Ornamentation and Extempore Embellishment Presentation

Subject: Art
Pages: 10
Words: 2757
Reading time:
11 min
Study level: PhD

The music ornaments and embellishments are actively used in order to add to the sounding of a note. Such approach is known as ornamentation, and it allows for ‘decorating’ the melody and accentuating possible improvisation (Nardolillo 75). As a result, a melody becomes diverse and vivid, and its ornamentation usually reflects the features of a particular genre of music (Galamian and Thomas 24). From this point, it is important to concentrate on ornamentation and embellishment that were typical of music since the Baroque period and discuss the use of these techniques in the notation for pieces that were composed for the violin during the Romantic period and the early part of the twentieth century. At this state, it is necessary to ask the following questions: What ornaments are usually selected by composers in order to add the specific embellishment to their melodies? What is the history of accepting signs for conventional ornaments to use them in the notation? What features of extempore embellishment can be used by musicians in order to add to the piece’s melody and demonstrate their virtuosity? What examples of popular ornaments can be found in the famous pieces that were composed for the violin in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?

The widely known and used types of ornaments are the trill, turn, appoggiatura, acciaccatura, and mordent among others. In order to provide the context for discussing the role of ornamentation in performing the pieces composed for the violin, it is necessary to define these ornaments and describe them in detail. The trill can be viewed as an alternation between the specific note that is indicated and the note that is set above. The trill is often marked with the help of writing “tr” above the note, and when this sign is written with a zigzag line, the effect on the indicated note should be prolonged (Kennedy, Rutherford-Johnson, and Kennedy 865). While trying to achieve the trill effect, a violinist is expected not to lift fingers high, and he “should not strike hard,” concentrating on the relaxed articulation (Galamian and Thomas 30).

According to Galamian and Thomas, “when this principle is disregarded, then the building of tension and the slowing of the performance of the trill are the inevitable results” (30). Furthermore, a performer should pay attention to the fact that, instead of accentuating the beginning of the trill, it is necessary to focus on its ending in order to produce the desired effect. Variants of trills that can be applied by composers in their works are numerous, and it is “apparent that no firm, all-embracing rule can be applied regarding trill interpretation,” and moreover, performers should “make tasteful decisions based on melodic, harmonic, technical, rhythmic and other considerations” (Stowell 86). Still, the trill can be supported by a variety of other ornaments utilized by composers.

The turn is another ornament that is used in order to accentuate the following group of notes to perform: the note that is indicated with the help of the mark, the note that is above the indicated note, and the note itself (Galamian and Thomas 28). Then, a performer plays the note that is below the indicated note, and then, he or she refers to the note itself one more time (Kennedy, Rutherford-Johnson, and Kennedy 357). Traditionally, the turn is indicated with the help of the S-shape symbol. While being used in notes, the symbol seems to lie on its side (Kennedy, Rutherford-Johnson, and Kennedy 357).

In addition to the trill and turn, it is also important to discuss the appoggiatura and acciaccatura. The appoggiatura is presented as a small note that is placed before the principal note. As a result, it is expected that the time value of the note can change, and the additional note can be played as higher or lower than the main note (Kennedy, Rutherford-Johnson, and Kennedy 27). Thus, the added note seems to take the time and value that are related to the principal note. I should pay attention to the fact that composers and performers had different ideas regarding the interpretation of the appoggiatura. Thus, it is possible to choose this embellishment because of “its provision of continuity, charm, vitality, lyricism, and harmonic interest through dissonance” (Stowell 86). Furthermore, the appoggiatura “is always slurred to its main note and is usually stressed slightly” (Stowell 86). These qualities of the ornament allow composers to make their melodies as vivid as possible.

Another ornament is the acciaccatura that is similar to the appoggiatura in terms of the used symbol, but the effect is different. The acciaccatura is presented as a grace note with an oblique stroke, and the effect of playing this note is a delay in the main note that is significantly shorter than a delay performed when the appoggiatura is used (Kennedy, Rutherford-Johnson, and Kennedy 4). One more ornament is the mordent that is a specific alternation observed between the note that is indicated, the note that can be above or below the first note, and the main note again (Kennedy, Rutherford-Johnson, and Kennedy 510). The symbol that is used to determine this effect is a short zigzag line that can be crossed with a vertical line in order to accentuate the alternation known as the lower mordent (Auer and Martens 12). The mordent as an approach to add extra notes is effective to emphasize the certain phrase and changes in the melody. From this perspective, these discussed embellishments are important to accentuate stresses and changes in expression in a melody. However, during a long period of time, the described signs were not used by composers strictly, and a variety of symbols was applied in order to determine this or that ornament (Lawson and Stowell 68). Therefore, it is important to pay attention to the process of developing the tradition of using conventional symbols to indicate embellishments.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, three approaches to creating conventional ornament symbols were developed by composers and theorists. These approaches are known as the French, Italian, and German patterns. I should state that the movement of creating specific symbols to accentuate embellishments started in France (Lawson and Stowell 68). However, not all of these proposed symbols were used appropriately, and performers could interpret the notation and signs freely while paying attention to the genre and mood of the piece. Furthermore, I should note that there was no agreement regarding the use of symbols to indicate the trill, turn, or appoggiatura in a piece according to the French, Italian, or German pattern (Jackson 165). As a result, the notation proposed by French composers differed significantly from the notation and ornamentation used by Italian composers.

It is important to state that the French system of symbols, as well as the principles of their use in notes, was complex, but it became popular not only in France but also in Germany. Such composers as Johann Joachim Quantz and C. P. E. Bach among others improved the French system and proposed their vision of appropriate symbols that could be used for indicating certain ornaments (Lawson and Stowell 69). Still, there were no appropriate catalogues that could be easily utilized by composers and performers in order to determine what symbol was related to creating different desired effects. As a result, musicians faced the problem of interpreting symbols and selecting the most appropriate ones in order to determine the certain effect in music (Kennedy, Rutherford-Johnson, and Kennedy 867).

In addition, in spite of the fact that the Italian pattern of ornamentation was also developed by composers, performers had an opportunity to interpret notes and marks according to their personal visions. Therefore, by the end of the eighteenth century, composers succeeded in developing marks and symbols to indicate specific ornaments in the most appropriate manner. It was important to determine the value and length of notes and ornaments, as well as accentuate the special features of the rhythm in this context (Lawson and Stowell 69). Nevertheless, the creation of the strict system of marks for ornamentation did not resolve the problem, and composers and musicians had many questions to ask while developing the standardized system of using embellishments and extra notes. From this perspective, Lawson and Stowell propose to focus on the following questions that were posed by composers in the late part of the eighteenth century: “On what note should the ornament begin? Should it start before, on or after the beat? How fast should any repercussion be?” (70). The modern definitions of different types of ornaments that have been discussed earlier are important to answer these questions today.

However, musicians often choose to add ornaments in those cases when they are inclined to demonstrate the virtuosity in playing the violin. From this point, in addition to ornamentation used by composers in the seventeenth-nineteenth centuries, performers also referred to extempore embellishment (Jackson 131). According to Lawson and Stowell, extempore embellishment “involved the performer in the free and usually spontaneous addition of melodic figures that were too variable to be indicated satisfactorily by signs … as well as some of the conventional stereotyped ornaments such as trills, appoggiaturas and mordents” (70). Thus, extempore embellishment includes the addition of principal notes, trills, turns, appoggiaturas, and mordents to the ornaments that were marked by composers in their work. Other methods of such embellishment can include the “use of upper and lower auxiliary notes, simple passing notes, single note repetitions, two- or three-note Schleifer, and scale passages normally of no more than an octave span” (Lawson and Stowell 72). This specific form of embellishments contributed to creating the most expressive and virtuosic melodies that are based on the clear understanding of the harmony in a particular piece.

I should also state that extempore embellishment became used in the practice of ornamentation as a response of composers and performers to the inability of conventional or traditional signs to reflect the musician’s intention and vision regarding a melody or rhythm (Jackson 131). It is important to pay attention to the fact that performers could realize the principle of extempore embellishment while adding more symbols to the notes in addition to conventional ones (Lawson and Stowell 72). Furthermore, they also could improve and change the ornamentation of the entire composition in order to add to its melody and rhythm. Therefore, both ornamentation and extempore embellishment can be viewed as effective approaches that are used by composers and performers in order to contribute to their piece or performance in terms of vividness and virtuosity.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the approach to adding ornaments to notes became more standardized because the basic system of symbols was not only developed but also accepted. In the Romantic era, composers referred to ornaments or embellishments actively because the diversity and vividness of a melody were appreciated by theorists and listeners. The similar approach is observed in the early part of the twentieth century. I should state that, in order to discuss the use of ornaments in detail, it is necessary to refer to the examples of such works as Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor composed by Camille Saint-Saens in 1863 and Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano that was composed by Bela Bartok in 1929.

In Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor, Saint-Saens concentrated on using the trill as the main ornament that is effective to add vividness to the melody and guide the performer’s improvisation (Saint-Saens 14). While referring to Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor, it is possible to demonstrate two different approaches to using the trill in the piece: with the focus on the short and rapid alternations in notes and with the focus on the prolonged sound, which duration accentuates the certain note (Examples 1-2). Thus, I should state that Saint-Saens is inclined to use both long and short trills in order to contribute to the melody’s expression while accentuating the main note, as well as adjustments, in a different manner to achieve various effects.

 Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor
Example 1. Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor, trill, mm. 33-37 (Saint-Saens 14).
Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor
Example 2. Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor, trill, mm. 102-104 (Saint-Saens 16).

In his Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano, Bartok uses ornaments more actively in comparison to Saint-Saens, and the main focus is on the acciaccatura as an ornament that can be used to build specific harmonic and melodic groups. While analyzing Bartok’s method of indicating the acciaccatura in his piece, it is possible to state that the composer follows a certain virtuosic pattern, and the overall approach to placement of this embellishment cannot be discussed as consistent (Example 3). It is also important to note that the passage that is presented in Example 3 recurs in the first part of Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano (‘the lassu’) (Bartok 4). Furthermore, Bartok also chooses to change some elements of the ornamentation each time when the passage is repeated in the piece (Antokoletz and Susanni 23). From this point, the composer’s focus on embellishments in Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano can be viewed as remarkable.

Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano, acciaccatura, mm.
Example 3. Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano, acciaccatura, mm. 3-10 (Bartok 4).

Still, it is also important to note that Bartok provides the detailed notation in order to describe his approach to ornamentation throughout the entire work. In his piece, acciaccaturas are used as a part of the complicated melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic pattern. Therefore, the complex use of symbols to indicate all the expected effects and improvisatory elements contributes to creating the unique melody (Example 4). It seems that Bartok guides a performer to play the melody spontaneously, but this intended virtuosity is developed in detail and presented in the notation (Antokoletz and Susanni 38).

Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano, acciaccatura, mm.
Example 4. Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano, acciaccatura, mm. 31-37 (Bartok 6).

In the second movement of Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano (‘the friss), Bartok also uses the mordent in order to add to the decoration observed in the piece. The used symbol indicates that the focus is on the lower mordent. Thus, the mordent seems to begin on the beat, and this approach is different from the use of acciaccaturas in the first movement of Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano (Example 5). As a result, performers receive more opportunities to play virtuously, as well as accentuate those phrases that were emphasized by the author of the piece.

 Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano, mordent, mm.
Example 5. Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano, mordent, mm. 12-21 (Bartok 5).

The traditional variant of the mordent is used by Bartok in another part of Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano where this ornamentation is actively supported by the articulation in order to achieve certain expressiveness (Example 6). From this point, it is important to note that the use of the mordent is also supported by the emphasis on articulation in order to accentuate certain aspects of the melody. As a consequence, Bartok’s piece becomes rich in its melodic and harmonic accents.

Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano, mordent
Example 6. Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano, mordent, figure 11 (Bartok 8).

From this perspective, in Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano, Bartok pays more attention to using ornaments in comparison to Saint-Saens, whose Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor has only the limited ornamentation indicated by the composer, and a virtuosic performer seems to have more freedom while interpreting this piece. Still, it is also necessary to pay attention to the fact that Bartok’s detailed ornamentation and a variety of proposed embellishments also contribute to providing a violinist with many opportunities to perform the piece vividly while emphasizing the most expressive parts. From this point, these two pieces are appropriate examples to accentuate the role of ornamentation for performers.

It is possible to conclude that ornamentation and extempore embellishment are actively used by composers and performers in order to add accents to the musical piece and contribute to its melodic vividness. As a result of using ornaments, composers can make their melodies more interesting and attractive. Furthermore, while referring to extempore embellishment, violinists can add to the individuality of their performance and make the virtuosic interpretation of embellishments become their unique feature. The examples of Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor by Camille Saint-Saens and Rhapsody no. 2 for Violin and Piano by Bela Bartok demonstrate that composers and musicians usually intend to make their pieces inimitable. From this point, the use of ornaments and extempore embellishments is the first step to creating the unique piece or interpretation of the notation proposed by the author.


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