programme note: What became of the ornament? Once a means of sustaining pitches quickly lost on early instruments (and also perhaps a sonic portrayal of the swirling details found in contemporary fine arts and architecture), the ornament transformed from the trills and turns of the Baroque and Classical into the right-hand cadenzas of Chopin and his ilk – great swarms of those little notes that make otherwise navigable works nightmarish for the average pianist. What happened to the ornament after the Romantics? Perhaps it was replaced by other means of prolongation and embellishment. Perhaps, in a sense, the more weapons-grade music of the present is pure ornament.
On the use of ornaments in the music of his day, Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) is said to have commented on musicians’ “sundry good and merry pranks with little runs and leaps”.