This post examines historical descriptions of a musical ornament that appears in several genres. In Western classical music it is referred to by the Italian name gruppetto (small group) or a native designation in the language of discourse, such as the English “turn.” Its manifestation in Irish traditional music is called a “roll.” Tutorial presentations in that context frequently mention its resemblance to the classical ornament but caution against confusing the two. Despite sharing the same basic five-note configuration — note; note above; note; note below; note — their rhythmic segmentation and musical functions differ.
An ornament called a gruppo appears in a treatise on improvised embellishment and ornamentation in vocal performance by Giulio Caccini titled Le Nuove Musiche (The New Music), published in 1601. The five-note figure now called a gruppetto is a diminutive of it in both grammatical and structural senses, formed by the final thirty-second notes of a long trill. The execution of the trillo is similarly apparent. It is the single-note ornament now referred to as a tremolo. As written, both labeled ornaments accelerate over the first six or seven notes.
John Playford added an English translation of material from Caccini’s book to A Brief Introduction to the Skill of Music, first published without it in 1655. The “fourth edition much enlarged” from 1664 includes a near clone of the preceding illustration.
The double relish is sung at an even speed but the plain shake still accelerates through its first half. It has no general correlate on musical instruments and references to shakes in historical texts about instrumental practice are normally to the two-note ornament now commonly termed a trill. There has been significant stylistic and regional variation over time in the way it is played. Pivotal attributes include its length, if it starts on, above, or below the note it decorates, and if it ends with an additional flourish.
Essential information about many ornaments is camouflaged by the shorthand signs used for their representation. As notational conventions developed, authors and composers commonly explained their own preferences in narrative or tabular form. An example of English practice is found in The Pleasant Companion: or new LESSONS and INSTRUCTIONS for the FLAGELET, by Thomas Greeting (discussed in detail in an earlier post). It may have been published in 1661 but the oldest edition known to have survived intact appeared in 1680. Here is a tune from it.Continue reading “Turns and rolls — Part 1”