian writers are not our only source of information about Italian ornamentation practices in this period. The widely held view that Italy and France had, in Quantz's phrasing, set themselves up as the sovereign judges and legislators in matters of taste meant that there was intense interest in the Italian style in other parts of Europe. Christoph Bernhard, in his succinct treatise on ornamentation Von der Singe-Kunst oder Maniera (Ic1649), used Italian terminology and treated the entire subject as if it were an Italian concern, discussing the differences between the Roman style (cantar sodo) and the more florid Neapolitan approach (cantar d'affetto or cantar passaggiato). His snapshot of mid-17th-century practice shows, for example, that the trillo as a repeated-note ornament was still in vogue. (G.A. Pandolfi wrote out trilli of this kind in several of his 1660 Sonate a violino solo.) Bernhard's small ornaments are limited to the trill, the accent and various types of portamento. Muffat's essay on playing in the Italian style (the preface to Ausserlesene Instrumentalmusik, 1701) made only passing and oblique mention of ornamentation (in sharp contrast to his equivalent essay on the French style), and this was to condemn players who ruined the music by an excess of ill-considered invention. (This was quite a common complaint; it is made, for example, by Giovanni Bononcini in the preface to his Sonate da chiesa p.6, F1672.) Quantz's systematic treatment of the subject in his Versuch and Agricola's expansive commentary on Tosi are among the important non-Italian sources from the mid-18th century.

Ornaments, §5: Italy, 1650–1750

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