Early Music and Historically Informed Performance Practice

Johann Joachim Quantz on Historically Informed Performance



Musical execution may be compared with the delivery of an orator. The aim is to master the hearts of the listeners and arouse or still their passions.

Good performance:

  • is true and distinct: each note played in tune and as beautifully as possible.
  • is rounded and complete: each note played with its true value and in its correct tempo.
  • where possible the notes are played unegal (unequally).
  • is easy and flowing: performers must try to preserve in themselves a constant composure.
  • is varied: light and shadow; forte and piano; swell and diminish the tone imperceptibly.
  • is expressive and appropriate to each passion: the principal passions are Gaiety, Melancholy, Boldness, Flattery (charming, beguiling) and Majesty.

The dissonances are the expressive notes.

Johann Joachim Quantz. Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (Essay of a Method for Playing the Transverse Flute) (Berlin: 1752).

Of good exectuion in general in singing and playing

§ 1: Musical execution* may be compared with the delivery of an orator.

The orator and the musician have, at bottom the same aim in regard to both the preparation and the final execution of their productions, namely to make themselves masters of the hearts of their listeners, to arouse or still their passions, and to transport them now to this sentiment, now to that. Thus it is advantageous to both, if each has some knowledge of the duties of the other.

* Vortrag (German) / expression (French) = manner of performance.

Johann Joachim Quantz. ‘Versuch’. Chapter XI: Of good exectuion in general in singing and playing.

§ 15: Finally, good execution must be expressive, and appropriate to each passion that one encounters.

  • In the Allegro (& all gay pieces of this type), liveliness must rule.
  • In the Adagio (& pieces of this character), delicacy must prevail and the notes drawn out or sustained in agreeable manner.
  • Execution conforms to (constantly) changing passions.
  • There are various degrees of liveliness and melancholy: furious emotion = much more fire than jocular pieces, but both are lively — the situation is the same in the opposite kind of music.
  • Addition of embellishments must be adjusted accordingly: whether essential or extempore, they must never contradict the prevailing sentiments in the principal melody.
    Therefore do not confuse sustained and drawn out melody [= Adagio] with playful, pleasing, half-gay and lively melody [= Allegro], or confuse bold with flattering etc.
  • Appoggiaturas connect the melody and augment the harmony [i.e. 2 functions]
  • Shakes [trills] and other little embellishments (half-shakes, mordents, turns, and battements) enliven it [melody and/or harmony ??]
  • Alternation of Piano and Forte = heightens [accents/brings out ?] some notes at one time / at another arouses tenderness.
  • Articulation: Flattering passages in the Adagio must not be attacked too rudely with the stroke of the tongue and bow / joyful and distinguished ideas in the Allegro must not be dragged, slurred, or attacked too gently.

Johann Joachim Quantz. ‘Versuch’. Chapter XI: Of good exectuion in general in singing and playing.

§ 16: I will now indicate some particular features by which, taken together, you can usually, if not always, perceive the dominant sentiment of a piece, and in consequence how it should be performed, this, whether it must be flattering, melancholy, tender, gay, bold, serious, &c

The passion may be discerned by:

(1) Key

  • Major = gay, bold, serious, and sublime
  • Minor = flattering, melancholy, and tender
  • [see Ch. XIV ‘Manner of playing Adagio,’ § 6 for more discussion of this]

(2) Intervals

  • Great or small
  • Whether the notes themselves ought to be slurred or articulated
  • Flattery, melancholy, and tenderness = slurred and close intervals
  • Gaiety and boldness = brief, articulated notes OR those forming distant leaps + figures in which dots appear regularly after the second note (= lombardic snap)
  • Serious and pathetic = dotted and sustained notes
  • Majestic and sublime = long notes (semibreves + minims) intermingled with quick ones

(3) Dissonances

  • These are not all the same—they always produce a variety of different effects [see explanation in Section VI (keyboard player) of Ch. XVII, especially §13 - § 17]

(4) Word at beginning

  • Each of these words, if carefully prescribed, requires a particular execution in performance:
Allegro Arioso
Allegro non tanto Cantabile
Allegro assai Spirituoso
Allegro di molto Affettuoso
Allegro moderato Grave
Presto Adagio
Allegretto Adagio assai
Andante Lento
Andantino Mesto

Johann Joachim Quantz. ‘Versuch’. Chapter XI: Of good exectuion in general in singing and playing.

§ 21: Poor execution

  • intonation untrue + tone forced
  • notes executed indistinctly, obscurely, unintelligibly, without articulation, feebly, sluggishly, tediously, sleepily, coarsely, and dryly
  • all notes slurred or attacked indiscriminately
  • tempo not observed + notes do not receive their true value
  • graces in Adagio too protracted + do not accord with harmony
  • graces poorly concluded, or rushed, or if the dissonances are neither properly prepared nor so resolved
  • passage-work not performed roundly and distinctly, rather than heavily, anxiously, tediously, or precipitately and blunderingly + if accompanied by all sorts of grimaces
  • everything sung without warmth or played on the same level, with no alternation of Piano and Forte
  • if you contradict the passions that should be expressed OR in general execute everything without feeling, without sentiment, and without being moved yourself.

Johann Joachim Quantz. ‘Versuch’. Chapter XI: Of good exectuion in general in singing and playing.

Of the appoggiaturas, and the little essential graces related to them

§ 16: The embellishments or graces … serve, in accordance with the temper of the piece, to excite cheer and gaiety, while the simple appoggiaturas, on the contrary, arouse tenderness and melancholy

Since music should now rouse the passions, now still them again, the utility and necessity of these graces in a plain and unadorned melody is self-evident.

Johann Joachim Quantz. ‘Versuch’. Ch. VIII: Of the appoggiaturas, and the little essential graces related to them.

Portrait of Johann Joachim Quantz by Johann Friedrich Gerhard (1735).

Portrait of Johann Joachim Quantz by Johann Friedrich Gerhard (1735).

Of the manner of playing the Allegro

§ 24: The passions change frequently in the Allegro just as in the Adagio. …

Hence it is necessary to investigate whether the piece to be played consists

  • entirely of gay ideas, or
  • whether these are joined to others of a different kind.

[The following lists the most common passions in quick pieces]


Gaiety (Das Lustige / le gai) is represented with short notes which move both by leap and step

  • quavers, semiquavers (or in alla breve time, crotchets) – according to the requirements of the metre
  • expressed by lively tonguing


Majesty (Das Prächtige / le majestueux) is represented both (1) with long notes during which the other parts have quick motion, and (2) with dotted notes.

  • Dotted notes must be attacked sharply, and must be executed in a lively fashion. The dots are held long, and the following notes are made very short [see Ch. V, §§ 21 & 22 = overdotting]
  • Shakes also may be introduced from time to time during the dots.


Boldness (Das Freche / le hardi) is represented with notes the 2nd or 3rd of which is dotted, and, in consequence, in which the first is precipitated (= Lombardian snap).

  • take care not to hurry too greatly, lest the effect be that of common dance music.
  • In a concertante part the sentiment can be moderated somewhat, and made agreeable by discreet execution [presumably when more than one player per part]


Flattery (Das Schmeichelnde / le flatteur = that which is charming or beguiling) represented by (1) slurred notes that ascend or descend by step, and also (2) with syncopated notes, in which the first half of the note must be sounded softly, and the second reinforced by chest and lip action [= suspensions]

Johann Joachim Quantz. ‘Versuch’. Ch. XII: Of the manner of playing the Allegro.

§ 25: Principal ideas [sentiments] must be clearly distinguished from those interspersed with them [i.e. contrasting ideas or sentiments]; they are, indeed, the best guide to the expression.

  • More gay ideas (than majestic or flattering) in Allegro = played happily and quickly for the most part
  • Majesty = in general the piece must be played more seriously
  • Flattery = greater composure must prevail

Johann Joachim Quantz. ‘Versuch’. Ch. XII: Of the manner of playing the Allegro.

§ 26: In the Allegro, as in the Adagio, the plain air must be embellished and made more agreeable by appoggiaturas, and by the other little essential graces, as the passion of the moment demands.

  • The majestic – admits few additions, but those that are appropriate must be executed in an elevated style.
  • Flattery – requires appoggiaturas, slurred notes, and a tender (zärtlich - may also mean ‘delicate’) expression.
  • Gaiety – demands neatly ended shakes, mordents, and a jocular execution.

Johann Joachim Quantz. ‘Versuch’. Ch. XII: Of the manner of playing the Allegro.

Of cadenzas

§ 18: Their [cadenzas] greatest beauty lies in that, as something unexpected, they should astonish the listener in a fresh and striking manner and, at the same time, impel to the highest pitch the agitation of the passions that is sought after.

You must not believe, however, that it is possible to accomplish this simply with a multitude of quick passages. The passions can be excited much more effectively with a few simple intervals, skilfully mingled with dissonances, than with a host of motley figures.

Johann Joachim Quantz. ‘Versuch’. Ch. XV: Of cadenzas.

Of the duties of those who accompany

§ 10: The dissonances serve as the means to vary the expression of the different passions.

§ 11: Each piece must be considered in its context, and with the proper attention; and the purpose of the music–to constantly arouse and still the passions–must never be forgotten.

§ 12: To excite the different passions the dissonances must be struck more strongly than the consonances

The more, then, that a dissonance is distinguished and set off from the other notes in playing, the more it affects the ear. …

Without this mixture of agreeable and disagreeable sounds, music would no longer be able now to arouse the different passions instantly, now to still them again.’

Johann Joachim Quantz. ‘Versuch’. Ch. XVII: Of the duties of those who accompany or execute the accompanying or ripieno parts associated with a concertante part. Section VI – Of the keyboard player in particular.