Friday, 2 March 2018

James Tyler: Baroque guitar graces

In his book A guide to playing the Baroque guitar, James Tyler gives an invaluable account (pp 18 – 20) of the kind of ornaments or graces used on the guitar at the time. Graces were known in Italy as abilimenti or tremoli; in France as agréments; in Spain as habilidades or affectos.

I have made myself this useful reference table from his considered opinions.

Ornament Common symbols * Examples of how played † Comments


# ♯

Thumb off neck, hold finger tip down and jiggle

Vibrato was not played throughout a piece as we would now, just as an ornament


︶ ︵
(joining 2 or more notes)

C h D (h E ...)
E p D (p C ...)

Produces dynamic rhythm effects as 1st note louder than the rest


::    ⋅/⋅

Hold chord and play notes in pattern ad lib

You need to see Tyler's book


t   T   •   x   ∙/∙

(It: trillo, tremolo. Es: trino, aleado)
— main note trill (It)
C h D p C ... Normally 3 notes (when it is the same as an upper mordent); at cadences continue the pattern; used in Italian music

— upper note trill

D p C h D p C ...

(Fr: tremblement) Normally 4 notes; at cadences continue the pattern; used in French music


|  v  +    ‿   ##

C p B h C

(Fr: mortellement or pincé) Also lower mordent


(Es: esmorsata, apoyamento, ligadur. Fr: cheute)

— descending app.

t    x   )   ,

︶   ︵

D p C

— ascending app.

︶ ︵

B h C

? play more languidly

* As you can see, symbol use is a minefield. Also, some composers used a general purpose symbol meaning "use any grace you fancy". One just has to rely on the learning of the editor.

† Explanation of the examples:
1. Assume key of C major
2. Notes written in the score are bold red (e.g. C),
3. The first note in a sequence is plucked, the rest are rapidly hammered on (h) or pulled off (p), to form a clear unit.

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I hope you enjoy these arrangements. I would welcome your views, and comments on possible errors or improvements.