+ What are all the components of a musical experience? (Think beyond the notes!)

  • How is this music taught and learned?
  • How much is improvised?
  • How old or new is this repertoire?
  • What are the connections of this music to geographical locations, past and present?
  • What meanings and associations does this music have for the people who make it? How are those different from any associations we might have about the sounds being made?
  • What values are used to judge whether this is a “good” performance of this type of music?
  • Who made this recording and what is that person’s relationship to the performer(s)?
  • What other questions could help lead you to the kinds of information would help to understand more about each example?

Arcangelo Corelli, Sonata in D Major, Op. 5, no. 1, fourth movement (Rome: Gasparo Pietra Santa,  c. 1700)

Corelli score

Engaging with Period Scores

Look at this score and imagine you are playing this piece. What will your performance sound like?

Baroque Improvisation

Composers, performers, and listeners of the Baroque era expected that performers would ornament scores, especially instrumental adagios. Written scores were not fixed texts. Soloists improvised ornaments that complimented the emotion and style of the piece, displayed their abilities, and suited the tastes and expectations of audiences in specific venues (for example, the church or the private concert). No two performances of a Corelli sonata would sound alike.

The same is true of the basso continuo that accompanies the violin. Period performers improvised the accompaniment from the bass line, its “figures” (the numbers above bass notes that indicate intervals to be played above the given bass note), and the melodic content of the solo line. Composers did not indicate instrumentation, because it too would be adapted to expressive aims, forces, and venues. Instruments used included keyboards (harpsichord, organ), plucked strings (lute, theorbo, guitar, harp), and bowed strings (bass viol, violoncello).

Listening to Recordings

Now listen to some of the following two recordings (and look at the c. 1700 printing).

Andrew Manze
Sigiswald Kuijken

How does what you heard in the recordings compare to what you imagined when looking at the score? What don’t you see? How much information do you as a performer expect to see in a score?

Performance Practice in the 21st century

How then does a 21st-century performer decide what to play?

Sigiswald Kuijken

Sigiswald Kuijken

Kuijken plays an edition of the Sonata in D Major, Op. 5, no. 1 published in 1710 in Amsterdam by music publisher Estienne Roger. "Corelli's Ornaments" Score (PDF) The title of this edition indicates that it includes ornaments for the adagios composed by Corelli “as he would play them.” Critics have always been skeptical about Roger’s claims about the authorship of the ornaments, suspecting Roger of manipulating the truth for financial gain. Yet the score is not without value, even if it’s not from Corelli, because it captures improvised ornamentation practices in place during Corelli’s lifetime.

Since we have what may (or may not) be a record of Corelli’s own ornaments, should performers today play them? Why or why not?

Andrew Manze

Andrew Manze

Manze improvises his ornaments, writing in the liner notes that "Performers who restrict themselves to ‘reheating’ … the Roger ornaments, or other historical examples, are in danger of incarcerating the living music behind the glass of a museum display case … To reheat is to go directly against the spirit of improvisation, and therefore to go directly against the practices of the time."

—Corelli: Violin Sonatas, Op. 5, Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr, Harmoni Mundi B000076CW2m, 2002.

What can a performer do to develop the ability to improvise as Manze does? How might a source like Christopher Simpson’s The Division-Viol: or The Art of Playing Ex Tempore on a Ground(1659) (PDF) help?

How might Roger’s score of “Corelli’s” ornaments help? How might using a baroque bow or a baroque instrument help? Click for answer.

Since we know that period performers improvised, should modern performers do so too? Why or why not?