In baroque music, often the performers add ornaments (or even more complex variations) to the written notes, mostly during a repeat. It's very common to hear them on Bach, Vivaldi, Marcello, etc...

This is especially true for the solo part of a concerto, but often it happens even for the harpsichord/piano execution of keyboard music.

Surprisingly, it seems it's not a common practice for some composers or pieces. At least, I've never heard that for Galuppi's or Paradisi's sonatas, for example. It's just me or is there an explanation for this?

  • 2
    "At least, I've never heard that for Galuppi's or Paradisi's sonatas, for example": have you heard recordings by baroque music specialists of these pieces? They're not widely performed, so my first guess is that the performances you've heard were by musicians who also don't ornament pieces by Bach or Scarlatti.
    – phoog
    Aug 23, 2023 at 13:18
  • Maybe. Two examples: youtu.be/E4ZoJ2RDhTE and youtu.be/sRVg_qqcRSw. If I'm not wrong, the repeats are pretty similar, compared to the usual variations I hear on, say, English Suites of Bach (i.e. youtu.be/drHrf3qbpQY)
    – Mark
    Aug 23, 2023 at 13:25
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    Yeah okay, having heard (a few seconds of each of) those recordings I'm going to say it's probably because of the later compositional style. They sound more like Haydn or Mozart even though the composers are closer in time to Bach and Scarlatti. Modern performance practice places less emphasis on ornamentation of classical-period music than baroque, rightly or wrongly.
    – phoog
    Aug 23, 2023 at 13:34
  • Understood, thanks. Last question: is it therefore inadvisable to add them or is it at the discretion of the executor? I speak especially for the two examples I have given
    – Mark
    Aug 23, 2023 at 13:38
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    There are a lot of period primary sources about when and how to ornament. The best approach is to try to get a more focused rule set than "all of the baroque"; e.g. can you narrow in on a century or less, and maybe on a specific instrumental practice? (E.g. flute might "import" some vocal ornamentation practices, but not necessarily all of them.) Also, remember that comments aren't part of the question; they're more temporary. If you want to clarify or add to your question, please use the "Edit" button. Aug 23, 2023 at 14:15

1 Answer 1


Ornamentation such as you describe was undoubtedly common practice during the baroque period and even later (Robert Levin's lectures on Mozart and improvisation, available on Youtube, are highly enlightening, see here).

The degree to which one adds non-written ornaments (either on repeats or at other places in the piece where they might be needed) depends on various factors. Some pieces, for example, already have highly ornamented musical lines and adding more would be simply too much. One criticism levelled at Bach (examples abound, both in vocal - for ex. the duets in BWV 140; notice both the highly ornamented violin line and the notated vocal ornaments - and instrumental works) by Johann Scheibe, a contemporary critic, was that he did just that, leaving little place for creativity (cf. Barber, 1971, amongst many sources on the topic).

Other factors include the performer's technical ability and experience with such improvisation, and, most importantly, what feels musically appropriate (one could term this "good taste") at the particular point in the piece. As Levin says, the purpose of decoration is "to deepen to expression of the piece, not to show off your finger virtuosity". What constitutes "good taste" at any given point, of course, is a matter for personal interpretation by the performer, and in any case, is where the crux of the matter probably lies. Add to that geographical differences in music interpretation (back in the baroque period and even nowadays), and you have a perfect recipe for exactly the kind of difference you mention in your question.

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