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PHILHARMONICA. International Music Journal
Reference:

On Ornamentation and Improvisation in Baroque Vocal Performance

Kruglova Elena

ORCID: 0000-0001-6565-2083

PhD in Art History

Professor, The State Musical Pedagogical Institute named after M. M. Ippolitov-Ivanov

109147, Russia, Moscow, 36 Marxistskaya str.

elenakruglowa@mail.ru
Other publications by this author
 

 

DOI:

10.7256/2453-613X.2022.6.39508

EDN:

QURDWI

Received:

24-12-2022


Published:

31-12-2022


Abstract: The rapid revival of baroque music in Russia places ever higher demands on singers regarding a historically grounded style of performance. This is manifested not only in the content of vocal and technical equipment (implying the presence of flexibility of the vocal apparatus, possession of a wide cantilena and light coloratura fluency), but also in the need to form your own creative approach in creating an original version, including ornamentation and improvisation in cadence, repeating parts of da capo arias. The proposed article is aimed at solving topical problems in the field of baroque performance related to vocal ornamentation and improvisation. The methodology of the research is based on a historical approach, which includes both a diachronic aspect aimed at identifying the dynamics in the evolution of the phenomenon under study from the XVI to the XVIII century, and a synchronic one, thanks to which various types of jewelry, features of improvisation in baroque performance are considered as the most important elements of style. The author draws conclusions about the significance of ornaments in the baroque music. The material of the article and the conclusions will be useful to musicians, singers performing old music, for its stylistically correct interpretation, as well as in training courses on the history of vocal performance at performing departments of music colleges and faculties of universities.


Keywords:

baroque music, style, vocal technique, training, education, ornamentation, improvisation, diminutions, decorations in singing, questions of vocal performance

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

The relevance of performing the vocal heritage of Baroque composers is increasing every day. Performances of works by the old masters of bel canto take place at the leading concert and opera venues with a full house, tickets for which are sorted out at the box office long before the performance. So, only in the last two years, despite the current situation due to the pandemic, a concert performance of Handel's operas "Orestes" (conducted by Dmitry Sinkovsky, April 2021), "Rodelinda", "Julius Caesar", "Tamerlane" was performed in Moscow at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall of the Moscow State Academic Philharmonic Hall (conducted by Christopher Mulds; September, 2021), Handel's oratorio "The Triumph of Time and Disappointment" was performed there (conducted by Thibaut Noalli, October 2021). Along with this, we will note the premiere of Handel's opera Ariodante at the Bolshoi Theater (conductor Gianluca Capuano, July 2021). In April and September 2022, listeners had the opportunity to enjoy Baroque masterpieces Handel's oratorio "Messiah" (conducted by Philip Chizhevsky, April, September 2022) and in December of the same year the "Christmas Oratorio" by the great J. S. Bach (conducted by Jeremy Walker, December 2022).

And if until quite recently the compositions of performers were mixed: they included Western and domestic singers, at present only Russian, no less excellent musicians take part in concerts. It is gratifying to note that the situation in the vocal baroque performance is experiencing a clear rise today. Meanwhile, there is still a lot of work to be done in this direction. Not all performers have the appropriate knowledge and technical skills to implement such complex compositions. This remark concerns, on the one hand, vocal equipment, which means the ease of sound emission, milling, flexibility of the singing voice. On the other hand, the issues of ornamentation, which performs the function of not only demonstrating the vocalist's coloratura skill, but, above all, is an essential component in the complex of artistic and expressive means that form the basis for the interpretation of Baroque music, become essential. It is necessary to state the fact that the issues of reproduction of written decorations and improvisational flourishes are a problematic side in the vocal performance of ancient music. In most cases, modern singers imitate various versions of ornamentation from recordings of famous and less famous performers, who, amazingly vocalizing, sing rather in a romantic tradition, far from the historical manner. Another trend is the attempt of decorated singing with their own decorations, which soloists often use almost outside the rules established by the old masters, in general, completely not understanding the meaning and significance of the introduced figures and fioritur.

Back in the XVIII century, the famous German musician, organist and composer Johann Friedrich Agricola, quoting in German the authoritative treatise of the outstanding Italian castrato singer, vocal teacher and composer Pietro Francesco Tosi, emphasized: "One of the most necessary and difficult tasks facing those who set out to perform arias excellently is to to achieve ease in [performing these] beautiful finds [melismatic jewelry E. V.]. The one who manages to combine this rare gift with a pleasant sounding voice will be the luckiest of the singers" [1, p. 167]. These instructions are still relevant today.

To understand the style, modern Russian singers need to be able to reproduce ancient music in an authentic manner, based, according to the definition of the English conductor, organist, harpsichordist and musicologist John Butt, "on historical data on the nature and methods of vocal and instrumental articulation, on the interpretation of melisms <...>, etc." [6, p. 59]. In this regard, the instructions of the modern famous Italian organist and conductor Andrea Marcon are indicative, who notes that "if a musician does not change his thinking, then a baroque violin will not help him. You need to know the convention the rules of interpretation of ancient music: recorded in one way, but played differently" [10].

The performance of ancient music requires not only a well-tuned voice and the singer's possession of excellent vocal technique in the broadest sense of the word, but also great artistic expressiveness. It is important for musicians to take into account the peculiarities of baroque notation, when composers recorded only the outline of the text in the notes for the subsequent demonstration of the soloist's performing skills. This notation gave only a general idea of the work. The singers had a unique opportunity to show off their art in the use of improvisational techniques and ornamentation.

At the time in question, an improviser musician was rated much higher than a singer performing only memorized notes. In this regard, Tozi's words sound categorically: "An inventive singer, even if mediocre, deserves more respect than a more (skillful) vocalist, but without his own imagination" [12, p. 41].

Of course, this approach and requirements were not accidental. The training of musicians in the Baroque era was directed towards universalism. As a result, the singers studied theoretical disciplines as future composers, and playing instruments, especially the harpsichord, as future instrumentalists. Consequently, there was no need for detailed comments on the execution. The author of a study on the history of the Neapolitan conservatories J. Sigismondo in 1820 wrote: "I emphasize with confidence here that anyone who wants to become a major master in the art of music needs to devote himself to becoming a good singer from an early age. I speak from my own experience. Many of the most respected composers were excellent singers" [11, p. 90].

In the process of developing musical art, singers involuntarily lost the skills of improvisation and understanding of the "conditional" text. And today this is a huge problem facing interpreters of ancient music. The surviving isolated cases of original jewelry of singers of the XVIII century, as well as editorial transcripts, unfortunately, are not accessible to a wide range of modern domestic performers. And yet a significant part of the Baroque works does not contain them. A modern performer, diligently performing the material accurately recorded by ancient composers, moves further and further away from the stylistic adequacy of reproduction. The masters of the past spoke about this. So, Agricola wrote: "Whoever, when repeating ... does not make by means of variations everything that he sang before, even better and more beautiful than written out ... is certainly not a great hero" [1, p. 166].

Frederick Neumann formulated the importance of ornamentation for the music of the Baroque era very succinctly and succinctly: "Ornamentation in Baroque music is something more than a surface gloss, it is one of the fundamental elements of the style" [13, p. 47].

Ornamentation or, as it was called, decorations, manners at the time under consideration, along with decorative elements, is, first of all, an important component of the whole system of interpretive means. According to the statement of the German singer, vice-kapellmeister and composer of the XVII century K. Bernhard: "In order to get the title of singer (tittul), it is not enough ... it is easy to sing everything you have to, but in particular you need, besides a good voice, a skillful skill, which is generally called "Manier"; so you need to study, what are those skillful techniques, following which and applying which a singer can earn his title" [3, p. 61].

In the Baroque era, a singer had to meet these requirements, developing these skills in order to successfully comply with the new rules in music. In addition to the variety of types of melismatic figures written out with symbols and signs, improvisation, free coloring of musical fragments was an essential performing tradition. The art of virtuosos comes to the fore. And therefore, in addition to the technical requirements, the singer of the Baroque era had to consciously apply jewelry, understanding their expressive meaning in a musical composition. The goal was both the technical side, which consists in demonstrating the distinctive features of the virtuoso voice of the soloist, and the artistic side, associated with the creation of their own original version of the performance. In this regard, a highly artistic goal for the singer will be improvisation in cadence and variation of the text during repetition and parts of da capo. For a modern vocalist, this is quite difficult due to the lack of special skills and abilities.

The musicians mastered the art of improvisation systematically at the time in question. The main principle was the gradual complication of the task. Having shown imagination, the student first harmonized the scale. Then it was necessary to vary the melody, using various jumps, etc. Then the singer turned to more complex forms of performance, resorting to free presentation and even reaching improvised polyphony [14]. Such close attention on the part of teachers to the art of improvisation undoubtedly influenced musical and performing thinking. Creating impromptu complex ornamental patterns, the improviser performer interpreted his repertoire more vividly, with greater creative freedom. So, P. Tozi instructively advises: "Teach your student to repeat different ornaments <...> The most famous among the past were proud of their ornaments, which they changed every evening <...> That singer is considered lazy, who on stage, evening after evening, teaches the audience to the same passages, so that she no longer it is worth the effort to learn them by heart" [15, p. 176].

The basis of the technique of improvisation is the art of diminution. Its main principle is to split large durations into smaller ones. Possession of the technique of diminution was an integral part of vocal art in the context of the performance of improvised passages and coloratura.

According to the classification of the Venetian musician, the author of the first Renaissance treatise on diminutions improvised decorations ("Opera intitulata Fontegara", 1535) Silvestro Ganassi, diminutions are divided into two types: simple and composite. The author himself explained that "... simple diminutions consist only of notes of one duration. In composite diminutions, on the contrary, different types of notes are used, for example, quarters, eighths or sixteenth" [cit. according to: 17, p. 24]. Their main goal was to decorate the main theme [17, p. 26].

Many treatises of the XVI early XVII century (S. Ganassi, J. K. Maffei, J. D. Caza, F. Rononi, J. L. Conforto, A. Brunelli, etc.) contain tables of diminutions of various intervals that singers could use as formulas for their improvisations. In this regard, taking into account that the main technical exercise for singers is the performance of scales, the diminutive formulas of the hexachord (six steps) by S. Ganassi are of practical interest [20]. Such principles of singing stable notes can become the first starting step in the preparation of their own variations, contribute to the memorization of certain melodic turns for subsequent inclusion in their improvisational variations. A fragment of diminutive formulas from the manuscript "Opera intitulata Fontegara" by S. Ganassi is presented in Illustration 1.

In the Renaissance, the art of diminuating melodies occupied a dominant position. At the same time, the own logic of the development of the melody itself was destroyed. As Professor M. A. Saponov writes: "Decorating improvisational interpolations with their beaded fluency break into the process of performing the recorded cantilena as an unceremonious hurricane force" [14, p. 54]. Thus, given the fact of the equality of the diminutions in relation to the main text, and sometimes their dominance, it would still be a mistake to overestimate such a vivid and intensive practice. In the technique of diminution, according to M. S.Druskin, "there is something mechanical, and the formulas of such transformations become ossified, remaining unchanged for many decades" [8, p. 112].

In the era of the early Baroque, a new trend is emerging towards the regulation and fixation of all types of improvisational techniques [14, p. 55]. And if a more free coloring of the melody was used in vocal performance, then at this time ornaments began to be typed in instrumental art. Through the techniques of diminution, the sounds began to be adapted into various interval groupings, thus forming independent melisms. In the practice of singing already in the XVI century, all the main types of ornament were formed. Thus, in the early Baroque period, there comes a rethinking of Renaissance practice and, accordingly, of the performing tradition itself.

The practice of controlled improvisation originates from the Florentine composers. Coloratura gradually begin to be fixed in the notes. In improvisations of any kind, there is also regulation. Ornament, small ornaments acquire the meaning of an expressive beginning, emphasizing and enhancing the meaning of the word of the text, filling the melodic line with expression. Italian composer, singer Giulio Caccini sets new requirements for the art of singing. Even a minor decoration of the melody now performs the function of a means of enhancing expressiveness, comparable to the oratorical technique of affected speech. "The correct reproduction of verses with an expressive melody," Caccini points out, "and an intelligent interpretation of it will have more significance than the subtleties of counterpoint" [2, 120]. In the preface to the opera Eurydice (1600), he clarifies: "I have never used any other art in my music than imitating the feelings of words"[19].

J. Caccini introduces the concept of "cantare con affetto" "affected (sensual) singing" [7, p. 24], for which uncontrolled passages were alien. "These long vocal turns [passages]," the composer writes, "are randomly used [by modern singers], but I introduced them in such a way as to apply them in less affected music, not on short, but on long syllables, and in the final cadences" [7, p. 24]. With regard to the reproduction of passages, he said that "passages should be made so that they imitate the meaning of words" [2, 122]. Continuing the ideas of Caccini, the Italian composer, virtuoso instrumentalist Francesco Rononi in his treatise on ornamentation for singers and violinists ("Selva de varii passaggi", 1620), emphasizing the importance of a new emotional style of performance, at the end of the first part of his treatise gives instructions to singers: "Since the decoration (vaghezza) of a song consists mainly in expressing well and clearly the word that is being sung, I thus wanted to remind singers in this place who want to follow in the footsteps of outstanding and experienced ones. <...> they [singers] should understand [the word] with more attention [as] an instrument with which a thing is produced or even [than] the thing itself that is produced; in our opinion, as if they should make you hear the voice that sings the word more than the word itself that is sung. They should also beware of passages in words that mean suffering, anxiety, torment and similar things, because [in these cases] instead of passages, it is customary to use graces, accents and exclamations, sometimes singing quieter, then louder, with gentle movements, and sometimes a sad and mournful voice corresponding to the meaning of the text. Nor is it commendable that many singers these days indulge who have a bit of a natural disposition. Although they produce endless passages, nevertheless they do not adhere to any rule except to make passages on all syllables, producing them in such a way as to destroy all harmony, whereby it is clearly seen that they have not learned good rules from a good master" [22, p. 11].

The surviving single examples of original ornaments of early Baroque performers give a vivid idea of the expressive meaning of vocal ornaments, which were improvised according to the author's meaning. Composers write out ornaments with symbols in order to preserve the true melodic line, so that ornaments do not turn into meaningless coloratura figurations. A striking example of the application of the principle of diminution on keywords can serve as a madrigal J. Caccini "Amarilli", which we borrowed from A. Schering [23]. A fragment of the madrigal is presented in Figure 2.

With the development of opera and the vocal style of bel canto beautiful singing, at the beginning of the XVIII century, a new concept of decorated singing was formed, the basis of which was a virtuoso improvised variation. The connection with rhetoric in Italian opera is weakening. The leading position is occupied by the doctrine of affect, which "controls" the entire ornamentation. The task of vocal decorations is not so much the image of the word, as the transmission of greater pathos and emotional elation. Virtuosity, in turn, "acquired the importance of the most important aesthetic and semantic category" [16, p. 19].

In the reprise of the da capo aria and the cadence, the singers of the Italian opera demonstrated all their coloratura skills with special skill. Abbot Conti's recollections of Farinelli's improvisations are indicative in this context: "Everywhere in the alleys and on St. Mark's Square several hundred fans followed the castrato relentlessly; when he came on stage, he brought men and women to fainting, mesmerizing them with virtuoso vocalizations, with which he replenished his repertoire" [4, p. 194]. The audience's love for the virtuoso art of the singers of the time in question was so high that during the performance, when the favorite passage began, there was a sudden silence, which was "like a flock of geese freezes after a gunshot, then to cackle with a vengeance" [18, p. 82].

The task of the performers was to delight the ear and arouse in the listeners various affects, human passions, which required an increase in expressiveness, manifested in improvisation. As you know, composers dedicated their arias to specific singers, taking into account their natural talent and technical capabilities. At the same time, it was not uncommon for two virtuosos to participate in one performance at once. As a result, disputes could flare up, reaching the competition. One of these stories about the duel of 22-year-old Farinelli and 42-year-old Bernacchi on the Bologna stage in 1727 is told by P. Barbier: "That evening, the audience was lucky to hear an absolutely amazing vocal duel. Farinelli began by using all the virtuoso techniques available to him and as if attacking an older colleague [Bernacchi E. K.], and he defended himself by consistently picking up each of the ornamental elements performed by the young singer and adding new and more striking beauties to it. The result of this memorable competition was not mutual bitterness, but, on the contrary, a strong friendship that bound the artists to the end of their lives" [5, pp. 177-178].

Tozi said about this: "Only by the number of variations of two different first-class singers can one distinguish which of the performers is better" [2, p. 183]. Often, as a result, vivid interpretations inspired composers to write new compositions. Thus, the composer and the performer became co-creators. In the music itself, the scope of ornamentation was concretized. The number of melisms, including those marked with signs and symbols, constantly varied and increased. The number of treatises and instructions of musicians on ornamentation increased, and the evolution of jewelry itself can be traced back to the end of the XVIII century.

Thanks to the outstanding German composer, flutist I. Quantz, the ornaments, which were called manners, were divided into two large groups. As a result, "basic" (fixed) and "arbitrary" (free) manners began to differ. The tasks of the "basic" manners were to give brilliance to the melody. On the contrary, "arbitrary", performing a free improvisational function, dissolve into the melody as its component part [21, p. 6]. K. F. E. Bach also writes about this: "Manners can be divided into two groups. The first group includes those that are marked with icons adopted for this purpose or a small number of inscribed small notes; the second group includes all the others that do not have special icons and consist of a large number of small notes" [9, p. 203]. In the XVIII century, the first group was called "French" jewelry, the other group "Italian", which definitely does not mean belonging and limitation exclusively to these two countries. The constant migration of musicians allowed them to get acquainted with different national styles in music and the peculiarities of its performance. Thus, K. F. E. Bach believes that "in the performance of manners, it is necessary to combine the brilliance and sense of proportion of the French with the caressing melodiousness of the Italians" [9, p. 209]. Musicians often tried to separate them, but still the boundaries between them are barely discernible [24]. So, half a century later, the German composer, organist, teacher D. G. Turk wrote that "in addition to ... the main ornaments, there are even larger ornaments, which, however, are often prescribed by the composer himself, but most often are also invented by the performer himself" [8, p. 503].

Despite the specifics of the improvisational beginning in vocal art, in ancient music there are rules for the introduction of decorations in works. Thus, the use of arbitrary ornamentation is possible on long syllables and large durations, fermata, in cadence and with melodic repetition, while metric freedom and dynamic differentiation become important. It is advisable to refrain from decorations at the beginning of the work, on syncopations, chromatic sounds, on the last syllables of the word. The introduction of vocal ornamentation also depended on the acoustic properties of the concert halls, the speed of movement of the aria itself and the type of voice. "The faster the phrase, the more voices, the lower the pitch of the voice, the larger the room and space, the fewer decorations" G. P. Schmitz points out [24, p. 22].

Thus, vocal ornamentation in the Baroque era should be considered in its evolution. A strict rule for the performer is the measure of the introduction of arbitrary improvisational decorations. It should be remembered that the decoration loses its meaning when it is no longer perceived as such.

When performing jewelry and improvisations, it is important for the singer to understand which ornament will match the affect more brightly. This was pointed out by the German flutist and composer I. G. Tromlitz: "If someone wants to change a figure or a passage, one should carefully consider which ornament is best suited to it and expresses the main mood of the composer; or it will have the best effect of playing by the rules; since each individual figure has a different effect in each variation. If you put together such different changes and differently functioning figures, it is easy to see what a confusing meaning and adverse effect was created. Thus, it is not enough to change something because you want it; the material must require it or, as was often said earlier, [important - E. K.] adhere to the rules" [25, p. 185].

Taking into account that Baroque music was created by composers taking into account the perception of listeners, the instructions of Quantz become very revealing: "A well-written melody should never vary until you are sure that you will improve it with your decorations. <...> The habit of small swarming notes is similar to the habit of spicy and oversaturated food, contrary to healthy taste. My advice is not to give too much will in jewelry, but to be able to sing and play clearly, sincerely, truly and nobly. A performer deprived of these qualities will never touch the listener's heart (!)" [15, pp. 168-169]. Improvisation and ornamentation of any form in Baroque music have not only a decorative function that allows you to admire the skill of virtuoso coloratura, but, above all, serve to enhance the transmission of the affect of the performed aria.

References
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To the journal "PHILHARMONICA. International Music Journal" the author presented his article "On ornamentation and improvisation in the vocal performance of the Baroque era", in which a study of the factors that determined the uniqueness and melodiousness of the works of the studied era was conducted. The author proceeds from the study of this issue from the fact that in order to understand the style of modern vocalists it is necessary to be able to reproduce ancient music in an authentic manner, based on historical data on the nature and methods of vocal and instrumental articulation, on the deciphering of melisms. The performance of ancient music requires not only a well-tuned voice and the singer's mastery of excellent vocal technique in the broadest sense of the word, but also great artistic expressiveness. The author argues that it is important for musicians to take into account the peculiarities of Baroque notation, when composers wrote down only the outline of the text in the notes for the subsequent demonstration of the soloist's performing skills. The relevance of the study is due to the growing popularity of the vocal heritage of Baroque composers: performances of works by old masters bel canto take place at the leading concert and opera venues with a full house, tickets for which are sorted out at the box office long before the performance. One of the problems raised by the author is that not all performers have the appropriate knowledge and technical skills to implement such complex compositions. This remark concerns, on the one hand, vocal equipment, which means the ease of sound emission, milling, flexibility of the singing voice. On the other hand, the issues of ornamentation become significant, which performs the function not only of demonstrating the vocalist's coloratura skills, but, above all, is an essential component in the complex of artistic and expressive means that form the basis for the interpretation of Baroque music. The author notes that the issues of reproduction of painted decorations and improvisational flourishes are a problematic side in the vocal performance of ancient music. In most cases, modern singers imitate various versions of ornamentation from recordings of famous and less famous performers, who, amazingly vocalizing, sing rather in a romantic tradition, far from the historical manner. Another problem, according to the author, lies in the attempt of decorated singing with their own decorations, which soloists often use practically outside the rules established by the old masters, in general, completely not understanding the meaning and significance of the introduced figurations and flourishes. In this regard, the author sees the need to create a theoretical basis for Baroque vocal art, which is the scientific novelty and purpose of the study. The theoretical basis of the research was the works of both art historians and composers and teachers (Susidko I.P. Bagadurov V.A., Agricola I.F., Sigismondo J. and others). The methodological basis of the work is an integrated approach, including historical, art criticism and system analysis. In his research, the author analyzes two main factors characterizing the vocal art of the Baroque era, namely improvisation and ornamentation. According to the author, the performance of ancient music requires not only a well-tuned voice and the singer's mastery of excellent vocal technique in the broadest sense of the word, but also great artistic expressiveness. It is important for musicians to take into account the peculiarities of Baroque notation, when composers wrote down only the outline of the text in the notes for the subsequent demonstration of the soloist's performing skills. This notation gave only a general idea of the work. In the Baroque era, as the author notes, an improvisator musician was rated much higher than a singer who performed only memorized notes. The author pays special attention to the importance of ornamentation for Baroque musical art, considering vocal ornamentation in the Baroque era in its evolution. The author notes that despite the specifics of the improvisational beginning in vocal art, in ancient music there are rules for the introduction of decorations in works. The introduction of vocal ornamentation also depended on the acoustic properties of the concert halls, the speed of movement of the aria itself and the type of voice. A strict rule for the performer is the measure of introducing arbitrary improvisational decorations, since the decoration loses its meaning when it is no longer perceived as such. In conclusion, the author presents the conclusions and main provisions on the studied material. It seems that the author in his material touched upon relevant and interesting issues for modern socio-humanitarian knowledge, choosing a topic for analysis, consideration of which in scientific research discourse will entail certain changes in the established approaches and directions of analysis of the problem addressed in the presented article. The results obtained allow us to assert that the study of an authentic musical direction and the features of its modern reproduction is of undoubted scientific and practical cultural and art criticism significance. The obtained material can serve as a basis for further research within the framework of this issue. The material presented in the work has a clear, logically structured structure that contributes to a more complete assimilation of the material. This is also facilitated by an adequate choice of an appropriate methodological framework. The bibliographic list of the study consists of 25 sources, including foreign ones, which seems sufficient for generalization and analysis of scientific discourse on the studied problem due to the specificity of the subject of the study. The author fulfilled his goal, obtained certain scientific results that allowed him to summarize the material. It should be noted that the article may be of interest to readers and deserves to be published in a reputable scientific publication.