Performing Ornaments in English Virginal and Harpsichord Music (Based on the Study of Original Interpretation Instructions)

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The focus of the article is centered on the problems of performing ornaments in English virginal music of the Elizabethan and several first decades of Post-Elizabethan time. The paper presents a comparative analysis of information from historical sources, representing the views of early British virginalists regarding the methods and rules which deal with the interpretation of the unique, for that period, ornament signs. Special attention is given to the MS Res. 1186 located in the Bibliotheque nationale de France. Historically, the situation was such that except for information from the MS materials by Edward Bevin (c1630), science did not have any information directly related to the execution of virginal ornamentation. A critical review is undertaken of the scientific literature of the 19th-21th centuries, devoted to the interpretation of early English virginal music, as well as the review of information from reference and encyclopedic literature. Numerous inaccuracies, discrepancies and even serious errors in the interpretation and presentation of materials from early sources by modern researchers are revealed. As a result a generalization is provided in which it is stated that there are many possibilities for performing virginal ornaments marked by double oblique strokes, but not playing them from the above auxiliary note except in the cadential (semi- and quasi-cadential) contexts. The article also examines the possible correlations between performing principles of English virginalists and the practical recommendations from the well known Spanish, Italian, German and French treatises from the analyzed period.

Scopus subject areas

  • Music


  • Ornamentation
  • English virginal music
  • Edward Bevin
  • William Byrd
  • John Bull
  • Orlando Gibbons
  • Thomas Tallis
  • John Blow
  • Blitheman


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