Perplexing Embellishments and Their Execution in Playing Music – Appoggiatura

The most perplexing of all the ornaments is the ‘double appoggiatura’ (schleifer, or slide), which consists of several short appoggiaturas that progress in steps of seconds. The great force and energy that characterize them is often destroyed by their being played before the beat. We illustrate by means of an example below:


All short appoggiatura must be played in this manner. When played directly upon the beat of the principal note and with proper precision there results an increased brilliancy.

That is certainly a most excellent precept, and could hardly be misunderstood but for the after-note (nachschlag), which is expressed by small notes. These small notes do not possess definite rhythmic value in the measure, but instead of detracting from the value of the note which follows, as in the case of the short appoggiatura, they borrow time from the note which precedes them. These after-notes may be distinguished by the fact that a slur connects them with the preceding note. Unfortunately composers are careless about writing this slur. In cases such as the following (from Beethoven’s D major Violin Sonata, Op. 12, I, complete edition):


The carelessness of the music engravers has made it very difficult to determine whether the slur under the sixteenth notes should connect those notes to the D or to the C; but surely it is applied to the D, because otherwise there would ensue a disturbance of the diminuendo on D-C at the close, hence a faulty interpretation. Such vaguely written after-notes, written in connection with diminuendo effects are especially common in Chopin. As even more noticeable instance of this carelessness is to be found in the ‘Adagio’ of Beethoven’s Sonata, Op. 10, I:


Here also the engravers drew the slur under the notes in such a way that its application cannot be determined, and it might just as well have been omitted.

Inasmuch as low F begins a new phrase, and cannot in any way be considered the end of the preceding motive (which would have a terrible effect), the descending arpeggio surely leads over to this tone, two octaves distant from the end of the previous phrase, and cannot absorb any of its time value.

The low F has a peculiar double meaning, as it is not only the beginning of a new phrase, but is the intermediary note between a ‘fortissimo’ and a ‘piano’. Consequently there should be a very slight prolonging of the time value of the high F, then a diminuendo that is also a slight retard, but one that is entirely free from any effect of lameness.

There are times when only one’s good taste and natural instinct respecting the expression which certain passages demand will be the guide to the correct manner of playing such ornaments. In such cases rules are wholly inadequate.

Chopin’s frequent writing of groups of after-notes in diminuendo passages with an extraordinary number of notes makes it impossible to play such passages without departing from the strict pulsation of the measure. The beginner is advised to content himself with only a moderate relaxation of the tempo when called upon to master such exuberant arabesques.

We have now reached the ‘turn’, which is at once the most important as well as the most ambiguous of all the ornaments. It is indicated by a relic of the neume notation embellishments-22, but frequently there is met the sign embellishments-22 which was used by Hummel in his ‘Klavierschule’. We shall not consider the sign of the real inverted turn (embellishments-24) because it is no longer in use, and when required the composer always writes it in full (it is wrongly used by Schobart in 1765).

The ordinary turn consists of four notes, namely, an upper auxiliary note, a principal note, an under auxiliary note, and, lastly, a principal note, for example, for C:


Therefore, it is a combination of a principal note, a short appoggiatura from above and another short appoggiatura from below. The proper disposition of the notes of a turn relative to the rhythm will depend upon wither the sign embellishments-22 stands directly over or directly after the note, for example:


In the first case the turn is a species of short appoggiatura, and in the second it belongs to the after-notes. In the first case it consists of only three notes beginning upon the beat of the principal note, while in the second case it consists of four notes appended to the principal note. When small notes are written instead of the sign embellishments-22, then affairs will appear as follows:


Because a turn makes use of two auxiliary tones, the accidentals can refer either to the note above or the note below the principal note. For these are used in connection with the sign, therefore, the case does not parallel that of the inverted mordent and the mordent. Accidentals above the sign refer to the upper auxiliary note, while those below the sign refer to the under auxiliary. When the composer has been careless in supplying the accidentals then the player has some excuse when he plays wrong notes! The normal methods of using accidentals in connection with the sign embellishments-22 are as follows:


When the turn is expressed by small notes instead of by the sign embellishments-22, then the accidentals are written before the notes themselves that are to be affected, namely:


A few words only are now necessary to explain the precise rhythmical execution of a turn when the sign is written either above (like an appoggiatura), or else after the principal note. If the ornamented note is short, then the turn is resolved into four or five notes having equal velocity, as, for example, several different turns in Beethoven’s ‘Andante’ to his F minor Sonata, Op. 2, I, which is a fruitful field for the study of the turn.


At (a), (b) and (d) the sixteenth note is resolved into four sixty-fourth notes, and at € four thirty-seconds are a sufficiently satisfactory means of rendition, although even a better resolution would be:


The after-note of a turn resolves only a portion of the close of the long note into short note values, but just how short these notes shall be cannot be precisely stated, however, there must be perfect fluency and no dragging. A suggestion relative to this is found in the ‘Adagio’ (measure 25) of Beethoven’s C minor Sonata, Op. 10, I:


The turn-sign embellishments-22 stands after the third eighth note, and, therefore, resolves only on this note:


In the two following illustrations taken from the ‘Adagio’ of Beethoven’s Op. 2, I, it is necessary to resolve only the second half of the embellished quarter note:


When the first note of a dotted rhythm embellishments-23 has a turn it requires a special manner of execution, namely, a resolving of the first part of the time value of the dotted note, and, as far as possible, in such a way that the dotted rhythm may be conserved in half the written values, thus:


Another example from Beethoven, Op. 2, I:




Example 39 represents a class by itself. It is a case where the turn, being written directly above a note, is played before the note. According to Czerny’s authority our example would then be played as follows:


In the first movement of his Sonata, Op. 2, III, Beethoven makes a most remarkable use of the turn:


Which is played:


And the following would express the same thing in another way (see also 39 and 41 above):


Apparently in this case Beethoven chose the form of notation that best would favor the execution of the turn. But an interpretation such as is found in the Lebert edition (Cotta) must be rejected:


In concluding those brief explanations I trust that they will suffice to remove all anxiety on the part of the ambitious piano player when he encounters the ordinary ornaments in use in music; and, at the same time, it is my hope that however superficial this little treatise maybe, yet it may encourage the young musician to find his chief enjoyment in the beauty of melody and the depth of harmony.