Play Baroque as a modern Quantz

 With this lecture I want to give you some tools to help you find your way to a correct manner of performing music from the Baroque Era. This will not be a complete guide, but I will give you some simple instructions which may help you to get started when you want to play baroque pieces in the way that they were played at the time  they were written. It’s like learning a new language ànd speaking it!


“It’s a matter of taste”

Since the 1960’s a new way of performing baroque music has developed, a development that started in The Netherlands and Austria by musicians like Gustav Leonhardt, Frans Vester and Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Before that time (in the 19th and 20th centuries) music from the baroque was played in the same manner as music from the later Romantic Era. Performers had no knowledge of the special style in which the older music was performed and no idea of the particular sounds and possibilities of the baroque musical instruments. 

By studying 18th-century literature and playing on the historical instruments musicians discovered and introduced the rules that were part of performing music in those days. And when those rules were fully mastered the modern musicians found that baroque music could be played as free and artistic as it was played before despite all the strict rules that were added.

By Baroque music in this context I mean music that was composed in the first half of the 18th century by composers such as Bach, Handel and Telemann. Many of the mentioned rules though should also be applied to music written by composers in the period that followed, for instance Bach’s son C.P.E. Bach, Haydn and Mozart.



Most of the rules are mentioned in the German book `Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversière zu spielen’, translated into English as: ‘On Playing the Flute’ and written by Johann Joachim Quantz who lived between 1697 and 1773. Quantz was a famous flautist and the teacher of king Frederick The Great of Prussia. In his book he was one of the first to give detailed instructions on the performance practice of his time. It could well be that he considered this book necessary because he was not pleased by the way the performances were developing. The book was written in 1752, the baroque era was nearly at its end and a lot of things were changing – and of course he was a severe teacher!


Music as a spoken language

Every language has rules about where to put the emphasis in words or sentences. Music also has these rules and it is very important not to give accents on the wrong notes – a dissonant long appoggiatura or grace note should have more emphasis than the consonant resolution which must be played lighter. In English you say fa-ther and not fa-ther.

But the rules in playing baroque music go somewhat further than those in language. They not only apply to single notes and movements like grace notes and final notes but should be used to shape bars as a whole. Music becomes boring if all notes within a bar or musical phrase would get the same accents and sound similar. By making variation in accents you create light and dark notes, strong and weak ones, or as baroque composers would say ‘good and bad’ notes, and this diversity gives sense to the music you play. And let us not forget that a lot of 17th and 18th century music was based on dance music with its up and down beats. 

Strong notes are the notes that come on the uneven beats in a 2- or 4-beat bar. The first and the third beat are strong ones and can be played a little longer and louder than the others which makes them sound as ‘good’ notes. The notes on the even beats can be played slightly weaker, shorter and lighter. Quantz mentions that some foreigners call these notes the ‘bad’ ones.


[On request I can send you a hand-out with all music examples :]

The figure shows where the strong and weak beats are in different time marks: 

If you apply these rules to no matter which piece of baroque music you will notice that composers have kept to this principal very often in composing their music. Important notes are usually on the important, uneven, beats but of course there are always exceptions. At these exceptions in many cases something special is happening in the music, a syncopation for instance or an extra dissonance or an exceptionally high or low note. Of course it is also possible that the piece was written by a bad composer!


Now let us look at the following examples 1 - 4:


Example 1

G.Ph. Telemann, duet #4, 2nd movement, Allegro bar 1-5


Example 2

G.F. Händel, Sonata in b HWV 376, 2nd movement, Allegro bar 1-6


Example 3

G.Ph. Telemann, Fantasia 6, Allegro bar 1-5


Example 4

W. de Fesch, Sarabanda bar 13-18


In the last example in bars 16 and 17 we find a specific ending for a three-beat measure that was frequently used in baroque music: the hemiola. Two 3-beat bars are played as three groups of 2 beats. Especially the strong accent on the second beat in bar 17 (c-sharp) shows that the composer meant three 2-beat bars instead of two 3-beat bars for the end of this piece. Contemporary composers would write a change of time mark, but that was impossible for a baroque composer.

To be sure of the fact that a hemiola is meant in the closing bars of a three-beat time mark you should look at the bass line or the left hand of the accompaniment. In this example 4 it evidently goes with the 2-2-2 emphasis of the solo part. (f-sharp e d e f-sharp f-sharp b)


Good and bad notes


The alternation of strong and weak notes also appears within smaller parts of the beats, the groups of eighth or sixteenth notes as you can see on your paper. In a group of four sixteenth notes the first and the third are the ‘good’ ones, the second and the fourth the ‘bad’ ones. If you play the good ones somewhat stronger than the bad ones, the movement ‘limps’ a bit, which gives a typical baroque sound. Quantz states that whenever you have to play two or more quick notes you should always try to make a certain distinction between them. Two fast notes can be played in the same manner only when they have dots or lines on them or when they are too fast to make them different. In this last case you can emphasize only the first of the four sixteenth notes. In his book Quantz also gives a detailed description of the baroque tonguing with ‘ri-ti’, which gives a slight ‘limp’ as well, especially in punctuated rhythms. 

We could pronounce ‘te-de’ on our modern instruments.


Example 5 Too quick to limp


G.Ph. Telemann, Fantasia 2, Allegro bar 1-4



The French gave this limping a name: you play inégale which means unequal. Playing inégale gives the best effect in slower movements especially the ones with many sixteenth notes or when the eighth notes are the fastest ones.

When playing inégale you can do this either in a lazy manner, using triplets, or in a more active manner playing them as eighth-dot-sixteenth, making the difference between the two notes even greater. The first manner is usually better for slow movements, the latter is used in quick gavottes, for instance. Written dots, as in example 6, can be exaggerated and in example 7 (a very important example)  a dot can be played after the eighth-rest, making a longer rest and playing the eighth-note as a sixteenth.

Example 8 shows that the baroque composer writes down a skeleton of the music he wants you to play. The performer makes it complete and knows how to do this. It is not enough to just play the notes you read. In this example the eighth-notes can be played like triplets, giving the first eighth-note two/thirds and the second one one/third of the beat. This should be done in the flute as well as in the accompaniment (the orchestra).

In bar 2 the last note in the accompaniment is an eighth note, in the flute part a sixteenth, which must be played in a lazy, limping, manner and so will be longer than the strict sixteenth. This situation is repeated several times in the piece and in these cases flute and accompaniment should play the same rhythm.              


Example 6

The Flutist’s Handbook: Anita Miller Rieder – Baroque Performance Practices for the Modern Flutist, p. 120



Example 7

J. B. de Boismortier, Suite opus XXXV, nr. 1, Prélude, Lentement bar 1 and 2


Example 8

G.Ph. Telemann, Suite a minor, Ouverture, Lento bar 1-5 




From the way of playing strong and weak notes as discussed, it is only a small step to playing slurs correctly, since the second note under a slur should always be the weaker one.


In principle all notes are tongued separately. ‘t’, ‘d’, ‘l’ or ‘r’ are the normal articulation consonants. Slurs can be added as embellishments in addition to a smooth way of playing. Even without the actual slurs the music should sound as such.

In 18th-century manuscripts hardly any slurs occur because the performers knew when to use them. Slurs that were actually written by the composer are put there for a special reason, mostly because they are required on notes that would otherwise not be slurred. See example 9. Be sure that the slurs were not wrongly added by the editor of the piece!    


 Example 9

G.Ph. Telemann duet #2, 4th movement Allegro bar 27-30


What is the purpose of slurs?

-          Slurs give special characteristics to notes and the piece as a whole. An Adagio will have many slurs, an Allegro should have few. In a Presto though slurs can make it easier to speed up the tempo.

-          Slurs put emphasis on the first note because it is the only one that is tongued and a diminuendo always follows. Never make a crescendo on the last note under a slur. See example 10

-          Slurs can build up tension by emphasizing dissonances, for example when playing an upper second. I will explain more about that later on. 

-          They can make melodic patterns (seem) similar, for instance in sequences. See example 11

-          They can make distinctions between important notes and less important ones as in example 12. The repeated neighbouring notes are made less important by the slurs and they are recognized as a repeated figure.

-          Slurs make low notes sound stronger, especially on a baroque traverso, where low notes tend to be weak.                                                


Example 10

G.Ph. Telemann duet #1, 4th movement Vivace bar 54-58


Example 11

G.Ph. Telemann duet #3, 4th movement Allegro bar 86-92


Example 12

G.Ph. Telemann duet #2, 2nd movement Allegro bar 39-41



Where can we add slurs?   

1.      From a grace note to its main note

2.      From an upper second to a trill, a half shake or a turn

3.      When playing neighbouring or passing seconds as in example 13

4.      In scales or parts of scales, notes should be slurred by 2, 4 or 8. In some publications you see scale figures with two notes slurred and then two separated. This articulation was not in use in Quantz’s time

5.      On leaps of an octave 

6.      On sequences or repeated figures

7.      On repeating thirds as in example 14

8.      On notes with the smallest note value in the movement as in example 13


Slurs are not added:

1.      from one bar to the next, except when you need a tie. See example 13

2.      on leaps greater than a third (incidental slurring of a fourth or fifth is possible)

3.      on the final note after a trill or other embellishment as in example 15

4.      over parts of broken triads or other chords as in example 14



Example 13

G.Ph. Telemann duet #3, 3rd movement Andante bar 1-4



Example 14

G.Ph. Telemann duet #4, 3rd movement Affetuoso bar 32-35



Example 15



Embellishments are an essential part of the 18th century music. The composer wrote the bare notes of a composition and had an ornamented version in mind. He trusted upon the good taste and knowledge of the performers to make it a lively piece of music by adding elegant embellishments.

If you, as a modern performer, get acquainted with the performance rules of the baroque period, you will notice that embellishing a given note or phrase can be done in different ways. It is not a matter of memorising the rules and strictly following them. You learn about the possibilities and choose one for your own personal performance. By trying out the various ornamentations you develop your own taste in embellishing the notes that the composer presented to you. But if you don’t know the correct way of applying these rules, which may give you perhaps ten ways of embellishing a certain phrase, you will end up playing an eleventh embellishment – which is a wrong one or doesn’t even exist!


For playing and embellishing baroque music correctly it is essential to play from a reliable publication. In many publications the editors have added instructions that cannot be checked. It is better to play from a ‘naked’ publication and add your own performance notes. If a publication claims to be an ‘Urtext’ it may have the original notes but the editor may have added notes, slurs or other ornaments to his own liking. Read the preface if the publication has one and decide if the editor has used the right rules. Reliable publishers are Bärenreiter, Henle and Amadeus.

And remember that even a reliable publisher who has added correct embellishments has made one choice, where other possibilities can also be used. And if you really have to make your own choices you are in the process of developing your own feeling for taste and style in performing baroque music.


In baroque music there are two different kinds of embellishments: The first are called ‘Wesentliche Manieren’, translated as Essential Graces. These are fixed ornaments and can been marked by a written sign on, under or next to the main note. The other embellishments are called ‘Willkürliche Veränderungen’ in German and Extempore or arbitrary Variations in English. These are freely used, improvised (Italian) ornaments.


Now I will review two of the Essential Graces. We will discuss trills, but first I want to talk about the Italian appoggiatura’s or in French ports de voix, which in English you would call grace notes.

Edward Reilly says in a footnote in Quantz’s book (English version) [on p. 91, foot note 1], that ‘the German term for appoggiatura, Vorschlag, simply means ‘fore-beat’, and thus does not have the connotation of ‘leaning’ found in the Italian word. Quantz and other German writers of the eighteenth century use it to refer to several different types of graces prefixed to a principal note, some of which do not fall within the modern usage of the word appoggiatura.’ 

Appoggiatura’s can be long or short and move up or downwards. Long appoggiatura’s are always played on the beat of the main note and they take a substantial part of the main note’s value. Short grace notes can be played just before or exactly on the beat. So the question is what to do with a grace note: play it long or short and play it on or before the beat.

A persistent misunderstanding says that in music written before 1800 an eighth note with a dashed flag is played as a short grace note. An eighth note with a stroke through its flag was actually the way to write a sixteenth, and it tells us nothing about how long or short to play the grace note. In fact the written value of the grace note says nothing about its length. Composers used quarters, eight-notes and other values at random and trusted the performer to play them according to the rules.

To decide whether an appoggiatura is to be played long or short we first have to know if either the main note or the grace note is part of the chord that is played in the accompaniment at the same time. In most cases the musical purpose of the appoggiatura is creating a sense of tension with a dissonance and then resolving it into the consonant chord. And tension is highest when the appoggiatura is played as a long note and exactly at the moment the chord sounds. Playing the appoggiatura before the main note does not create the tension at all. Quantz calls this way of ornamenting a main note an ‘accented appoggiatura’ of which figure 16 is an example.


Example 16


How long do we make a long appoggiatura

If the grace note is a dissonance you make it long and it gets half of the value of the main note (example 17a). If the main note has a dot, the appoggiatura will get two-thirds of the main note, the only thing left for the main note is the dot (example 17b). And if the main note is followed by a rest, the appoggiatura gets the value of the main note and the main note is played instead of the rest, except when you need the rest for breathing (see example 17c).


Example 17a

Example 17b

Example 17c


Keep the following in mind: an appoggiatura is always played long unless there is a reason to make it short.

And when you make a short one – Quantz calls it a ‘passing appoggiatura’ – it is either played before the beat, in which case the main note is emphasized, or very short and ón the beat. In this last case the grace note has a small accent and the main note gets less as shown in the “French” ornament in example 23. Whether you play the passing appoggiatura before or on the beat is a matter of taste and experience. Eighteenth century authorities would argue on the matter! The important thing to remember when executing a passing appoggiatura is that it should always sound elegant.


What are the reasons to make an appoggiatura short?

1        When the main note is a dissonance. The effect of heightening the tension is achieved by the main note itself.

2        When the main note is actually a written out long appoggiatura as in example 18

3        When the main note is a syncopation. Adding an extra note nullifies the effect of the

Syncopation vb 19

4    When the grace note comes before an eighth-note in a 3/8 or 6/8 time signature. But it is

       long when it comes before a dotted quarter in these time signatures, see example 20

5        When the appoggiatura comes in between repeated notes as in example 21. This is a late example, but it also applies for older music.

6        At leaps of an octave

7        When the appoggiatura comes in between descending thirds of equal value. These are called passing appoggiatura’s (by Quantz) or slides (by Hotteterre). These grace notes are played short and before the beat as shown in example 22.

8        In a so called French embellishment the appoggiatura is to be played short and ón the beat (see Quantz’s book p. 97 foot note 1, and p. 227 and example 23). This one is often mistakably played as four equal sixteenth notes.


Example 18

 Example 19


J.S. Bach, Sonata b minor, first movement, bar 17



Example 20

 Example 21

W.A. Mozart, flute concerto D major, first movement


Example 22


 Example 23



When shakes or trills are noted in the manuscript, this can be done in different ways, but the way it is written tells you nothing about how to play them. Trills are most common on consonant notes and therefore begin with the dissonant upper second, which is hardly ever written down. You are supposed to know it! This upper second is played on the beat and has more weight than the trill which it starts. The upper second gives the tension, the trill is its release. See example 24.


Example 24

 If the note before the trill is the same as the upper second, as in example 25a and b, the upper second must be played again, on the beat, to start the trill. In the second example the notes are slurred, but the upper second that starts the trill is on the beat.


Example 25a


 Example 25b



According to Quantz a trill should almost always end with a termination or Nachschlag of two notes to finish it. These notes are played in the same tempo as the trill and follow it immediately. All notes from the upper second at the beginning until the termination notes at the end are slurred. The next note, often a closing note, is tongued. This is shown in example 24.


Sometimes trills are used on notes that are not part of a closing phrase but as an embellishment on a passing note to make it special. (Later these became known as Prallers or half-shakes). In this case the trill does not get a termination. A termination is also left out when the next note has an embellishment as well or when the trill is on the very last note of a phrase in a slow movement. In this last case you can stop the trill just before the end of the note and finish with a straight main note. 

Short trills without termination do always start with the upper second on the beat. It can be a simple or double trill as shown in example 26.


Example 26



The speed with which you trill will depend on the nature of the piece and on the acoustics of the building in which you are playing. In an Allegro the trills are played faster than in an Adagio. The acoustics in a church require slower performance of the trills.

Trills should be added on notes that you want to emphasize, so you will never play a trill on an upbeat or on the resolving note, which must be weaker than its preceding dissonance.


Your performance will become more beautiful and elegant when you take good care of playing the correct embellishments. Taking these rules into account should in the end make it possible to play baroque music more freely, as if you are improvising the embellishments as 18th- century performers did. And you will play baroque as a modern Quantz!


© 2007