A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Agrémens

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AGREMENS (Fr., properly Agrémens du Chant or de Musique; Ger. Manieren; Eng. Graces). 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 agrémens 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 Chambonnières, a celebrated French organist of the time of Louis XIV (1670), and they were probably introduced into Germany by Muffat, organist at Passau in 1695, who in his youth had studied in Paris. The proper employment of the agrémens in French music—which, according to Rousseau (Dictiounaire de Musique, 1768) were necessary 'pour couvrir un peu la fadeur du chant français'—was at first taught in Paris by special professors of the 'gout du chant,' but no definite rules for their application were laid down until Emanuel Bach treated them very fully in his 'Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen,' in 1752. In this he speaks of the great value of the agrémens: '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 ornaments with which the finest building may be overladen, or the spices with which the best dish may be spoilt.

The agrémens according to Emanuel Bach are the Bebung,[1] Vorschlag, Triller, Doppelschlag, Mordent, Anschlag, Schleifer, Schneller, and Brechung (Ex. 1).

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "1." << \relative c'' { \cadenzaOn c2^\markup { . . . . } ^\markup { \smaller \italic Bebung. } \bar "||" \appoggiatura e4 d2^\markup { \smaller \italic Vorschlag. } \bar "||" c4\trill^\markup { \smaller \italic Triller. } \bar "||" }
\new Staff { \relative c'' { c8-.([ c-. c-. c-.)] e4( d) d32[ c d c d c d c] } } >> }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f << \cadenzaOn \relative c'' { c4\turn^\markup { \smaller \italic Doppelschlag. } \bar "||" c\prall^\markup { \smaller \italic Mordent. } \bar "||" \appoggiatura { a16[^\markup { \smaller \italic Anschlag. } c] } b4 \bar "||" }
\new Staff { \relative c'' { d32*2/3([ c b c8.)] c64[ b c32 ~ c8.] a32([ c b8.)] } } >> }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f << \cadenzaOn \relative g' { g4^\markup { \smaller \italic Schleifer. } \bar "|" c4-\tweak #'X-offset #-0.5 -\tweak #'Y-offset #-0.5 -\prall \bar "||" \grace { c16[^\markup { \smaller \italic Schneller. } d] } c4 \bar "||" <c g e>\arpeggio^\markup { \smaller \italic Brechung. } \bar "||" }
\new Staff { \relative g' { g4 a32([ b c8.)] c32([ d c8.)] \set tieWaitForNote =##t e,32[ ~ g ~ <c g e>8.] } } >> }

In addition to these, Marpurg treats of the Nachschlag (Ex. 2), which Emanuel Bach does not recognise, or at least calls 'ugly, although extraordinarily in fashion,' but which is largely employed by modern composers.

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/4 \tempo "2." << \relative c'' { c4 c | \afterGrace c4(^\markup { \smaller \italic Nachschlag. } d16) g,4 | \afterGrace d'4( c16) g'4 \bar "||" }
\new Staff { \relative c'' { c8. d16 c4 | c8. d16 g,4 | d'8. c16 g'4 } } >> }

The principal agrémens of French music were the Appogiature, Trille, and Accent, which resembled respectively the Vorschlag, Triller and Nachschlag described above, and in addition the Mordant—which appears to have differed from the Mordent of German music, and to have been a kind of interrupted trill,—the Coulé, Port de voix,[2] Port de voix jetté, and the Cadence pleine ou brisée[3] (Ex. 3).

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "3." << \cadenzaOn \relative c'' { c8.[\prall b16]^\markup { \smaller \italic Mordant. } a8.[\prall g16] \bar "||" \afterGrace e'2(^\markup { \smaller \italic Coulé } d8) c2 \bar "||" d4^\markup { \smaller \italic "Port de voix." } \grace d8 e2 \bar "||" c4.^\markup { \smaller \italic "Port de voix jetté." } d4 \appoggiatura  d8 e2 \bar "||" e2^\markup { \smaller \italic "Cadence pleine." } d4.\trill c8 \bar "|" c1 \bar "||" c4^\markup { \smaller \italic "Cadence brisée." } c4.\trill b8 \bar "|" c1 \bar "||" }
\new Staff { \relative c'' { c32[ d c d c16. b32] a32[ b a b a16. g32] e4.( d8 c2) d4 d8( e16 d e4) c4. d8 d4. e16[ d e] e2 d16[ e d e d e d] c c1 c4 d16[ c d c d c] b8 c1 } } >> }

The agrémens 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 Simpson, 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 Backfall, the Double Backfall, 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 below (Ex. 4).

The agrémens used in modern music or in the performance of the works of the great masters are the acciacatura, appoggiatura, arpeggio, mordent, nachschlag, shake or trill, slide, and turn, each of which will be fully described in its own place.

[ F. T. ]

  1. The Bebung (Fr. 'balancement'; Ital. 'tremolo') cannot be executed on the modern pianoforte. It consisted in giving to the key of the clavichord a certain trembling pressure, which produced a kind of pulsation of the sound, without any intervals of silence. On stringed instruments a similar effect is obtained by a rocking movement of the finger without raising it from the string."
  2. The term 'Port de voix,' which ought property to signify the carrying of the voice with extreme smoothness from one note to another (Ital. 'portamento dl voce'), has been very generally applied to the appoggiatura.
  3. The Doppelschlag (Eng. 'Turn') was often called Cadence by the French writers of the time of Couperin (1700); and indeed Sebastian Bach uses the word in his 'Clavier-Büchlein' (1720).