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C O U R S E 
Western Music History through Performance
Jonathan Coopersmith, Curtis Institute of Music
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
18th Century Baroque Improvisation
Notes taken on August 17, 2016 by Edward Tanguay
improvisation played an important role in the Baroque
the written music often supplied only the melody which the performer was expected to embellish
a figured bass line
included numbers which indicated which other notes were to be played
singers and instrumentalists were expected to improvise ornaments like trills, grace notes, and turns
to personally enhance composers music
Da Capo aria
"from the top"
the singer would sing the aria once as written
then sing it from the top adding ornaments and embellishments to show off their skills
while the French preferred fine embellishments
the Italians used extended embellishments like whole scales and arpeggios
performers of concertos would perform their own cadenzas
improvised solo passages toward the end of a concerto movement
the best keyboardists in the Baroque were able to improvise variations on a given theme
and even improve fugues
at parties or informal competitions
improvisation was a true mark of one's musicianship
deep understanding of the musical language
J.S. Bach
a remarkable improviser
his organ compositions were "full of the expression of devotion, solemnity, and dignity"
of his improvisations, "in which nothing was lost in the process of writing down but everything came directly to life out of his imagination, is said to have been still more devout, solemn, dignified and sublime"