A term used to describe melody that is ornamented, either written out by the composer, or improvised by the performer. It can apply to a single melodic line, or to polyphony. In the florid organum of Aquitaine in the early 12th century the upper part of the note-against-note counterpoint is embellished with melismas. The term is also used to describe the musica figurata of early Netherlandish composers such as Ockeghem, in which elaborate polyphony was created by combining a number of equally florid lines. Most often it refers to a profuse style of ornamentation running in rapid figures, passages or divisions, but it can also designate ornamentation in general. For example, P.F. Tosi’s treatise on improvised embellishment, Opinioni de’ cantori antichi e moderni, o sieno osservazioni sopra il canto figurato (1723), translated into English (1742) as Observations on the Florid Song, includes specific ornaments, such as trills and appoggiaturas, alongside various types of passage work....
revised by Greer Garden
William C. Holmes
(1) In the 17th and 18th centuries a passage or cadenza inserted into a piece by a performer.
(2) In the same period, an epilogue inserted into a stage work (opera or play) in honour of a patron’s birthday or wedding, or for some other festive occasion. This usually consisted of recitatives and arias but choruses were sometimes included. The ...
(Fr.: ‘unequal notes’)
A rhythmic convention according to which certain divisions of the beat move in alternately long and short values, even if they are written equal.
As it existed in France from the mid-16th century to the late 18th the convention of notes inégales was first of all a way of gracing or enlivening passage-work or diminutions in vocal or instrumental music. As styles changed and the figurations born of diminution entered the essential melodic vocabulary, inequality permeated the musical language. Its application was regulated by metre and note values; it always operated within the beat, never distorting the beat itself. (An anomalous instance of alteration of the beat appears in Gigault; see §2.) The degree of inequality (i.e. the ratio between the lengths of the long and short notes of each pair) could vary from the barely perceptible to the equivalent of double dotting, according to the character of the piece and the taste of the performer. Inequality was considered one of the chief resources of expression, and it varied according to expressive needs within the same piece or even within the same passage; where it was felt to be inappropriate it could be abandoned altogether unless explicitly demanded....
In 15th-century keyboard music, a form of conclusion consisting of formulaic counterpoint over the long-held final note (ultima) of a section of the cantus firmus, before reaching a closing consonance. Octaves and 5ths frequently constitute the salient features of the figuration. This procedure was a part of organ-playing practice in the 15th century, the most extensive collections of examples being in Conrad Paumann's ...
(Fr.: ‘carrying of the voice’)
In Baroque vocal and instrumental music, an appoggiatura, particularly one that resolves upwards by a tone or semitone. Deriving from late 16th-century Italian improvisatory practice – Bovicelli's Regole, passaggi di musica, madrigali et motetti passeggiati (1594/R) contains written-out examples – it became one of the most important graces of French Baroque music. In France it was rarely printed before the late 17th century, but was left to the performer to add extempore. Bacilly explained in his Remarques curieuses sur l'art de bien chanter (1668/R, 4/1681; Eng. trans., 1968) that the accessory note anticipated the beat and took value from the preceding note. Perfection, he continued, lay in its also taking ‘some of the value’ of the note of resolution, as this enabled one to linger on the accessory note.
In his Méthode claire, certaine et facile pour apprendre à chanter la musique (...