Agremens

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Certain ornaments introduced into vocal or instrumental melody, indicated either by signs, or by small notes, and performed according to certain rules.

Various forms of agremens have been from time to time invented by different composers, and many of them have again fallen into disuse, but the earliest seem to have been the invention of Chambonnieres, a celebrated French organist of the time of Louis XIV. (1670), and they were probably introduced into Germany by Georg Muffat, organist at Passau in 1695, who in his youth had studied in Paris.

The proper employment of the agremens in French music which, according to Rousseau (Dictionnaire de Musique, 1767) were necessary ‘pour couvrir un peu la fadeur du chant francais’ was at first taught in Paris by special professors of the ‘hout du change,’ but no definite rules for their application were laid down until Enamuel Bach treated them very fully in his Versuch uber die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen, in 1753. In this he speaks of the great value of the agremens: ‘They serve to connect the notes, they enliven them, and when necessary give them a special emphasis, … they help to elucidate the character of the music; whether it be sad, cheerful, or otherwise, they always contribute their share to the effect, … an indifferent composition may be improved by their aid, while without them even the best melody may appear empty and meaningless.’ At the same time he warns against their too frequent use, and says they should be as the ornament with which the finest building may be overladen, or the spices with which the best dish may be spoilt.

The agremens according to Emanuel Bach are the Bebung, Vorschlag, Triller, Doppelschlag, Mordent, Anschlag, Schleifer, Schneller, and Brechung.

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In addition to these, Marpurg treats of the Nachschlag or ‘Aspiration’, which Emanuel Bach does not recognize, or at least calls ‘ugly, although extraordinarily in fashion,’ but which is largely employed by modern composers.

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The principal agremens of French music were the Appoggiature, Trille, and Accent, which resembled respectively the Vorschlag, Triller, and Nachschlag described above, and in addition the Mordent which appears to have differed from the Mordent of German music, and to have been a kind of interrupted trill, the Coule, Port de vois, Port de voix jette, and the Cadence pleine ou brisee.

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The agremens or graces peculiar to old English music differed considerably from the above, and have now become obsolete. They are described in an instruction book for the violin, called the Division Violist, by Christopher Sympson, published in 1659, and are divided into two classes, the ‘smooth and shaked graces.’

The smooth graces are only adapted to stringed instruments, as they are to be executed by sliding the finger along the string; they include the Plain-beat or Rise, the Back-fall, the Double Back-fall, the Elevation, the Cadent, and the Springer which ‘concludes the Sound of a Note more acute, by clapping down another Finger just at the expiring of it.’ The effect of this other finger upon the violin would be to raise the pitch of the last note but one (the upper of the two written notes) so that the Springer would resemble the French Accent.

The ‘shaked graces’ are the Shaked Beat, Backfall, Elevation, and Cadent, which are similar to the plain graces with the addition of a shake, and lastly the Double Relish, of which no explanation in words is attempted, but an example in notes given as above.

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The agremens used in modern music or in the performance of the works fo the great masters are acciaccatura, appoggiatura, arpeggio, mordent, nachschlag, shake or trill, slide, and turn.

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