Giorgio Dellarole: early music for a modern instrument – 2

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In my first article I spoke about the fundamental role of awareness in the interpretation of early repertoire. In this article, I will focus my attention on the analysis of the theoretical elements to take into consideration.

Here below, a summary list of the possible sources of information:

  • Ancient documents
  • Modern documents
  • The historical and social European context of the XVII – XVIII centuries
  • The technique and the characteristics of the early musical instruments


L'interpretazione della musica dei secoli XVII e XVIIII will start from the last point of the list because I think it is not necessary to know how to play the harpsichord in order to perform a Scarlatti’s Sonata with the accordion. Moreover, I don’t think that it is fundamental to know the early musical instruments to imitate their articulation and their sounds.

I simply think that it is really useful to understand what it is possible to do or not to do with an original instrument in order to be able to adapt all kind of pieces to its own instrument.

In my first article I have already mentioned the possibility to reproduce the early repertoire with a piano or with an accordion and I spoke about the success that this type of process has among specialists. I would like to add that the idea of performing the same piece with different instruments has very ancient roots and it is part of the concept of Baroque music.

Musicians of that era thought that reproposing the same piece meant strengthening its validity.

We can find lots of documents that prove the alternative use of violin and mandolin at the beginning of the XVIII century and the use of violin and recorder and of violin and cornett during the Baroque era (1). It is also proved by many scores which provide a vast choice of instruments in their header and we know many instrumental works with a wide (2) destination.

I won’t deny the fact that many pieces had a precise instrumental reference, but several evidences on “promiscuity” show that often the practical requirements prevail on the philological ones.


As far as the third point on my list (the historical and social context) is concerned, I must confess that I am a fan of interdisciplinarity and I am convinced that knowledge of a composition is not sufficient for a deep understanding; in fact it is also necessary to know its background.

It is not possible to understand Bach’s works if you are not familiar with the Protestant Reformation or Lully’s music if you don’t know his connection with Louis XIV.

Is it easier or not to understand Baroque music if you know the Baroque style in architecture and in the arts?

I think that the education of the modern musician and more specifically of the accordion player (3), cannot be reduced to technical and instrumental aspects, but it should include an appropriate cultural baggage.


L'accentuazione in musicaThe expression “modern documents” indicates all the recent texts that deal with several aspects related to the analysis of early repertoire.

For a neophyte all these resources could be more important than the original documents which sometimes, because of the complicated language and the particular structure, are incomprehensible if there are not sufficient cultural references.

In order to reconstruct the history of musical philology it is necessary to start from the texts of the “pioneers” and in particular from “The Interpretation of the Music of the 17th and 18th Centuries” by Arnold Dolmetsch (1915) which gave birth to the early music movement in the twentieth century.

We can consider as important in this reconstruction also some works written by Manfred Bukofzer (4), Thurston Dart (5), Robert Donington (6), Antoine Geoffroy-Dechaume (7) and the critical interventions of Richard Taruskin collected in the book “Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance” (1995).

Considering the huge development of the philological research started from the second half of the twentieth century, we can say that the mentioned texts may be appear as old-fashioned and they include several inaccuracies which have been rectified by the modern critics, but anyway they are always considered as cornerstones and works of great cultural meaning.

Fortunately, there are also some more recent texts which in part are based on original documents and which in part use and rectify the previous researches. In my first article, I mentioned, “Il Clavicembalo” by Bellasich-Fadini-Granziera-Leschiutta and now I will make a list of texts that can help with the problems of interpretation raised by the early repertoire.

Of course this list is not intended to complete the analysis on the subject.


  • Emilia Fadini – Maria Antonietta Cancellaro: L’accentuazione in musica. Metrica classica e norme sette-ottocentesche (2009)

Text of great interest, dedicated to the accentuation in the performance practice in the 17th century. Very interesting the parallel between the organization of the musical phrase and the poetry

  • John Rink: Musical Performance: a guide to understanding (2002)

Collection of sixteen essays on various aspects of musical performance. It covers the topic by analyzing the act of “making music” and all the related issues: the performance of music through the ages, the history of teaching, learning and memory, the problem of interpretation and fidelity to the score over the centuries, listening

  • Paul Brunold: Traité des signes et agréments (1964)

This is a very important book that deal with the ornamentation in the French harpsichord repertoire of the 17th and 18th centuries. Brunold, French musicologist and organist, collects the information contained in the prefaces that often accompanied the French compositions and analyzes them in details (8)

  • Nunziata Bonaccorsi: L’ornamentazione ovvero l’arte di abbellire in musica (2002)

Precious book that makes the information on ornaments accessible to everybody. It analyzes the subject with reference to the major historical and stylistic trends: the Italian, French, German, Spanish and English school, and it ends with two appendices devoted to each individual embellishment and to the testimonies of several authors on the subject

  • Ernst Ferand: Die Improvisation in der Musik (1938)

The study of improvisation in western classical music begins with this book of Ferand that, first, understands that this is an issue of the first importance and that we have to give full dignity to historical and methodological analysis of improvisation

  • Orchidea Salvati: Processo al doppio punto – Raccolta di scritti sul problema del punto di valore (1989)

A collection of essays, written between 1965 and 1981 and printed by “Revue de Musicologie”, “The Musical Quarterly” and “Early Music”, which deal with some crucial issues related to the baroque performance practice: the dotted notes. Currently the topic is not so controversial, but the book is still worth reading for the wealth of quotations and the accurate historical references

  • Stuart Isacoof: Temperament. How music became a battleground for the great minds of western civilisation” (2001)

He deals with a fundamental topic of the debate on early repertoire: the temperament. The basic theory of the author, who sees in equal temperament the summit of progress and of research, is quite questionable, but the book is full of anecdotes and interesting informations

  • Early Music

To keep up with the latest discoveries about the ancient repertoire, I recommend a subscription to the magazine “EarlyMusic” (9). In this way you’ll receive every three months the paper review and you’ll can consult the historical archives of the magazine, where you can find many writings of the best musicians and musicologist of the twentieth century


Here I finish my second article which I hope will be useful to all the friends of Strumenti& I will start the analysis of ancient documents in my next article.


(1) For example, the “Affetti Musicali” by Biagio Marini (1617) where we can read “… da potersi suonar con Violini, Cornetti e con ogni sorte de Strumenti Musicali” and the " Sonate a violino, o flauto solo, e basso " by Veracini (1716)
(2) Among many works, we can make mention of " Sonate, Symphonie… per ogni sorte d’Istrumenti " or " Sonata nona per doi Fagotti, o Tromboni Grossi” (1626) by Biagio Marini and " Il primo libro delle canzoni… per sonar con ogni sorte de stromenti” (1628) by Girolamo Frescobaldi
(3) The reference to the accordion players is not meant to be controversial, but it is based on a deep-rooted popular vocation of our instrument, which often limits the training of young musicians at the beginning of their studies
(4) “Music in the Baroque Era” (1947)
(5) “The Interpretation of Music” (1954)
(6) “The interpretation of Early Music” (1963) and “A Performer’s Guide to Baroque Music” (1973)
(7) Les “secrets” de la musique ancienne (1964)
(8) The knowledge of ornamentation, especially in the French music, is one of the pillars of the interpretation of early music. Usually we ascribe to the embellishments a decorative value but we have to consider that throughout the Baroque period and beyond, ornaments were so important to become the structure of scores

I am grateful to Marta Cogotti for her translation

Autore: Giorgio Dellarole

ha scritto 19 articoli.

Questo post è disponibile anche in: Italian

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