A renewed Scarlatti obsession, hearing French harpsichordist Jean Rondeau, and a recent David Russell workshop posted by the Bolton Guitar Series have me thinking about ornamentation on the guitar more than usual.
It’s been about 25 years since I took several masterclasses with David Russell in a tiny Andean village in Venezuela. Besides being a tremendously talented guitarist, David is a wonderful teacher: clear, patient, and able to make you sound better almost instantly. I learned a lot from him there and fortunately have continued to learn from him over the years thanks to videos of him working with students throughout the world. In the video (linked below), David explains his approach to ornamentation very clearly and demonstrates every example with his guitar. If you have lots of time, watch it and extract as much as you can! Here I’ll summarize the points I took away after watching it this morning.
Here is a summary of the basic cross-stringed ornaments and the common (and maybe not so common) ways to execute them (the repeated right hand finger is a sweep):
And here are some of the points David mentions in the workshop:
- Most baroque trills begin on the upper neighbor.
- A brighter sound is better for ornaments. This can be achieved by attacking the string with less of a right-hand angle or by angling the right hand to a more perpendicular angle to the strings.
- Cadential trills are important but ornaments within the piece are more personal as to their inclusion, length, etc…
- Practice the entrances and exits of ornaments with turns.
- Mute the dissonance after the trill. This is usually done with a right-hand finger.
- Dynamics are important within the ornament and the musical line.
- A shorter trill is better than a longer out of rhythm trill unless it is cadential (where time is suspended to a greater degree)
- Cross-string ornaments allow baroque interpretations to vary stylistically from other periods of music.
- Have a higher wrist for trills.
Here are a few additional points that I cannot remember whether they are in the workshop but that I think about:
- The ornamented note should be in time. In order to achieve this a slight acceleration into the ornament or starting the ornament before the beat helps to achieve the correct feel.
- Play ornaments slower in slower melodic lines.
Check out the post I did a while ago: Cross-Stringed Ornaments, Part 1
Bolton Guitar Series: Ornament Workshop with David Russell
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When I was just starting to broaden my ears to the brilliance of Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonatas, I heard one of my early teachers, Robert Squires, play through Scarlatti’s Sonata in A Minor, K.54 (L.241). He played all of the trills cross-stringed and his reasoning was that a harpsichord would also perform the ornaments cross-stringed. Whatever the reason, it sounded so wonderful to hear the crispness and clarity of the trills played this way. Since then, I have worked on a lot of sonatas and have found that regularly practicing the following right hand formulas really help to develop and maintain this skill. There is a lot of beauty in playing trills with slurs but in a lot of baroque keyboard music, performing trills and ornaments across strings is worth the work.