Did Bach really mean that?
Deceptive notation in baroque keyboard music
by Colin Booth

Sample from the start of chapter 8: The Single-note Ornament: The Simplest Decoration, Grace-notes or appoggiaturas — or what?

Inconsistency in the indication of ornamentation, which received some attention in the last chapter, forms the entire subject matter of this final chapter. Music was written down economically for practical reasons, but also because improvisation by the player was an important element of performance. As a result, much orna~mentation in the Baroque period was not notated.

Of all the elements of ornamentation, it is possible that the single-note ornament is the one indicated most inconsistently. For example, in Germany it usually appears to have been left to the player’s whim, and was rarely expressly indicated by most German composers. Only French composers generally seem to have regarded it as worth frequent explicit use. The important question which arises from this divergence is whether the actual usage was as different as the notation suggests.

Even when and where such single-note ornaments were indicated in the score, they were often presented in an ambiguous form. A whole variety of ornaments, ranging from a short, insignificant grace-note played in advance of the note to which it was applied, through to an appoggiatura which in performance would subsume most of the length of that following note, could be notated by a single sign. A successful realisation depended on convention, upon the common sense and good taste of the player, or upon separate and often imperfect instructions given by some composers in a table of ornaments. This chapter will clarify the musical functions of this simple but valuable ornament, and describe how it was used by different composers.


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