Oakeley, Sir Herbert (Stanley)

(iii) The 17th century: vocal ornamentation

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(iii) The 17th century: vocal ornamentation.

The style of ornamentation established by Italian solo singers around 1600 appears to have been maintained with little fundamental change in Germany through the 17th century; even the German names of these ornaments usually remained Italian (or latinized Italian). The ornaments were rarely notated, and the treatises are sparing in their advice as to where to apply them; modern performers must draw conclusions about the proper context of each ornament from the numerous examples given by Praetorius, Herbst and others. These examples generally give the ornaments in fixed rhythmic values; how literally the latter were meant to be interpreted is unclear, but some degree of rhythmic freedom can be assumed.

The repeated-note trillo was evidently used to the end of the 17th century; Praetorius's 1619 account was repeated practically verbatim by Herbst in 1658, and the ornament was still described by Printz. These writers mentioned first a staccato trillo sung on long notes and – apparently – usually written out, as in the works of Monteverdi (explicitly named by Praetorius). This may be the type of repeated-note figure that Printz (I1689) termed a bombus (ex.46). But Praetorius and Herbst also mentioned a second type indicated by the abbreviation ‘t’, ‘tr’ or ‘tri’. This could fall on short as well as long notes, but in either case both context and abbreviation may suggest a trill to modern performers (ex.47). In fact this latter trillo may have been a type of vibrato. Printz (I1689) seems to have used the term trillo only for this type, although he also described a trilletto that is much softer (‘viel linder’), its repercussions barely articulated (‘fast gar nicht angeschlagen’). Bernhard and Mylius used the term ardire for a similar ornament; Bernhard recommended it particularly in (vocal) bass parts, but Mylius discouraged its use.

Only after 1700 was the term ‘trill’ consistently applied in the modern way to oscillating ornaments. In German writings throughout the 17th century the expression ‘tremolo’ was preferred, referring to ornaments employing lower as well as upper auxiliaries. The tremolo is shown as occurring on notes of relatively long value, beginning on the main note and on the beat (ex.48: bar 1 shows the plain long note, bars 2 and 3 two possible types of tremolo). Praetorius noted that the ornament was more appropriate to instruments than to the voice. Organists, he said, called them ‘mordents’ (Mordanten); only around 1700 did the latter term become restricted to the downward-oscillating ornament.

Praetorius regarded a short version of the tremolo as particularly idiomatic to keyboard playing. Called the tremoletto, this ornament permitted a variety of realizations (ex.49), some of them resembling less trills than the ubiquitous figura corta of German 17th-century instrumental music (ex.49a). In keyboard and instrumental music, most instances of the abbreviation ‘t’ or ‘tr’ must refer to this ornament, not the trillo, although the latter term was being applied to the tremolo and tremoletto by the end of the century.

The groppo (or gruppo) was distinguished from the tremolo by concluding with a turn, which made it particularly suitable for cadential contexts (ex.50). Written-out groppi appear fairly frequently, especially in keyboard music from the first half of the century. But eventually this ornament too came to be understood as a type of trill and thus could be signified by ‘t’ or ‘tr’, although the closing turn often continued to be written out.

A longer oscillating ornament, the ribattuta, mentioned by Herbst and later writers, is already written out in somewhat earlier keyboard works such as Froberger's Toccata no.9 (Libro quarto, 1656, A-Wn; ex.51). Used to intensify an entry on a sustained note, it starts on the main note, slowly and sometimes in dotted rhythm, then accelerates, ending with various terminations. It continued in use through the 18th century.

Accento was the most widely used of several expressions for a large variety of passing-note ornaments. Janovka (I1701) gave the term Einfall as a German equivalent, but the latter seems not to have been much used. Praetorius and other early sources applied the term to various ornaments encompassing from one to several notes, but later writers sometimes restricted the term to particular types of single-note ornament.

One-note accenti appear in most illustrations as short, dissonant auxiliary notes on the weak part of the beat. Text underlay in vocal illustrations suggests that the passing note was always slurred to either the preceding or following main note, as was true of similar 18th-century ornaments. These ornamental notes were sometimes described as being sung gently, in contrast to the accented dissonant passing notes of later practice. When sung to the following syllable, the result was what Bernhard and others called anticipazione della syllaba (ex.52). The effect desired seems to have been that of a quick, smooth glide into the following accented note. A different effect was achieved through the anticipazione della nota, described by Bernhard as an anticipation in the modern sense and sung to the preceding syllable (ex.53).

Other terms for particular types of accenti include cercar la nota and intonazione, both used for figures in which a singer approached a note – especially the initial note of a phrase – from its neighbour, as Bernhard showed (ex.54). Under the heading accentus Praetorius also illustrated slides beginning a 3rd, 4th or more below the main note, in varying rhythms (ex.55).

Another type of accento involved a lightly sung escape note, employed before descending notes, illustrated by Bernhard (ex.56). Adding further ornamental notes produced what Herbst called the exclamatio. The latter term, for Praetorius as for Caccini, had signified merely an expressive swell in volume (‘Erhebung der Stimm’) on a long note. Here it becomes one or more short rising notes at the end of the long note (ex.57).

Herbst's longer exclamationes today would be considered divisions or embellishments rather than simple ornaments. Such figures are frequently written out, like the groppo and ribattuta, in music from throughout the Baroque, as in Schütz's Saul, Saul (ex.58) and J.S. Bach's Cantata 151 (ex.59). The same is true of the tirate (rapid scale figures) and other florid devices or passaggi frequently illustrated in 17th-century treatises. Such figures must have been employed as often by improvising performers as by composers.

Ornaments, §8: German baroque

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