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Terms for Embellishment in Renaissance Music [from Donington (1974)]

diminution, division, embellishment, flourish, ornamentation, variation
diminutio, minuritio
coloratura, fioretti, fioritura, gorgia, misura, passaggio, vaghezzi
diferencia, glosa, misura
broderie, diminution, fredon, passage, roullemens
Koloratur, Setzmanieren

Primary Sources

Bassano, Giovanni: Ricercate, passagi et cadentie (1585)

Bassano, Giovanni: Motetti, madrigali et canzoni francese ... diminuiti per sonar con ogni sorte di
stromenti (Venice, 1591)
* Bovicelli, Giovanni Battista: Regole, passagi di musica, madrigali, e motetti passeggiati (Venice,
Brunelli, Antonio: Varii Esercitii (1614)
* Caccini, Giulio: Le nuove musiche (Florence, 1602)
Casa, Girolamo dalla: Il vero modo di diminuir (Venice, 1584)
Cerreto, Scipione: Della prattica musica vocale, et strumentale (Naples, 1601)
Coclico, Adrian Petit: Compendium musices (Nuremberg, 1552)
Conforti, Giovanni Luca: Breve et facile maniera dessercitarsi ... a far passagi (Rome, 1593)
Diruta, Girolamo: Il transilvano. Dialogo sopra il vero modo di sonar organi, & istromenti da
penna (Venice, 1593)
* Finck, Hermann: Pratica musica (Wittenberg, 1556)
* Gafori, Franchino: De harmonia musicorum instrumentorum opus (Milan, 1518)
Galilei, Vincenzo: Dialogo ... della musica antica, et della moderna (Florence, 1581)
* Ganassi, Sylvestro di: Opera intitulata Fontegara, la quale insegna a sonare di flauto (Venice,
* Ganassi, Sylvestro di: Regola Rubertina. Regola che insegna. Sonar de viola darcho tastada
(Venice, 1542)
* Ganassi, Sylvestro di: Lettione seconda pur della prattica di sonare il violone darco da tasti
(Venice, 1548)
* Maffei, Giovanni Camillo: Delle Lettere ... Libri due (1562)
Morley, Thomas: A Plaine & Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (London, 1597)
* Ortiz, Diego: Trattado de glosas sobre clausulas y otros generos de puntos en la musica de
violones (Rome, 1553)
Robinson, Thomas: The Schoole of Musicke (1603)
Rogniono, Richardo: Passagi (Venice, 1592)
Rognoni, Francesco: Selva de varii passaggi (1620)
* Santa Maria, Fray Tomas de: Libro llamado Arte de taer fantasia, assi para tecla como para
vihuela (Valladolid, 1565)
* Simpson, Christopher: The Division-Violist: or, an Introduction to the Playing upon a Ground
(London, 1659 [rather late, but very interesting nonetheless])
Zacconi, Lodovico: Prattica di musica (Venice, 1592)
Secondary Sources, Anthologies

Brown, Howard Mayer: Embellishing Sixteenth-Century Music (Oxford University Press, London,
Donington, Robert: The Interpretation of Early Music (London, 1974)
Ferand, Ernest T.: Improvisation in Nine Centuries of Western Music (Cologne, 1961)
MacClintock, Carol: Readings in the History of Music in Performance (Indiana University Press,
Bloomington, 1979)

A Sample Listing of Embellished Renaissance Music

anon.: Falla con misuras (Medieval Music Anthology, Oxford University Press, 1977)
Byrd, William: My Lady Nevells Booke
Cabezon, Antonio: Obras de Musica para tecla, arpa y vihuela (1578)
Capirola, Vincenzo: Lute Book (1517 [in Fisher Library])
Dalza, Giovanni Ambrosio: Intabolatura de lauto libro quarto (Venice, 1508)
Dowland, John: Collected Lute Music (ed. Diana Poulton, Faber, 1974)
Facoli, Marco: Il secondo libro dintavolatura di balli darpicordo (Venice, 1558)
Fitzwilliam Virginal Book
Frankes: Quene Note (ed. Thurston Dart [15th cent.])
[Thomas] Morley Consort Lessons (ed. S. Beck)
de la Torre, Francesco: Alta [dance] (Historical Anthology of Music I, repr. 1974 [c.1500])
Valente, Antonio: Intavolatura di Cimbalo (Naples, 1576)

The Language of Renaissance Music: Some Basic Precepts

* You will find it extremely helpful to digest the following summary points, but even more
importantly ... study the dots and above all LISTEN TO THIS MUSIC! Only after a great deal
of listening and study will you be able to acquire the feel of this music (particularly its subtle
rhythmic language); then you can begin to improvise confidently in a stylistically authentic manner.

Melodic Line

* Intervals must be easily singable and playable.

* No augmented or diminished intervals.
* The 7th and all intervals exceeding an octave are forbidden except, say, for crossing strings on a
stringed instrument (as in Ortiz).
* The 6th is forbidden, except for the ascending m6th.
* However, between phrases such intervals are permissible.
* Musica ficta.
* The faster the movement, the fewer the leaps. (A leap often involves a change of register, and this
requires time if it is to be executed stylishly.)
* After an upward leap which causes tension it is natural to move downward; after a downward
leap, it is natural to move upward.
* Upward leaps are rarely made from accented crotchets.
* Crotchets are rarely repeated, except in cadential anticipations. Quavers are never repeated.

Local Ornaments (trills etc.)

* Apart from carefully studying the examples in the handout, take note of the following remarks,
from Chapter 24 of Sylvestro Ganassis Opera Intitulata Fontegara (1535) quoting here from
the English translation (1956), p.87:
The simplest ingredient in elegant and graceful playing is the trill. It is done by trembling with the finger over a
hole of the recorder. Trills can be made with a third, with a whole tone, and with a semitone, in all of which the
interval may fluctuate [microtonally], a little more or a little less. These variations are barely perceptible to the
ear with precision, but you can fix them accurately on a stringed instrument on a single string, and then discover
the suitable fingering on the recorder. The trill in thirds is a lively ornament; the interval may be larger or
smaller than a third. The semitone trill, on the contrary, is a gentle and charming ornament; in this also, the
interval may be larger or smaller. Between these two, as a medium ornament, is the trill of a whole tone, or less.


* Consonant intervals (in two-part writing) are: unison, m3rd, M3rd, P5th, m6th, M6th, octave ...
and extensions of these intervals. Everything else including the P4th! is a dissonance.
Consonant combinations of three notes are: 3rd + P5th; 3rd + 6th.
* With very few exceptions, and aside from suspension dissonances, there must be a consonance on
every minim beat.
* Adjacent parallel 5ths and octaves are forbidden. P5ths may occur freely separated by one note;
octaves in less than four parts should be more widely separated.
* Exposed P5ths and octaves (i.e. those arising from part movement in the same direction
landing on a P5th or octave) are to be avoided in two-part writing. In three parts, they are
permissible so long as the third part moves in the opposite direction.
* In general, apart from faux bourdon (i.e. parallel triads in 1st inversion), parallel movement
should be avoided whatever the interval concerned.
* Never double sharpened notes or leading notes.
* Renaissance music rarely ends on a minor chord. In two-part writing, the final interval will be an
octave or a unison.
* Passing dissonance should only occur on unaccented beats. Minim passing notes are OK in two-
part writing with a cantus firmus or ground bass, but not in two-part contrapuntal style; in three
or four parts, they should descend so long as they do not produce a percussed dissonance.
* Passing dissonances must be approached and left by step: leaps are only made to and from
* Suspensions are the only discords allowed on the accented beat; they must resolve downward by
one step although they may be ornamented in such a way that intervening upward movement
* At cadence points, a suspension should normally be used the most common being 4-3.

Rhythmic Language

* The tactus (basic beat unit) in 16th-century music is the minim (or, occasionally in deference to
an earlier tradition the semibreve). NB: over the past 600 years, the tactus has been slowing
down, in that the breve (for example) is now very rarely seen and some composers (e.g. Olivier
Messiaen or Brian Ferneyhough) use the semiquaver or even the demisemiquaver as their basic
beat unit!
* Renaissance musicians did not utilize the bar-line as we understand it, so there is always a
rhythmic fluidity and suppleness. Rhythm in 16th-century contrapuntal and improvised musics is
rarely continuously duple or triple, for that matter: duple and triple feels fluently interpenetrate
one another, by means of syncopation, word placement, etc.
* Therefore, rhythm should exhibit nice proportions and not be too repetitive or symmetrical
sequences are unusual. (However, notice the introductory divisions in Ortizs recercade!)
* Assuming a minim tactus, the available note-values are: the breve and dotted breve; the semibreve
and dotted semibreve; the minim and dotted minim; the crotchet (and dotted crotchet, but only in
certain ornamentations); the quaver; the semiquaver (but only in very intricate ornamentations).
Their equivalents in tied notes may be used as well.
* A note of small value should not normally be tied to a note of larger value (unless the second
value is the final note of the piece).
* A suspension and its resolution should be of the same length (i.e. normally a minim). Its
preparation may be longer, but not shorter.
* Quavers usually occur in pairs, on an unaccented beat.


* This is a rather complex area which I will discuss only in a very cursory fashion. (For further
information, consult the primary sources listed in the Bibliography.) Essentially, the ideal was for
all instruments to imitate the human voice in its flexibility and wide range of articulation
capabilities. So, the range of articulation phonemes expected from, for instance, wind players in
the 16th century was actually greater than that generally demanded of them today! (See Chapters
5 to 8 of Sylvestro Ganassis Opera Intitulata Fontegara (1535): it includes t, d, k, g, l
and r in conjunction with a number of different vowels; Ganassi also pays attention here to both
the attack and the release phonemes!)
* Legato/slurring seems to have been rarely used (although Ganassi does discuss it briefly in
Chapter 8): apparently, even the briefest notes were often individually articulated!

Ian Shanahan (August 1997).