Bill Sallak

percussion • research • creation

Thoughts on Free Ornamentation (III)

In addition to the starting-note question, there are a couple other characteristics of trills that are worth addressing. In this post, we will discuss...


supported trill is one in which the first note is held slightly, in an expressive fashion. (You can also think of a supported trill as one in which the second note is delayed.) Most of the trills you'll play will have some support; how much support will depend largely on taste and context. Here's a video Hilary Hahn playing Mozart K. 216; note the supported appoggiatura trill at the end of her first movement cadenza, right at 10:09.

Because the marimba doesn't sustain, there's a practical limit to how much one can support a trill; if the first note decays completely, it will sound like a separate entity, and that's not so good. That being said, again, some support for most of your trills is in order.

There are circumstances, though, where an unsupported or plain trill will work much better—namely, instances in which the note marked with the trill is part of a larger ornamental figure. For me, this was one of the biggest conceptual takeaways from reading Jerome Carrington's book—that the notes in the immediate vicinity of a notated trill can influence how you think of that trill.

Here's the ornament table from the last post:

And here's an passage from the C minor Allemande:

BWV 1011, Allemande mm. 22-23

So far, we've talked about how this example would be best played as an appoggiatura trill (to avoid the immediate repetition of the A-flat). Carrington's point is this: if you consider the two previous notes as part of the ornament (and they're quick, so they're going to kind of smoosh together with the trill), then this is really a doppelt-cadence (#5 in the table) whose first two notes are written out. (What the chart calls a doppelt-cadence, Carrington refers to as a Triller von unten, or "trill from under." Neither the naming conventions nor the notation of ornaments tend toward consistency. )

If that's the case (and I think it's a strong argument), then any support you give to the notated trill would actually be a pause in the middle of the whole ornament. There will be metric stress on the first note of the trill, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you need to highlight that moment further by supporting the notated trill. This is probably best played as a plain appoggiatura trill (PAT).

Here are some other examples of trills-inside-ornaments from the Suites:

BWV 1011, Prelude mm. 9-10

BWV 1011, Prelude mm. 9-10

If you consider the four notes immediately preceding the written trill, this is actually a trill starting with a turn, or #6 from the chart. (While these compound ornaments constructed from notated trills with written-out prefixes occur throughout the suites, they are especially plentiful in BWV 1011.) The trill should be a PAT.

BWV 1012, Allemande m. 11 (first half)

The Allemande from BWV 1012 is an example of a movement in which Bach wrote out the free ornamentation he desired, rather than allowing performers to improvise it. (He also does this in the first movements of the Violin Sonatas BWV 1001 and 1003 and the second movement of the Italian Concerto BWV 971, among others.) In movements like this, one could consider any short mid-phrase trill as being inside a larger ornamental figure, but this stands out as another instance of a distinct, codified ornament: the Italian double trill, which is a trill preceded by not one but two lower-neighbor alternations that are usually explicitly written out. (While the Italian double trill isn't listed on Bach's ornamentation chart from the Klavierbüchlein, it is discussed in Tartini's roughly-contemporaneous treatise on ornamentation.) This trill should be a PAT.

BWV 1010, Prelude m. 86-end (click to enlarge)

The Prelude from BWV 1010 is really all about the juxtaposition of two kinds of music: 1) motoric arpeggios in eighth notes, and 2) florid (often chromatic) sixteenth-note-based running material. The trill on the downbeat of m. 90 comes in the middle of the final instance of the second type of music—it's practically a small cadenza. (Is cadenzetta a real word? If not, it should be.) You can experiment with varying amounts of support here, but I would argue again using too much—there's nothing so special about the downbeat of m. 90 that it should detract from the totality of three-measure run and final chord.** Your best bet is either playing it completely plain, or with a small amount of support.

There are now four kinds of trills in play: supported appoggiatura (SAT), plain appoggiatura (PAT), supported main-note (SMT), and plain main-note (PMT). Next time, we'll discuss metrical and rhythmic considerations for playing trills.

** I can't help but wonder if there isn't a more global lesson about effective expression embedded in this discussion. Within the scope of a piece, expressiveness is not strictly cumulative: playing the most expressive rendition of measure 1, followed by the most expressive rendition of measure 2, etc., usually won't lead you to the most expressive rendition of a work. There are, as economists say, diminishing marginal returns on your attempts to evoke emotional reactions from an audience, and just as accents become more audible when non-accented notes are played more quietly, the moments of greatest expression become much more effective when they appear in a general context that provides a baseline affect against which they appear in relief. (Or, as I said to someone in a lesson once, "You don't get to make your audience cry at some point in every line.")

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