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5/24/96: Iíve gotten questions about ornamentation and decoration similar to those about cuts, repeats, and transpositions. When are they acceptable? When not?

We know that Mozart and Beethoven ornamented their own works, that they improvised cadenzas at the keyboard and only later wrote them down, and that they didnít complain about ornamentation that was the practice of the day. Performers were creative artists themselves, not strictly re-creators. The comparison with jazz musiciansí jamming is apt. So, where we know that ornamentation was accepted and, indeed, expected by the composer, I donít see how you can argue against it wholesale. To do so is, at least in a sense, to argue against the composerís intention and for static, homogeneous recreations of these works. (This kind of inversion is not uncommon. It is said, for example, that many of us would not like the architecture or statuary of antiquity in its original form since we are used to seeing it bleached when, originally, it was lavishly decorated with vibrant colors. That is, that we embrace something distinctly modern.)

Accepting ornamentation, though, it is certainly fair to ask: Which ornamentation? Here, I ask only that a performer come in with music that fits the style. But I acknowledge that that is not a simple or purely objective matter. I observe that astute and open-minded listeners can disagree about such connections and commonalities.

Here are two passages for which I wrote the decorations. They illustrate what I think is appropriate and, taken together, they demonstrate that what is appropriate depends on the work in question. Iíd like to thank two colleagues for stopping by my dressing room after a recent performance to tape these 80-second files. Each of them sang a passage as written and then sang a later repeat with the ornamentation. From Rossiniís Barbiere di Siviglia, Erie Mills sings a part of Una Voce Poco Fa. Click here for wave file (887K), mp3 file (790K or original mp2 file [322K]), RealAudioģ stream (170K), RealAudioģ download (170K). From Mozartís Don Giovanni, Bradley D. Williams sings part of Dalla Sua Pace. Click here for wave file (882K), mp3 file (786K or original mp2 file [320K]), RealAudioģ stream (169K), RealAudioģ download (169K).

©1996 by Joseph Rescigno. The text here may be freely reproduced for non-commercial purposes as long as credit is given.

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