Performance Practice: Turns

With the exception of trills, turns are probably the most encountered ornament in horn music – think of Kopprasch and Maxime-Alphonse, to name a few.  While this post works by itself, it is intended as a companion to an earlier post on trill performance practice.  Many excellent resources deal with the performance of both turns and trills – see the list at the end of this post for more details – but one of the most practical descriptions and explanations I have found is in J.B. Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpet. The edition I’ll be referring to was edited by Edwin Franko Goldman and Walter M. Smith, annotated by Claude Gordan, and published by Carl Fischer in 1982.  Overall it is a great collection for the development of technique, and it also contains an entire chapter with exercises devoted to various ornaments.

Arban’s definition of the turn is as follows.

“The turn consists of a group of grace notes revolving around a main note.  It is necessary to give as much value to the upper and lower grace notes of the turn as to the note which serves as the pivot.pp. 87-88

Additionally, a note from the editor provides further information.

“The value for the turn is taken from the main note and the turn is usually played after the beat.  However, the exact performance of the turn varies.” pp. 87-88

Arban discusses both four-note and three-note turns, but for the purposes of this post we’ll stick with the four-note variety since they seem to be the most common for our instrument.  In the examples below, taken from pages 87-88 of Arban’s Method, a turn notated like this:

Would be performed like this:

Arban continues, offering some additional guidelines for this type of turn.

Here in its normal position, the loop begins its curl from above, which indicates that the upper grace note is played first.  The lower grace note should always form a half step with the main note, indicated by placing an accidental beneath the sign.  The upper grace note may form either a whole step or a half step with the main note, depending on the tonality of the music. pp. 87-89

The second of the the two types of four-note turns Arban discusses is notated like this (pp. 89-90):

And performed like this:

As with the first type, additional instructions are provided, along with some words of advice regarding the performance of turns in general.

Here in its inverted position, the loop begins its curl from below, which indicates that the lower grace note is played first.  This, at any rate, is the proper way to write such passages.  Unfortunately, these details are presently neglected by composers and are left to the player’s discretion. pp.89-90.

So according to Arban it doesn’t seem that there are any hard and fast rules regarding turns, but rather a few general guidelines, with the ultimate responsibility resting on the performer.  However, by reading and practicing the exercises from books like Arban’s (and others), you can arrive at a solid technique and a better sense of how turns work musically.  This knowledge will help you make informed and artistic decisions in your own playing.

As promised, here is a short list of of historical and contemporary sources for performance practice.

Historical

Johann Joachim Quantz, Playing the Flute, Berlin, 1752

C.P.E. Bach, Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments, 2 vols., Berlin and Leipzig, 1762, 1787

Leopold Mozart, A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing, Augsburg, 1756.

Contemporary

Edward Dannreuther, Musical Ornamentation, New York: Kalmus, 19??.

Thurston Dart, The Interpretation of Music, New York: Harper & Row, 1963.

Robert Donington, The Interpretation of Early Music, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1963.

Which Note Do I Start My Trills On?

Just imagine – you’ve spent countless hours practicing your lip trills, starting slowly and speeding up, and practicing “flips” so that you can begin a trill immediately – you are now ready to play these elegant, refined ornaments in Mozart’s concertos, Beethoven’s sonata, and other Classical era works.  But wait a minute, which note do you start on, the principal note, or the one above?  Unfortunately, many of the otherwise excellent exercises for practicing lip trills don’t really address the issue of performance practice.  There are volumes of material on 18th-century performance practice, including treatises by Quantz, C.P.E. Bach, and Leopold Mozart,  and at least a brief reading of these authors can help inform our phrasing, interpretation, and overall style.  Another excellent resource is Michael Hoeltzel‘s  Mastery of the French Horn: Technique and Musical Expression, published by Schott in 2006 and translated by William Melton.  Professor Hoeltzel has had a distinguished career as a performer and teacher at the highest level, and this text is in many ways a continuation of the concepts he presents in the first two volumes of his Method for French Horn.  This a great all-around text, with chapters on warm-up and daily exercises, practicing, tone, phrasing, equipment, history of musical style, cadenzas, competitions/juries/auditions, and managing your career.

Getting back to trill performance practice, Hoeltzel offers a concise distillation of the general conventions of 18th-century trills drawn from Quantz, C.P.E. Bach, and Leopold Mozart.  Regarding this subject, he notes the following.

“In principle, the trill of the Baroque and Classical periods was begun from above, the exception being if the previous note already approaches from above in a whole or half-step.” [page 71]  So, in the following example, also taken from page 71, a figure like this,

would be realized like this, with the appoggiatura coming on the beat.

And not, as is often done, like this.

Professor Hoeltzel goes on to describe one other situation involving the trill.

“If for some reason we are required to begin a trill from above after stepwise motion from above, we should subtly shorten the note before the trill, and begin the trill from above with an accent:” [page 71]  The included example from page 71 illustrates this concept.

So although this is by no means a complete explanation of the 18th-century trill, I think it does help clarify a few things.  For additional reading, try some of these 18th-century sources, all of which are available in translation.

Johann Joachim Quantz, Playing the Flute, Berlin, 1752

C.P.E. Bach, Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments, 2 vols., Berlin and Leipzig, 1762, 1787

Leopold Mozart, A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing, Augsburg, 1756.

And finally, here are some other excellent contemporary writings on performance practice from a wide span of music history.

Edward Dannreuther, Musical Ornamentation, New York: Kalmus, 19??.

Thurston Dart, The Interpretation of Music, New York: Harper & Row, 1963.

Robert Donington, The Interpretation of Early Music, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1963.

Peter Lukas Graf, Interpretation: How to Shape a Melodic Line translated by Katharine Wake, Mainz & New York: Schott, 2001. [recommended by Professor Hoeltzel in his book]

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