I am looking at Bach's French Suite #3, BWV 814, Allemande, and the ornamentation typesetting is confusing me.

I am familiar with mordant vs. trill, and the standard description of ornaments for Bach. Here is what is confusing me:

  • some ornaments are typeset smaller -- does this mean they are optional?
  • there seem to be some "horizontal" parentheses next to mordants and/or trills, but not always; the position of the "ghost" (?) note is either above or below, and not related to whether this is a trill or mordant.

Here is a picture. Note the small vs. large ornamentation sizing. The "ghost" note appears above or below, both for trills and mordants.

this is mostly what it looks like

1 Answer 1


Small ornaments

The smaller ornaments indicate an editorial addition. These additions are typically based on alternative sources or common practice, but which cannot be conclusively determined by the source material.


These are a variant marking for an appoggiatura from above (see #10 in the image below).

List of ornaments with notation (SOURCE)

This is clarified further by the website BachMusicology.com, which discusses ornamentation and contains a similar table.

Schulenberg states that “J.S. Bach’s table for W.F. Bach employs a sign for the Accent (appoggiatura) shaped like a half-circle or small letter ‘c’, similar to that used by d’Anglebert and Rameau for the port de voix.. But Bach’s sign for the mordent resembles that of François Couperin’s pincé, and his table shows several signs that are absent from French sources.”

Listing of ornaments

The "small-c" marking appears in the Alfred Dürr-edited Neue Bach-Ausgabe edition. (IMSLP)

BWV 814 Allemande m. 13

An extensive article on pre-Bach ornamentation and notation can be found here.

Henle editions would typically have an explanation in the notes either at the beginning or the end of the book. If you haven't already read those sections, they offer a wealth of information.

  • 2
    Excellent, many thanks! That answers my questions. I looked at the appendix and i) the English version says the two curved lines are there to stress the cantabile of the main theme (which doesn't really help) and ii) fun fact, I had actually read the French version which just called those "delays" (retards) without mentioning curved lines. Commented Dec 21, 2020 at 5:47
  • 1
    Also, thanks for pointing out that this is #10 -- based on the difference in notation I did not suspect this was actually the same thing. Commented Dec 21, 2020 at 5:47
  • @JonathanProtzenko New to me as well. Thanks for an interesting question.
    – Aaron
    Commented Dec 21, 2020 at 5:50

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