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Avdelningen för Musikpedagogik
Handledare: Lena Vesterlund

1 INTRODUCTION....................................................................................................................4
EXPERIENCES AND REFLECTIONS ..................................................................................................4
education in music......................................................................................................................4
teaching music ............................................................................................................................4
A problem – the role of notation in music education ...............................................................6
THE USE OF PEDAGOGICAL METHODS WITHOUT WRITTEN MUSIC ...............................................7
Using the Suzuki method............................................................................................................7
The Practical-empirical method................................................................................................8
MY FIRST ENCOUNTERS WITH DIMINUTIONS ................................................................................9
The Basel course 1999 ...............................................................................................................9
Course with William Dongois in France 2002.......................................................................10
2 BACKGROUND.....................................................................................................................11
THE REVIVAL OF EARLY MUSIC ...................................................................................................11
DIMINUTIONS ................................................................................................................................14
A Description............................................................................................................................14
The Primary sources ................................................................................................................15
THE ORIGIN OF DIMINUTIONS .......................................................................................................16
Oral traditions in ancient Western music ...............................................................................16
Comparisons to Folkmusic ......................................................................................................17
A Summary................................................................................................................................17
TWO CHARACTERISTICS OF WESTERN MUSIC .............................................................................18
Composition - Improvisation ...................................................................................................18
A BRIDGE BETWEEN TERMS .........................................................................................................20
Aspects from the written tradition...........................................................................................20
Aspects from the unwritten tradition.......................................................................................21
Conclusion ................................................................................................................................22
3 THE RESEARCH QUESTION ...........................................................................................23

4 METHOD ................................................................................................................................23
THE INFORMANTS .........................................................................................................................23
William Dongois.......................................................................................................................23
Peter van Heyghen ...................................................................................................................23
Marleen Leicher .......................................................................................................................24
MATERIAL .....................................................................................................................................24
PROCEDURE ...................................................................................................................................25
THE EMPIRICAL MATERIAL OF THE STUDY ..................................................................................25
The recording and reproduction of the interviews.................................................................26
Other observations ...................................................................................................................26
5 RESULTS ................................................................................................................................26
STRUCTURE ...................................................................................................................................26
THE INTERVIEWS ..........................................................................................................................27
Concerning diminutions/improvisations.................................................................................31
Pedagogical matters.................................................................................................................35
WILLIAM DONGOIS INDIVIDUAL QUESTIONS: ............................................................................39
Improvisation method...............................................................................................................39
QUESTIONS FOR PETER VAN HEYGHEN AND MARLEEN LEICHER:............................................45
Additional questions concerning diminutions ........................................................................45
PETER VAN HEYGHEN’S INDIVIDUAL QUESTIONS: .....................................................................49

A historical overview of diminutions.......................................................................................49
Comments on some of the sources: .........................................................................................50
MARLEEN LEICHERS INDIVIDUAL QUESTIONS:...........................................................................56
About methods to teach diminutions; a comparison ..............................................................56
6 DISCUSSION..........................................................................................................................57
SOME INITIAL WORDS ABOUT THE INTERVIEWS .........................................................................57
LEARNING FROM THE ORAL TRADITIONS ....................................................................................58
The Oral transmission and Musical language ......................................................................58
PEDAGOGICAL METHODS FROM THE RENAISSANCE ...................................................................59
WILLIAM DONGOIS IMPROVISATION METHOD ............................................................................60
A Description............................................................................................................................60
The practical teaching of diminutions ....................................................................................61
Summary and Conclusion ........................................................................................................62
Further ideas for using diminution techniques in music pedagogy ......................................64
“The ever increasing adhesion to notation “ .........................................................................65
FINAL COMMENTS .........................................................................................................................66
Conclusion ................................................................................................................................66
Suggestions to further research...............................................................................................67
Criticism to this research.........................................................................................................67
7 REFERENCES .......................................................................................................................68
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS ................................................................................................................70
Appendix 1: Interview questions to William Dongois ........................................................70
Appendix 2: Interview questions to Peter van Heyghen ....................................................71
Appendix 3: Interview questions to Marleen Leicher ........................................................72
Appendix 4: Some facsimile prints of the sources:.............................................................73
Appendix 5: The interviews recorded on Compact Disc....................................................80

Titlepage: Le Jardin d’amour by Christoforo de Predi, from Sphaerae coelestis et

planetarum descriptio (De sphaera), ca 1460, Modena, Biblioteca Estense, Ms lat 209, X.
2. 14

This study involves the field of music pedagogy; a subject some people may or may
not have heard a great deal about previously. However, the subject dealt within this
thesis is largely based on experiences, discussions and ideas from the field of early
music. Therefore I believe that it can be rewarding to read, both for those interested in
music pedagogy as well as those interested in early music and historical performance

I also wish to send many greetings and thanks to all the people that have meant a lot to
me, some mentioned in the text and others not, people that therefore have contributed,
directly or indirectly, to this research project.




During my studies in music I was occupied in playing ensemble music of all kinds, all
sorts of ensembles that were available interested me; for example trombone quartet,
symphony- and wind orchestra, jazz ensembles and big bands, soul-, pop- and rock
ensembles, ensembles for early music and contemporary music. My trombone teacher
had long experience of working in different ensemble situations and much of his
teaching was based on these experiences. One of his specialities was that you should
always, when playing in an ensemble, listen more to the other people in the group
than to yourself, in order to improve intonation and increase ones ability when playing
together. One additional aspect that I noticed, when we started to understand this,
while working with it in the trombone-quartet, was that the musical communication in
the group improved. If someone in the ensemble shaped a phrase somewhat
differently, it often happened that the others followed that, both to “tease” the person
who initiated it or to show that we noticed and also because it usually suited the music
as well. I experienced another depth in playing together with other musicians during
this time, the fact that you are a part of a group and not different individuals that
happen to play the same piece. I spent a lot of time playing in different ensemble
because I thought it was more rewarding and also, of course, more fun than to lock
myself in a practising room alone all day. Individual practise became a result of the
need to improve technical passages in the music we played and also something one
needed to do to keep improving ones technique. For many students at my school this
was not the case. Many considered individual practise as the primary activity in their
musical education. Perhaps, needless to say, most of these individuals studied
orchestral instruments, but also many in the jazz department and the churchmusic
department were of the same opinion. I also noticed, when playing with these
students, that they lacked the kind of togetherness and communication that we had
achieved in the trombone-quartet. The students were performing their parts using very
highly technical skills but they played their parts “alone”. They practised their parts in
the practising room and when we met to play together it was as if they had brought
the practising room along. I noticed that their attention was focused on the piece of
paper in front of them and they did not throw a glance nor an “ear” to find out what
was going on around them; therefore we also had some difficulties getting the piece
together. Another interesting experience I would like to mention is about the status of
improvisation. I think that most people that have improvised, or at least have tried,
have been in the situation when you get lost and completely locked. When musicians,
that usually are fantastic performers, suddenly start to play as if they were beginners.
A colleague that is also writing a similar thesis as I am, used the expression “to have
been there before” in order to describe what musicians need to acquire to be able to
improvise or, at least, to dare to leave the written music.

Quite recently I started my career as a music teacher. During my first year as a music
teacher I taught at four different places, one each day. In Oslo, where I used to live, or
in Norway in general, there is a strong tradition for schoolchildren or students to play
in the school wind-bands. So, when moving there, it was the natural place to look for
work, because of the demand for music teachers. Since I’m not myself from Norway
and have not been involved or influenced by this tradition I could, as a newcomer,
observe some typical aspects of this movement and, I think, also many of these
characteristics are similar in music and education in music in general. First of all, there

are a lot of people involved in the wind-band or wind orchestra movement and each
year there are even more people recruited into the orchestras. In fact, today, this
movement shows an increase in popularity. This creates a competitive atmosphere,
which in some cases, of course, can be positive. The ability to play together in
ensembles is learned from an early stage, in different ways and sizes of ensembles, but
the main emphasis seems to be to read and interpret the written music. I noticed that
the students that were thought of as very organised, did their homework and practised
well, were held in higher esteem than the ones who did not. At a closer look I also
noticed that it was the same students that read music well that were enjoying this
appreciation. Even though a student that could play well, but did not read music very
well, he or she was not as appreciated by the teacher. This interested me a great deal
and I decided to do an unofficial and private study about this idea in the autumn of
2002. I wanted to find out some more inforation and found some interesting results.
Included in the warm-ups at the beginning of each lesson with my students, I added a
kind of game or exercise and wrote down my observations afterwards. I played a little
phrase, initially telling the student what note I started on, and made it more and more
complex. Since I play the trombone and most of my students played the trumpet or
cornet they are not able to find out what notes I’m playing by looking at my
instrument. I added a few rhythmical phrases to this excercise in case some of the
students had problems hearing changes of pitch. I also made a little sight-reading
exercise at the end of this observation with an adaptation of the difficulty level
depending on how long the student had actually been playing his or her instrument.
When studying the results I was able to divide the students into these three groups:

1. Students with good reading but rather low imitation abilities, approximately one
fourth of the students.
2. Students with good imitation and rather low reading abilities, approximately one
fourth of the students.
3. Students that had similar abilities in reading and imitating, the rest, approximately half
of the students.

After discovering this I compared it to what I already knew about the students
individually. I found that almost all of the ”readers” were thought of as ”good”
students that did their job well in the orchestra, some of them also held positions in the
organisation supporting the formation of the orchestras.
The third and largest group that had about average abilities in reading and imitating
was also thought of as ”good” students but in general not as good as the ones in the
first group. The students in these two groups, nos. 1 and 3, generally did their
homework well and usually did not create any problems. Group no. 2, the ”imitators”,
was thought of as noisy and disorderly, those who did not do their job well in the
orchestra. These students were sometimes not content with the material I gave them
for homework and it was difficult to teach them in a “traditional” way. Although,
when we worked with exercises when playing “by-ear”, preferably with music from
the pop-genres, these students excelled and could usually present a more musical
result than the ”readers” generally did.

Now, the problem in this wind-band tradition is that all these different groups of
students are supposed to fit into the role of what is expected of them in the orchestra.
If it were possible I assume it would be better to design a method of teaching, better
adapted to the different groups of students; but they all needed to learn how to do
certain things, otherwise, because of the competitive atmosphere I mentioned earlier,
they were not allowed into the orchestra. I think this is phenomenon which is pretty
much the same in all different levels of music education in western culture, or at least

in the part of our culture which is the so called classical music area, not including
genres of oral tradition, such as folk- or afro-american music.

I should add that my little survey is not scientifically precise enough to be used as a
reliable source since the way of measuring and drawing conclusions is subjective. Still
this suggested to me the idea that music students are forced into a "system”, or
direction, which most of all music education points towards, where the unwanted
ones are being pushed out, the ones that does not fit into the prescribed role. Music
students enter this system as beginners and the system seems to focus on how to
preserve the written music and how it is supposed to be performed. It encourages the
musicians that can read and perform the written material as exactly as possible and
discourages the performers that want to express their own ideas.
After completing this private investigation of mine, I became curious about where this
emphasis on notation came from, a phenomenon that I, by now, had observed
amongst beginners as well as among advanced players at all kinds of music


After reading some recent studies in music pedagogy I found that this subject is very
much of current interest. In many articles, studies in research and books, this
phenomenon is brought up as an important aspect of modern music education. For
instance, in the dissertation by Gullberg (2002) the difference between formal and
informal education is discussed. The English title is By learning or doing, which also
discusses this subject, this thesis also criticises the institutionalised way of teaching.
Gullberg mentions the need to show results that many of the public organisations and
music institutions have, which leads to conformity and lack of diversity as a result.
This produces a fixed set of conventions of how and what to teach as well as very
specific criteria of what is musical or artistic quality. Also, a kind of a “pedagogical”
choice of repertoire is being used in teaching, a repertoire that makes it easier to detect
a student’s technical level. Thus Gullberg concludes, this has led pedagogy onto a very
narrow, and comfortably well-trodden, path. In an article, Rostwall & West (2001) give
an example of how this "pedagogical" choice of repertoire is used:

Eftersom notbilden är en stark förenkling av den klingande musiken, tenderar lärarna att
fokusera på sådana aspekter som finns i notbilden på bekostnad av andra, t. ex. frasering.
Notbilden hanteras som en bruksanvisning, som visar hur eleverna ska trycka på sina
instrument. (p. 113)

In their dissertation, a study about education in Swedish community music schools,

Rostwall & West also discusses the formal and institutionalised way of teaching:

Inom denna tradition har det utvecklats en materialistisk kunskapssyn och en

förmedlingstradition som kommer till uttryck i utformningen och i den pedagogiska
praktik som vi studerat. Musiken uppfattas som objekt, som går att bevara och behandla
i representerad form. I centrum för uppmärksamheten står det musikaliska verkets
struktur och analyserbara delar i form av nedtecknade noter. (p. 282)

The authors found that, very often because the teachers that were involved were so
focused on reproducing the written music, the initiatives of the students were not
taken into consideration. The teachers did not venture any further than the written
music, which resulted in consequences such as less focus on phrasing for instance. In
those teaching situations the notation became a manual, or map, that showed how the
students are supposed to play their instruments. By referring to the notation, the

teachers put their methods of teaching at an institutional level; what is printed on the
music is authorised by the institution and shows what is right or wrong. Thus the
teacher becomes the supervisor that decides if the student is performing correctly or
incorreclty. Rostwall & West also wrote that the written music and the deciphering of
the same is the main focus of teaching and that it is used in a very static way. The
study-material is to a large extent guiding the content and shape of the teaching. An
expressive music making almost never occures during the lessons observed in this

To express yourself with music becomes something that you have to do elsewhere,
perhaps in the rock band or together within the family [my translation] (p. 284).

In addition, Gullberg mentions the preference of notated music in the institutional

system and how this affects music education. Gullberg adds that much of the
resistance to abandon the notated form in music comes from the formal way of
learning in advanced music courses, that the teachers are “coloured” by their own
education. In the situation of examination, parameters like what repertoire has been
completed, or the technical level that can be presented, this makes it easier to judge the
level of the musical skill of the student. On the other hand, when examining
improvisation, the judging criteria are far more unclear and hard to distinguish.

Recently in many music pedagogical publications, the formal methods of teaching is

often criticised. Interestingly, this is brought up as well in the important work on
Italian diminutions1 by Richard Erig (1979), which does not strictly belong within the
pedagogical field of publications. Erig, who deals both with teaching and performing
early music and improvisation at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, writes that:

the obligation to play perfectly, which rules today’s music business, leads, at the expense
of spontaneity, towards the reduction of all risks. Apparently, it is of decisive importance
that musical training is centered almost entirely on notation now; even the playing of a
piece without music is the result of memorization of a previously worked out musical
text. This shapes the mentality and leads to an attitude towards the notated text which
blocks the access to the specific demands of the unwritten practice, or at least makes it
more difficult. To be sure, a revision that goes beyond ”historical performance practice”
is necessary here, as is reflected in the corresponding tendencies of recent music
pedagogy as well as in the composition of today. (p. 13)

Apparently, also in the area of early music, the institutionalised way of teaching, with
strong focus on the notation, is also common. In fact, this quotation above is
fundamentally important for my study where Erig suggest a larger emphasis on
improvisation in pedagogy, in order to understand the unwritten practice. Brown also
supports this point of view, as we will find in the section concerning the revival of
early music.


In a conversation with a former Suzuki-student (S. Brunström, personal
communication, 1 May 2003), I learned many interesting aspects of this special
method. In contrast to many other traditional and formal ways of learning an
instrument, one fundamental idea of this method is that you should experience
playing music before you learn how to read music. The argument for this approach is

1 The term ”diminution” and what it means will be explained later in this publication.

that this is the same way you experiment and learn how to make sounds and
eventually talk using your voice long before you are able to read. Suzuki based his
method on another observation: Japanese children speak Japanese, English children speak
English. What he meant was that everyone can learn how to play an instrument if it is
integrated into daily life, just like the use of a language. The child learns to talk
because it wants to, because it hears its parents talk and learns by imitating them. The
child is raised in an environment where a specific language is used and learns the
language by using imitation. Suzuki’s idea was, in a way, to replace the word
”language”, with music/instrument. What is very important for this method is the role
of the parent. To ensure that the entire idea functions, the parent also is learning to
play the same instrument and the same pieces as the child. This creates the musical
environment that the child needs to receive stimuli from. The ”Suzuki-children” learn
their first pieces by listening to their parents, by imitation, or ”playing-by-ear”. When
their skills have somewhat developed, the playing and imitating their parents is
replaced by listening and imitating a recording of the piece they are supposed to play,
when practising at home. During the lessons, the teacher performs the same piece.
This is done mainly because the development of the child in music is many times more
rapid than the parent. Often in a short time, the child surpasses the parent in the
ability to play the music/instrument. In the next stage, the student then listens daily to
the recording of the piece being worked on as well as to the piece it is about to play
next in order.
The idea to start teaching music, or an instrument, without written material is
supported by Jon-Roar Bjørkvold (1996), who mentions this in his book ”Den musiske

The informant that I had the conversation with told me she almost automatically starts
to ”play” a piece from the radio or TV, with her fingers. The urge and ability to imitate
is so strong, from childhood, she hardly can resist moving her fingers. According to the
informant, some critics say that these ”Suzuki-children” are indoctrinated or ”brain-
washed”, but in that case we all are, since we all are speaking our own native
language. After having learned about the Suzuki pedagogy, a well-known modern
teaching method, it is rather astonishing to read some of the results that Rostwall
&West have reached in their study. They write that the reading of music in formal
educations becomes like an ”eye of a needle” that the student has to pass through,
before it is allowed to make its own interpretations and expressive music making.
Interestingly, it seems that the pedagogy practised at music schools is quite the
opposite of what is taught according to the Suzuki-method. Bjørkvold (1996) also
brings up some other aspects about the Suzuki method and possible reasons for it not
to be as successful as perhaps expected.


In the doctoral thesis by Cecilia Hultberg (2000) the former method of teaching music
is explained. This method, which is called the Practical-empirical method, was the
predominant way of teaching music and instruments until the mid-19th century and it
is interesting to make a comparison between these two methods, the Suzuki method
and the Practical-empirical method. In both, the music is approached by the student as
a language as well as an art, you learn how to control your “voice” at the same time as
you learn and understand your “language”. The students were taught by imitating
their teacher, first in short musical sentences and motives, and further on these
sentences were extended into passages and eventually into full phrases.

Like they had learnt to express themselves in their native language, pupils were expected
to learn how to do so in music: to play, to understand and to create music. Students
imitated short musical passages and motives played by their teachers, after which they
created similar passages and motives themselves. (p. 26)

Not before the “voice” and “language” were under control and understood then the
“text” was introduced.

Little by little, the passages and motives were extended to musical sentences. Not until
then, music notation was introduced.

This method was very closely adapted to the ability of the students and they were also
encouraged to express themselves using music. An example where this method is
mentioned is in the preface to Francois Couperins “L’art de toucher le Clavecin”
(1717), in which he writes:

On derroit ne commencer á montrer la tablature aux enfans qu’après qu’ils ont une
certaine quantité de pièces dans les mains. Il est presqu’impossible, qu’en regardant leur
livre, les doigts ne se dérangent ; et ne se contorsionvent ; que les agrémens même n’en
soient altèré ; dailleurs, La mémoire se forme beaucoup mieux en aprenent par-ceour.
[One should not begin teaching the Tablature, or musical notation to children until after
they have a certain number of pieces in their fingers. It’s almost impossible for them
while looking at their book, not to let their fingers get out of proper position, and not to
make contortions with them; and even the agremens themselves might be spoilt by it,
moreover, the memory improves greatly in learning by heart.] (Editors translation, p. 13)

That there was a big difference between making music and reading music is made
clear in next quotation. Interestingly, he makes comparisons with reading and
speaking, something to be compared to Suzuki’s ideas:

Comme il y a une grande distance de la Grammare á la Declamation, il y en a aussi une

infinie entre la Tablature, et la facon de bien-jouer. [Just as there is a long way to go from
grammar to declamation, so too the distance from the tablature to the art of playing well
is immense] (p. 9)

Couperin writes about notation: La Methode que je donne icy est unique, et n’a nuil raport
a´ la Tablature, qui n’est qu’une science de Nombres [The method which I give here is
unique, and bears no relation to the tablature, which is merely a science of numbers]
(p. 9). Thus, again, he emphasises that to make music you need more than only the
notation. We will see, when going further into this study, that this method has
correspondence to earlier music education as well. By different reasons, explained in
the thesis by Hultberg, Couperin’s method was replaced by the formal teaching and
the learning of music through notation. Erig mentions this turn in music history:

Thus the concept of composition is connected with the notion of a musical work’s written
form, the form in which it is transmitted. The notation demands an interpretation and
since the 19th century that primarily means an accurate realization of that which is
proffered by the notation. (p. 9)


After my studies at the College of Music in Piteå, Sweden, I unexpectedly came in
contact with an improvisational tradition within our own tradition of western music,
which led me to writing this study. At the end of my musical studies at the College of
Music I became more and more involved in the early repertoire of the trombone, which

is my main instrument. We formed an ensemble to perform with period instruments
from the 17 th and 18th centuries and my interest in this music grew. This led to
participation in a course at the Basel conservatory of ancient music, Schola Cantorum
Basiliensis, in the spring of 1999. The course was led by Bruce Dickey and Charles Toet
and the topic was early 17th century Italian repertoire for cornettos2 and sackbuts3. The
participants in the course were from all over Europe including Japan and Belarus,
some of these people had, like me, just started their early music studies and some were
quite advanced. Bruce had found a collection of instrumental and vocal music by the
composer Pietro Lappi, who was then completely unknown to me. The parts we
played from were copies of the original printed facsimiles. This meant a lot of initial
reading problems, like te use of different clefs, time signatures and shapes of the notes.
Other new experiences were the sound these instruments produced, which was also
something I had never experienced before. The music we played, when I got used to
reading it so I could start listening what was happening around me, was also very
different from what I had ever heard before. Of course this is a somewhat romanticised
version of how it actually sounded. Often things did not sound quite so fantastic but
all these new experiences for me overshadowed most imperfections.
One thing in particular that forced me to listen carefully, that made me stop playing
just to listen to what was happening, was when some of the more experienced cornetto
players added ornaments. These were sometimes rather long, free and rather
technically advanced, still the ornaments were connected to the written parts, and
done with such an ease and elegance that also fitted into the style perfectly. I had
encountered diminutions for the first time.

Since this sensation occurred on as well as on all the pieces that we played during the
first day and also on the first run-through of these completely unknown pieces, these
ornamentations could not have been prepared in any way, other than that it all came
spontaneously. Often these ornaments were varied but just as often one could
recognise a phrase that the executor seemed to like especially well. Sometimes the
ornamentation occurred at unexpected places and often not at the same places every
time, but wherever it seemed suitable. Sometimes there was more than one that
displayed his or her creativity, all at the same time – it was as if they had some kind of
compulsion and just had to do it. Obviously there was a system to all this and
apparently you could improve your ability in this ornamentation technique, as I
became aware of when I once played together with Bruce Dickey, when he had to
stand in for one of the students. After this course in Basel I was encouraged by Charles
Toet to study with him at the Royal Conservatory in Den Haag, Netherlands. I did so
and received a great deal of influence there, both from Charles Toet as well as from
many other teachers and students, not to mention the numerous courses I attended. I
spent a lot of time in studies of my instrument, of course, but also the art of playing


I already knew of a musician, also a cornetto, named William Dongois, since I had
earlier met him. I had also heard that he was working on getting deeper into the
subject of improvisation in early music. When I received an offer to participate in one
of his courses in this subject I decided to go there. The course was situated in the local

2 Cornetto in this instance meaning the renaissance instrument made of wood or ivory, played
with a small cup-shaped mouthpiece. The instruments were used in civic or sacred contexts
playing soprano parts often together with organ, singers and/or Sackbuts (see below)
3 Sackbut is the earlier version of the trombone, the way it looked and sounded in the 16th and

17th centuries.

music school. The first day William worked with the students in the morning and with
the teachers in the afternoon. The course itself was mainly for the teachers but
Williams’s method is designed in such a way that it suits musicians at all levels. I had
the opportunity to follow Williams’s approach during the morning and to active
participate together with the teachers in the afternoon. William started the course by
encouraging everyone imitate him making a very simple ornament on one musical
interval, in this case the ascending second G-A. When everyone had tried this, he
developed this ornament slightly and soon everybody performed his or her own
ornament. To begin with, we were not allowed to use more than a few notes in the
ornament, partly so as to not make it too complicated and also to practise control. We
added one part playing the same phrase one diatonical third above, B-C, and thus
making it into a two-part exercise. Further on, we extended the notes to ornament into
three and four notes, making it into a short musical phrase of G-A-B-C-B-A-G, and
also extending the length of the notes from half notes to whole-notes and longer. In the
afternoon, the course continued with the teachers, who all had practised this
previously since this was the third time William was invited to Bar-le-Duc. He varied
the exercises with other intervals, length of notes and the use of rhythms in many
different ways. This practise continued and by the end of the second day we all played
together a three-part renaissance dance with everyone improvising over our own

I realised afterwards that William’s method was constructed in such a pedagogical

way, interesting and understandable for students and teachers alike, that I thought
that this method ought to be useful for music students in other genres and
instruments. The principle of making diminutions, by filling in gaps between two
notes in an interval, is a very simple way of improvising over a known melody. By
practising the method William has designed, I thought that this could be the way to
interest people like the “readers” category of my students, mentioned before, to
become more flexible in a performance situation, to be able to leave the narrow path of
performing only the written music, and to start listening to what is going on around
them, to help them explore and develop their own musical abilities. A similar course at
the different institutions for music education could be a very stimulating addition to
the compulsory ensemble training that exists today.



“How was music in the sixteenth century actually performed?” This question is asked
by Howard Mayer Brown in his book Embellishing Sixteenth-Century Music (1976)
and this is still the fundamental question for performers of early music. Brown

That question is difficult to answer because the music is so remote from us,
both in time and in style, that even the most basic facts about the way it was
played must be demonstrated rather than merely assumed. (p. vii in the

This is also what many musicians also thought earlier in the 20th century.
For my Master thesis I made a study of how the instruments, the cornetto and sackbut,
were revived from the slumber that they had had since the 17th century. In order to
find this out I made a series of interviews with contemporary performers of these
instruments. During these talks I also learned a lot about the evolution of the “early

music wave” that started during the 1960’s and 70’s, especially from discussions with
Charles Toet and Bruce Dickey, both were active in this group of people that became
seriously involved with ancient music.

From the conversations with these two mentors of mine I learned that during the late
1960’s there was a rising from many European and American musicians as to how the
early music was performed. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the earlier music
(meaning mainly the late baroque and early classical music) had been performed with
full symphony orchestra using a minimum of what we today would call a historical
performance practice. Also, whether the even earlier vocal music of the 16th century
was, if ever, performed in a very grand and majestic way with large choirs and slow
tempi. The term “historical performance practice” had not been invented yet. It was
against this that the new “Early Music Wave” was directed. The musicians wanted to
try to perform the early music in a much more honest way, honest to the music itself,
instead of squeezing it into the form of the way that was common to performing of the
music at that time. A similar ”wave” is to be found in other areas of music. A
Scandinavian counterpart was the folkmusic wave. Part of the reasons for these
phenomenon were the same, reasons which are sometimes hard to distinguish, but
they were intimately connected with similar waves in the youth culture of the 60s and
70s. Ternhag (1996) mentions this:

I slutet av 1960-talet började "folkmusikvågen" välla in över Sverige. Bakgrunden till det
nyväckta intresset för folkkultur är svår att entydigt ringa in, men en stor del av
förändringarna hängde intimt ihop med andra "vågor" inom ungdomskulturen, vilka
samtidigt svepte fram över västvärlden. (p. 84)

Before this movement started amongst musicians it had already begun much earlier in
the field of musicology. The musicologists have always been very important
contributors of information for performers of early music. They are the researchers that
have gone through all the sources available, both in music manuscripts and/or prints,
iconographical sources and all sorts of payment records, archives and letters, in order
to gather information and form what has become known as “historical performance
practice”. Erig writes that

It is true that music historians have taken a broad spectrum of questions into
consideration as a whole, from studies of the sources, biographical material,
organology, iconography, and the contemporary perception of music, to those
on its function in a specific social context. (p. 11)

In the beginning stages of performing early music this meant mainly music from
written sources, composed music; the performances were then held pretty much in the
same way as other classical music was performed, but with period instruments4.
However, as Erig points out, through many sources, we learned about the context in
which this music was performed. It then became clear that there was an underlying,
unwritten practice that could be assumed in the background of these written sources.
In the preface to his publication, Howard Mayer Brown mentions this:

If we wish to have an accurate notion of the sound of music in the Renaissance, however,
problems of performance practice must be solved, since sixteenth-century performers did
not simply follow instructions given them by composers, but actively collaborated in the
process of composition by determining anew, each time a piece was played, the nature of

4 modern instruments that are made in a more or less authentic way to resemble preserved
instruments from ancient times

certain important details. Thus singers and instrumentalists had to know how and where
to add accidentals, how to place the words under the notes in vocal music, and how to
arrange compositions for effective combinations of voices and instruments, all crucial
decisions that in later times became exclusive privilege of composers. (p. vii in the

This idea is supported by Erig, who writes that “in the adaptation of the notated music
to the circumstances of the performance, the interpreter was left relatively free exactly
at those places where the musician since the 19th century has kept strictly to the given
notated text. (Thus ”improvisation” came to be understood as the extemporary
performance of entire pieces).” (p. 12). Apparently, as a professional musician, there
was a great deal you had to know about what to add while performing music, a
completely different kind of freedom with the written music than today. But evidently,
according to Brown, they went even further:

In addition, sixteenth-century musicians were expected to be able to invent new melodic

material extempore; they improvised either complete musical lines or sections consisting
of fast passage work that could be substituted for a slower-moving written melody. And
any comprehensive view of musical life in the Renaissance would be incomplete that did
not take into account these spontaneous sounds. (p. vii in the introduction)

In the publication by Erig this subject is also brought up. Here he points out the
problem that the importance of the unwritten practice has not been observed in earlier

The unwritten practice appears to be, if it is brought up at all, more of a peripheral

phenomenon, or even a special aspect of comparatively little importance. It is usually only
taken into consideration in those cases where the history of polyphonic music
unmistakably points toward it. (…) In the interpretation of historical development, as
oriented on an image of the continual evolution of written music, the unwritten practice is
only taken into account as an additional factor where it is not possible, or only to an
unsatisfactory degree, to refer back to a traditional connection with composed music. Such
is the case with early trecento music or with the new Italian songs of the late 15th century.
Nevertheless, in both cases it took a long time before these influences of an unwritten
practice with its inherent characteristics were recognized in their entirety(…) Of help in
considering the question of the role and value that the diminution had in the 16th century,
however, is the fact, which is becoming increasingly clear today, that these 16th century
practices were based on a long tradition of the elaboration and transformation of existing
pieces and melodies; the unwritten practice, at least since the Middle ages, knew of a
variety of procedures for varying a melody, a piece, or even a chordal progression, which
must be taken into account in an interpretation of the surviving “Denkmäler”. This is valid
for monophonic as well as for polyphonic music, for liturgical as well as for non-liturgical
or secular music. As a result, by integrating certain characteristics of diminutions into the
stylistic changes in the music around 1600, many correspondences may be found in the
history of earlier music. (p. 11)

As Erig here indicates, also within the strict discipline of the liturgy, this unwritten
practice was known. Not always were the spontaneous skills of the professional
musicians appreciated, as is understood in an anecdote quotationd by Brown about
the Flemish composer Josquin des Prez. When one of the singers in the chapel added
diminutions, Josquin went up and yelled to him, in front of the whole ensemble: ”You
ass, why do you add embellishments? If I had wanted them, I would have written
them myself. If you wish to improve on finished compositions, make your own, but
leave mine unimproved.” (p. 75) Above all, this is evidence that the musicians at that

time, in most cases, were expected to interpret the music in a much wider sense than
we would today.

In the fantastic book “German Instrumental Music of the Late Middle Ages” by Keith
Polk, it is described what art forms the musicians of those times were expected to

Professional players especially worked almost completely independent of written

traditions. In their training and in their performances, conditions of professional life
necessitated the development, the maintenance and, indeed, the extension of memory
skills (in that new material would have been constantly added to one’s repertory).
(…) The question of memory is central, for iconography makes it clear that professional
instrumentalists, soft and loud, did not use music in performance in the fifteenth century.
(…) The case with dance tenors is instructive, for we know that both soft and loud
players provided music for dancing, and illustrations of dancers are quite unequivocal:
the performers never used music. The dance melodies themselves, however, were often
not only quite long, but they could be changed in very peculiar ways to fit the
requirements of particular dances. (p. 164)

A similar situation, with professional musicians performing, probably improvising,

entertainment-music without written material can be seen on the title page of this
thesis. In the concluding chapters of his book, Polk gives a very interesting suggestion
about how to learn to make improvised counterpoint. One section of that chapter is
also dedicated to the art of making diminutions over a melody, an important part of
the medieval musicians’ ability to create music on the spot.

For many musicians the expression “diminution” is not a commonly known one. We
could call it improvisation but we will see that this is not always the proper
terminology to use after this explanation. Regarding modern literature on the subject
of diminutions, two publications have already been mentioned: Brown (1976) and Erig
(1979). In a third article Bruce Dickey (1997) gives this description of diminutions:

The process of diminution consist of “dividing” the long notes of an unornamented

melodic line into many smaller ones (…). Indeed, the period from 1590 to 1630 was one
of the most fertile for the production of division manuals. These manuals typically
presented a series of intervals (ascending second, ascending third, etc.) with sample
divisions followed by ornamented cadences and often by entire madrigals, chansons, and
motets in which the soprano, sometimes the bass, and occasionally all of the parts were
provided with elaborate divisions, usually known as passaggi or gorgie (p. 247).

Brown (1976) gives a similar explanation of this phenomenon as used by the musicians
in the 16th century when they “ornamented written music by applying running
figuration patterns, so called diminutions, (…) to a basic melody; that is, they
substituted for the longer notes or groups of notes in a composition (the breves,
semibreves, and sometimes even minims) fast-moving stereotyped melodic formulas
to produce what was in effect a melodic variation.”(p. 17).
The preserved original manuals for making diminutions are, with few exceptions,
from the late 16th century. In the next section I shall provide a list of some of the most
well-known ones. The professional musicians did not use written material to learn this
art form, as we will find, so the printed manuals obviously were directed towards
amateurs. Erig writes about this in his book:

Finally, the diminutions collected here comprise a broad spectrum in regard to their
intended use. It includes the didactic introduction to the art of diminution based on
simple arrangements, the notation of an exemplary version which combines the various
techniques and procedures, and a text which is explicitly intended for performance and
in its controlled creation fully exploits the possibilities offered by notation. (p. 10)

Compared to modern methods for jazz improvisation, the publishers of diminution

manuals gave examples of everything from ornaments, short phrases and also
complete songs, or “standards” as we would perhaps call them today, with carefully
written in diminutions or “improvisations”. Erig mentions the use of examples to
range “from didactic example to performance” in another quotation; apparently you
could learn this art form by studying the treatises. Dickey gives an example of the
manual by Conforto (1594): “One of the most appealing and useful of the manuals, by
Giovanni Luca Conforto, even claims to be a method for learning in a month’s time the
art of division.” (p. 247). Evidently, if you were a good student, the progression could
be quick.

Synonymous to diminution are expressions like division, passaggi or gorgia. The first
term means to fill in the space between two notes with notes of diminished value, the
second means to divide the notes of larger value, that we make the division between,
into notes of lesser value, as is previously explained by Dickey. Passaggi and the
corresponding vocal expression gorgia are both Italian words for fast passages of many
short notes. Erig mentions the origin of this tradition in his publication:

This practice can be traced back to earlier times, but is thoroughly documented for the
first time in the second third of the sixteenth century by tutors and examples (…). This
evidence indicates that the detailed diminution tutors and the collections of examples
from the 16th century are apparently less an outcome of anew or even novel activity, but
rather a symptom of a late phase of the elaboration and transformation of an existing
melody, a phase in which a practice which extends far back in time is codified and thus is
simultaneously enlarged and specified. This goes together with a general shift in
emphasis towards notated music, a result that may also be found in the tutors. (p. 9)


Without the printed and hand-written treatises about diminutions, mainly from the
16th century, we would not know how to start the reconstruction of this tradition.
Fortunately, there are quite a few sources preserved which give us valuable
information of how to do this, as well as indications about local variants on this special
art form. For this thesis I have chosen a number of the most well-known of these
sources to study:

1. Konrad Paumann, Fundamentum… from the Buxheimer organ book (Nürnberg, ca

2. Silvestro Ganassi, Opera intitulata Fontegara (Venice, 1535).
3. Diego Ortiz, Tratado de glosas sobre clausulas… (Rome, 1553).
4. Girolamo Dalla Casa, Il vero modo di diminuir (Venice, 1584).
5. Giovanni Bassano, Ricercare, Passaggi et Cadentie/Motetti, madrigali et canzoni francese
(Venice, 1585/1591).
6. Ricardo Rognioni, Passaggi per potersi essercitare nel diminuire (Venice, 1592).
7. Giovanni Luca Conforto, Breve et facile maniera d’essercitarsi (…) a far passaggi
(Rome, 1593).
8. Giovanni Battista Bovicelli, Regole, passaggi di musica, madrigali e motetti passegiati
(Venice, 1594).

9. Valerio Bona, Essempi delli passaggi consonanze et dissonanze (Milan, 1596).
10. Aurelio Virgiliano, Il dolcimelo (Manuscript, ca 1590-1600).
11. Giovanni Battista Spadi, Libro de passaggi ascendenti et descendenti (Venice, 1609).
12. Antonio Brunelli, Varii esercitii (Florence, 1614).
13. Francesco Rognioni, Selva de varii passaggi (Milan, 1620).

After studying these sources there are, in my opinion, some different levels of
complexity to making embellishments:

• Ornamentation – you add “colour” or emphasis on the notated notes with different
kinds of trills, tremoli, vibrato or similar effects, see Dickey (1978).
• Filling out intervals – this is, as described above, more of the standard kind of
performing diminutions.
• Minor deviations from the notated part – this is the first step towards
improvisation. The “filling out of an interval” here takes on a wider sense and the
performer makes diminutions on notes that are not represented in the written part.
But, as we will see, there are rules of how this is restricted.
• Improvisation – on this level you have left aside all written material and you only
follow the chordal formulas from a well-known piece or dance type. ”Musicians
during the Renaissance knew, too, the techniques of improvising compositions over a
predetermined series of chords. These chordal patterns, most often found in the form
of ostinato basses, make their first appearance in written music toward the end of the
fifteenth century in the frottola and villancico repertoires, and they have a profound
influence on sixteenth-century dance music.” See Brown 1976.

Between these levels, the transition is sometimes quite vague, which also makes the
definition of diminution just as difficult to define.



Musicians in the fifteenth century were more creative than those of our time in that their
performances demanded that they spontaneously invent new music much more than is
the case now. Still, in most improvisations late medieval performers worked from a base
of pre-existing material. Footnote: Jazz musicians, of course, are one prominent exception. (p.

The quotation above from the earlier mentioned book by Polk (1992). It is interesting
that here he also mentions a connection to modern jazz musicians, a connection we
will come back to later. Polk often mentions the medieval musicians ability to
improvise. In a research by Krebs about diminutions, Krebs makes the observation that
“das Wesen des Diminuirens war die Improvisation and that it dealt with a vom
augenblick inspiriertes, freies schaffen” that expressed the “erfinderische
individualität” of the performer. As Dickey points out in an earlier quotation, it was
during the period 1590 to 1630 that the main corpus of diminution treatises showed
up, but we will see that the tradition reached back much further. In an earlier
quotation by Erig, he points out that the diminution tradition came from an unwritten
practice. Polk explains how the professional musician worked in the late middle ages;
what instruments they used, what music they played and in what situations they
performed. One chapter is also dedicated to the improvisational style of the musicians
in the 14th and 15 th centuries; Polk also gives examples of the devices from Paumann
(ca 1450).

The pedagogical approach, judging both from the comments of theorists and from the
example of Paumann, was to establish a few patterns that could be used in a general

way. Certain figures were appropriate for ascending, others for descending. Still others
were apt for connecting notes of the same pitch. (Polk, p. 185)

The early treatise by Paumann compared to the later ones contain similar ideas and
formulas even though it is about 100 to 150 years earlier. Polk also mentions how
certain traditions were handed down to the new generations of professional musicians;
he gives a few examples of families that are possible to follow during a few
generations, such as the Schubinger family for instance (p. 76-77). He shows that the
art form was passed down from father to son in an unbroken tradition.

There are many similarities between the medieval musicians on the European
continent and the folk musicians in Scandinavia. In the same way as the “Early Music
Wave” had many similarities with the folkmusic wave in Scandinavia, you can also
find many similarities between the medieval professional musicians and the
Scandinavian folk musicians.
One very important aspect that unites these traditions is the way the musicians learned
their art, by imitation, here explained by Ternhag (1996):

Musiken lärde man sig genom härmning(…).Yngre kvinnor lärde sig av äldre. Den
överföringen garanterade att tidigare generationers erfarenheter lagrades i den
tillgängliga kunskapen. Härigenom blev musiken förhållandevis oförändrad från en
generation till en annan. (p. 22)

In the chapter concerning the Practical-Empirical Method, Hultberg (2000) mentions

the cultural historical perspective explained by Vygotsky (1971), where individuals
inherit cultural history from the collectives they live in. The medieval musicians, as
well as the folk musicians in Scandinavia for instance, inherited their knowledge and
art from the environment they were living in.
The Swedish term for the wandering medieval musicians was lekare, which is the
German counterpart for spielleute, which is another well-known expression for the
medieval musician. These groups of people earned their living by going from town to
town and performing in front of an audience at marketplaces and similar venues.
Ternhag (1996) writes it is because we know that these medieval musicians, lekarna,
represented the professional culture-workers of society, just like the folk musicians of
the 19th century, that we can see a clear connection between these two groups, even
though so much separated in time. Another connection between the Scandinavian
lekare and the European counterpart is the traditional Scandinavian ballade-dance
performed by the medieval musicians. This dance-type is known to have southern-
European origins (ballare=to dance).
Ternhag (1996) explains that a lot of effort has been made by folklore researchers to
pinpoint the term ”folkmusic”. An official definition was agreed upon in 1955 at the
organisation International Folk Music Council (that in 1980 it changed its name to
International Council for Traditional Music). According to the 1955 definition, the
oral/aural transmission of the music, that is the unwritten practice of making music,
was the most fundamental characteristic of folkmusic, a characteristic just as important
in the early western music performed by the professional musicians at that time.

To conclude this section we can now say that the art of making diminution was a
tradition that evolved from the professional musicians in the Middle Ages and that
these also are quite similar to the folk musicians. This is because the two groups have
so many features in common. The medieval musician as well as the folk musician both

grew up within a cultural environment which contained a specific (musical) language.
This art form was passed on to new generations through imitation, or rather, oral
transmission. At the same time as the young musician imitated, he or she also learned
to use his or her tools (=voice or instrument). The capabilities of the musicians to
memorise were crucial since they played everything “by heart”. The pedagogical
approach was to start by imitating short musical phrases which later developed into
longer passages. They learned phrases that could be used in, and adapted to, different
contexts in order to embellish new melodic material. Eventually this evolved to entire
pieces as well as how to improvise new music on the spot. This was the beginning of
what became known as the diminution tradition but it was not until later that this
tradition became public through a series of published diminution manuals, especially
around the turn of the 16th century.



The words ”composition” and ”improvisation” are understood today, especially when
they are coupled together conceptually, above all as antitheses. They refer to two
fundamentally different possibilities for making music that are set in opposition to one
another through the use of these conceptual terms. This corresponds to the ever
increasing adhesion to notation in the musical practice of recent times. (p. 9)

This is the first sentence in the publication by Erig (1979). Here he comments on an
important issue in music today, which is dealt with earlier in this thesis. To
characterise the two main possibilities to create and teach music, in fact, to pass on
music to others, he uses these two terms:

Composition Improvisation

There is a gap between these two terms in music pedagogy today, one of the reasons
why I wrote this thesis: To find a way to bridge the gap between these two terms. The
problem, dealt with earlier in this thesis, of “the ever increasing adhesion to notation”,
as Erig puts it, is linked with this gap between the two terms. In the field of music
today, whether it is musicology or musical performance practice, or music
education/pedagogy for example, you can distinguish two separate traditions of how
music is transmitted or has survived, here below presented with some related terms:

Composition Improvisation
Written practice Unwritten practice
Notated Oral
Formal teaching Informal teaching
Institutional Non-institutional
Learning Doing
Conservation/Preservation Renewal/Experimentation

An example of the left-side terms would be one of the sections of higher music
education today in the Conservatories, an institution that, according to the name,
“conserves” music and the traditions around it. The aspects of the institutionalised
education in music, or at least the negative aspects, is summed up in this quotation by
Rostwall & West (2001):

Sammanfattningsvis kan sägas att den formellt institutionaliserade undervisningens

musik- och kunskapssyn skiljer sig från andra musikaliska praktiker på flera sätt,

framförallt genom den starka fokuseringen på notbilden som den enda vägen in i
musiken, och där andra uppförandekonventioner än tonhöjd och tonlängd inte sätts i
fokus. Ytterligare en aspekt är den starka inriktningen på att reproducera noterad musik.
Detta får till följd att en friare musikanvändning i form av improvisation, komposition
eller gehörsspel är mindre vanlig. Dessa tendenser framträder såväl i läromedel och de
lektioner vi studerat, som i tidigare forskning. (p. 113)

Here they say that the institutionalised methods of teaching music differs from other
musical practices in many ways, primarily through the strong focus on notation and
the reproduction of it considered as the only approach towards music. This leads to
that other, freer forms of music making are less common.
To make a simple comparison with the non-institutionalised side, an example can be
taken from the same International Folk Music Council (1955) I quotationd earlier. Three
criterions were set up to define the term folkmusic. These were:

1. Continuity that unites the music with the past.

2. Variation that evolves from the creativity from the performers.
3. Gradual selection that decides in what forms the music survives.

If you compare the second criteria with what was just stated about institutionalised or
formal teaching, it is clear to see that especially there is a fundamental diversity
between these two areas in music. In the formal teaching or the written tradition, the
emphasis is put on reproduction of a written source, in the unwritten tradition or
informal teaching, the aspects of experimenting and renewing, variation and creativity,
are important within its separate characteristics. Nevertheless, both traditions have
their advantages and we should take advantage of them.


… [T]he diminutions published here, based on their origin, disposition, and intended
use, stand as it were paradigmatically between improvisation and composition. They go
back to a practice of elaboration and transformation of a given melody, changes which
were not notated. (…) It is just as informative, however, to consider the sources proffered
here and the practice upon which they are based from the point of view of the manifold
transitions between the notated and unnotated forms of musical practice in earlier times
and thus also the interweaving of those possibilities, “improvisation” and “composition”,
terms which were later understood to be opposites. (Erig 1979, p. 9, 10)

In this quotation above, Erig points out the gap that we today consider to exist
between improvisation and composition. In this quotation, though, he gives an idea as
to how to bridge the gap between these terms; namely the use of diminutions in
modern music education.
I have presented a number of examples that shows the diminution tradition as a result
of both these areas in music. Its origin is partly from a tradition similar to folkmusic
and that the musicians learned to play the music and their instruments “by ear”. Later,
the diminution tradition also became connected to notation since it became the fashion
to add elaborate ornamentations on Renaissance vocal polyphony, especially at the
end of the 16th century. I think that there is a good reason to look at some different
aspects from the two sides of written and unwritten traditions in music in order to
learn from their advantages and disadvantages, for a possible use of diminution-
related material in modern music pedagogy.


I vest-europeisk kulturtradisjon representerer den nednoterte musikken en umistlig

tradisjon av udiskutabel skjønnhet og styrke. (Bjørkvold, 1996, p. 204.)

Our western tradition is, to a large extent, a tradition based on written material. In fact,
Lilliestam (1995) writes that in some cases, for some people, the term music is identical
to music notation. This implies that in our western society music is very closely
connected to written material, no matter if it is used in the meaning of modern or
historical music. Actually, in some cases, people who are unable to understand music
notation are sometimes considered not to be musical at all. This attitude may,
originally, have evolved from an oft-used quotation by Guido de Arezzo (995-1050),
nearly as old as some of the first written European music. In this quotation he gives a
definition of what a “true” musician is:

Great is the distance between musicians and singers; the former know, the latter mouth
what makes music; And he who mouths what he does not know is defined as an animal.
(quotation in Tinctoris 1477, p. 5 in modern edition by Seay 1961.)

However, as it must be added, a contradictory document to this quotation “Liber de

arte contrapuncti” by the musician, composer and music-theorist Johannes Tinctoris
(1477). This document gives us a somewhat more nuanced picture of the concept
people in the middle-ages had towards improvising musicians. The treatise deals with
the art of how to learn to improvise counterpoint on a given cantus firmus, an activity
mainly connected to the professional musicians who, according to Guido de Arezzo,
should be regarded as “animals”. The treatise by Tinctoris is also the main source for
Keith Polks study of the subject (see Polk 1992).
Lilliestam (1993) also uses the same quotation as a reference to explain our perception
of what we in later times have seen as “high” or “low” musical culture, the term

“high” also includes the related terms “art” or “serious” music with a similar meaning
or value. He continues to say that those terms evolved from an old-fashion view
towards music and has no relevance in the musical field today. Still these terms are
often used in order to classify music, either in a positive or negative point of view.
Apparently the learned and sofisticated music-theorist Tinctoris thought of the
improvising art as something desirable for musicians to learn, still he used the ancient
quotation by Arezzo in the preface to his treatise. In the modern edition by Seay (1961),
the author mentions this contradiction made by Tinctoris. Perhaps this separation of
terms between high-low, art-popular and serious-entertainment was not, or has not
been, as strong as we have thought? At least, it seems, not during the middle-ages.
A period of time when these old-fashion views, as Lilliestam puts it, towards the music
of ancient times did flourish was not during the middle-ages, but rather before
the”early music wave” in the 1960s. During this time the composed polyphony of the
16th-century was just the kind of music that performers then accepted as being art or
serious music. Thus we first encountered the written polyphonic music from that time.
Erig writes:

That emphasis has been placed on composed polyphony may, of course, not only be
understood as a result of the conception of music in later times, but also as a result of the
fact that in many cases, such as medieval song accompaniment or older dance music,
there are hardly any sources which may be used as a fundament when inquiring into the
unwritten practice. (p. 11).

This passage touches on the logical procedure of how an interest in an unwritten

practise evolves: initially the written sources are studied, then the discovery of an
underlying unwritten practise occurs, which scholars and performers finally start to
unravel. Through studies of written material we can start to re-create a picture of how
things were before, mentioned by Erig below.

And today, as the sources, also for the music of earlier times, are increasingly available in
editions, the time has come to take up these questions which result from a musicological
approach which takes the ties between a practice, as well as an interweaving of both
possibilities, into account. (p. 11, 12).

If it were not for our will to preserve and for our curiosity, much which is known
today would be lost. When looking into a lost oral practice we have always started by
looking at the written material that is preserved from the time when the practice was
still alive. Still, to make the picture resemble reality as much as possible you also have
to bring in the unwritten aspects from ancient times. Within the area of music we have,
up until now, concentrated our studies around the written aspects, which is why I
think it is time to also start taking the unwritten aspects into account.


I rock, jazz och folkmusik, anses de expressiva aspekterna ofta som grundläggande för
det musikaliska innehållet, och fokus läggs mer på det personliga gestaltandet än på
återskapandet av ett komponerat verk. Inom gehörsbaserade musikformer lär man sig i
högre grad genom att lyssna och härma, där det personliga uttrycket och övriga
uppförandekonventioner är en integrerad del av utförandet. (p. 113)

In recent research the many positive aspects of the informal traditions in music are
brought up. In this passage, Rostwall & West (2001) specify the many positive aspects
that are typical for the musical genres based on oral/aural transmission. These are
especially interesting from a musicpedagogical point of view since they, as Rostwall &

West point out, put large emphasis on the expressive aspects in the musical content.
They also write that the learning is mainly accomplished by listening and imitating.
These results can be compared to the suggestions Lilliestam (1995) gives at the end of
his publication (p. 236), as to what aural training in the higher music educations could
include. In order to find some pedagogical ideas from the informal genres I shall
recapitulate these suggestions below.

1. No use of written material. Instead, emphasis on training the auditory and motoric
memory of hearing and playing music.
2. A new view towards music, that it consists of formulas and to use these to explore,
investigate, describe and learn (by heart).
3. Plenty of time in the process of learning, short and intense courses in folk- or
rockmusic are not enough.
4. The role of the teachers has to change to become different from the one usually
known from traditional education. The teacher’s function in aural training is more of
a guide than an authoritative figure. A goal should be to train ”bilingualistic”
teachers, that is a teacher who have competence both in notation-based music and
oral/aural transmitted music.

However, true to our traditions, it is still common that the teaching, also in “playing-
by-ear”- musical genres, is based largely on written material. This is evident from the
research by Rostwall & West (2001):

I de fall där musik med ursprung från sådana stilar används i de studerade lektionerna,
är den antingen nedtecknad på noter och behandlas på samma sätt som annan noterad
musik, eller reducerad till en greppövning utifrån en nedtecknad ackordanalys. (p. 113)

I would also like to call attention to the doctoral thesis by Johansson (2002) Can you
Hear What They’re Playing? in which the author investigates the strategies used by “ear-
players” in rock music. An interesting result in his research is the fact that the
strategies used by players from an informal background in music is very much like the
strategies used by players from an formal background in music (studies at a higher-
level music education), that have also experience from ”informal playing”. When
reading about the different strategies that are used, it becomes clear that musicians in a
similar situation use much more of their listening abilities when they play. They do
this in order to play the correct chords, to fit in the correct style played at the moment
and to make their individual instrument fit into the background accompaniment (like
in all mixed ensembles, different instruments play different roles). It makes sense to
me that the suggestions made by Lilliestam (1995) for aural training has evolved from
experiences similar to what the players in Johansson’s research has obtained. It is
possible to assume that if these principles were used in ensemble teaching for other
instrument groups, the result could be that many aspects of listening and playing
together would improve within the ensemble.

In the quotation by Bjørkvold on page 20 he writes that the written music of our
western culture is an ”indispensable tradition of indisputable beauty” [my translation]
which is quite true. Preserved in its notation we can still play and enjoy music from
past times. But in order not to loose the excitement that the musical genres based on
aural transmission can offer, we need not focus too much on reproduction of the
notation. I would here rather suggest using the written material, in all its preserved
splendour, as a launching-pad for each performers individual creativity, probably the
attitude that the musician of the 15th and 16 th centuries must have had towards the

works of indisputable beauty in their time. It is that attitude I think we should take a
look at and learn from.

It has been repeatedly pointed out that the far-reaching importance of unwritten musical
practices as well as the different attitude towards notation in the music of earlier times
demands an approach in which the interpretation of the preserved notated music takes
the manifold and important consequences, as well as the demands, of an unwritten
musical practice into consideration and accordingly understands it as only the outcome
of a single aspect of music at that time. This concerns the writing of music history as well
as the contemporary musical practice; it is, however, apparently an ideal easier to
formulate than to fulfil. - Erig (1979). (p. 10)


The idea that the use of diminution-related material could unite the “improvisation”
and “composition” sides in modern music education, in order to untie the knot
notation has put around music education today and to help students to express
themselves when playing music, has led me to undertake this study.
After attending a course with the musician William Dongois, who has worked out his
own approach to learn to improvise in the style that was common in the 15th and 16th
centuries, I realised that this method could be extremely rewarding to study for this
purpose. Therefore this thesis will deal with this question:

Can methods of improvisation, inspired by principles and approaches from ancient music, be
used as a mean to bridge the gap between written and unwritten practices in modern music


Since this is such a specialised subject I had to choose the informants with care. The
persons I have chosen have many aspects in common, they are all professional
musicians in the field of early music and they are all also working extensively with
teaching, within the same area of music.

One obvious person to interview was of course the man behind the method – William
Dongois. William is a musician and a pedagogue who specialises in the area of early
music. His instrument is the cornetto (including the related instrument within the
cornetto family such as the cornetto diritto, cornetto muto and the tenor cornetto) and the
recorder. He has many years of experience as an active performer and soloist with a
long list of recordings, both with his own ensembles and as a member of some of the
most prestigious ensembles in this field.


In order to find out more about the diminution tradition in general as well as to get
another view of teaching diminutions and opinions about the method of William, I
also chose Peter van Heyghen. Peter is, like William, a musician and pedagogue in the
field of early music. His main instrument is the recorder with which he mainly
performs together with his own group, but he also performs as a singer in many
prominent early music ensembles. He is presently a teacher of the recorder, ensemble,

and historical performance practice, as well as many other subjects connected to early
music. He teaches at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Holland, where he was
one of my former teachers. He has inspired me a great deal. His enormous knowledge
of subjects within the realm of early music made him an obvious choice for this study,
I would like to call his lectures truly “addictive”. He also used to teach similar subjects
at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, Belgium. It seems to me that Peter’s approach in
teaching diminutions is different, compared to the one used by William; as a
comparison this would make Peter’s opinions concerning this study of special interest.

To obtain another view of the methods used by William and Peter in teaching, I chose
Marleen Leicher. This is because Marleen used to study with both Peter and William
when she was a student. Marleen is now also a well-established musician, also a very
accomplished cornetto-player, as well as a teacher, so together with this background I
was interested in hearing about her own methods of teaching and the use of
diminution-related material. Furthermore, she was one of the previously mentioned
cornetto-participants in the 1999 Basel-course, which created a very strong impression,
as is described in the introduction of this thesis. Often during my own studies in early
music I have been in contact with Marleen, she here represents a younger generation of
performers and teachers in early music, which also makes her opinions very valuable
in this research.

The interview-questions were sent to the informants via e-mail one week before the
agreed date for the interviews. I have enclosed the question form in the appendix.
The first sections of the questions were the same for all informants, these sections
contained questions concerning:

1. Background – these questions concerned the background of each of the informants.

This is to observe their musical and pedagogical careers and to confirm their
experiences in this particular area of music, as well as how they first encountered
diminutions or improvisations.
2. Diminutions/improvisations – these questions involved how the informants use this
topic in their own performance and teaching. I also asked their opinions about
ensemble playing and if the use or knowledge about improvising does affect a
musician's ability to work in an ensemble.
3. Pedagogical matters – such as where and when they have taught somewhere, as well
as what they have taught and how, and if they use diminution related material. I was
also curious if they thought that the interest of playing diminution has increased or
decreased during their careers, and if similar principles occur in other kinds of
musical genres. This is because I would like to know if there are possibilities of
encouraging music students to be interested in studying this area.

The sections that followed after these were designed for the individual informant in
order to find out more about those subjects mentioned in the presentation of each
For William, this meant questions concerning his method for improvisation, how it has
evolved and how he uses it, both for himself and in his teaching.
For Peter, I asked about his opinion regarding Williams method. Also, I wanted to
know more about the origin and the historical development of diminutions, especially
if there are any pedagogical approaches to be found within the original material, that
we could learn more about today. I also asked him to comment on the thirteen original
sources of diminution manuals, which are listed in the background-section.

For Marleen, I also asked about her opinion regarding Williams’s method, just as I did
with Peter. I already knew that Marleen had attended similar courses like the ones I
went to in France, so she knew the method well. The final section of her questions was
to make comparisons between the methods for learning diminutions/improvisations
of Peter and William, and also if she could make similar comparisons to other teachers
within the same area.

I managed to make appointments with all of my informants, to meet and conduct the
interviews during the same week. Due to some weather complications I experienced
some delays in the schedule, but in general everything went as planned.
My interviewing tour proceeded like this:


Flight from Gothenburg to Paris, France, and meeting with William in the suburb
Cernay. There we met some friends of both of us and we played in a cornetto-quintet
(!) for a few hours (2 cornetti curvo, 2 corni torto and one serpent, beat that you can!).
After this jam session we went to William’s house in the lovely suburb Pontoise where
we started the interview around 18.00; and it ended ca 23.00.


I took the high-velocity train Thalys from Paris to Antwerpen (Anvers) in Belgium
where I met Peter van Heyghen at his house. After a little talk and a lovely pasta-dish
for lunch we started the interview at 14.00 and ended just before 19.00! A Marathon,
but a very interesting one.


I took the domestic train back to Brussels where I went to Marleens place via the metro
and by walking. The interview started at 17.00 and ended ca 19.00. Afterwards we
went to a great concert with ”La Fenice” in the Museum for Musical Instruments in

I was satisfied with the chronology of the interviews because in this way when I had
the interview with William in mind when meeting Peter. Since one of the main themes
in this study is the method used by William, and the other informants who were
supposed to comment on it, it was very appropriate to start with him. In this way I
could get Peter’s opinions on William’s method, along with all other information from
Peter, and finally Marleens opinions on both Williams and Peters methods of teaching


When interviewing artists with a great deal of experience and special interest in the
subject of the interviews, the interviews tend to be rather long. These interviews were
not an exception, nor was it my intention to hold short meetings, in fact, I was hoping
for long discussions. I designed the questionnaire in such a way so that the informants
would speak quite freely about the subject. That is the reason why the interviews have
the attributes of a conversation, which was mainly encouraged by the informants; and
this is also why I, during the interviews, gave them more than one question at a time.
The questions were set up to encourage one to use the impulse to speak more freely
about a specific subject, not only to give a straight “yes” or “no” answer. In this way I
hoped I would learn more about the informants opinions about the chosen topic; at the
same time, this resulted in a few repetitions (included in some of the answers) but this

also gave the informants a good opportunity to more thoroughly explain his or er
ideas or opinions about the subject.


Since I am of the opinion that you should always try to use any means of assistance
available, I used the Compact Disc media to record and reproduce the interviews. The
recordings of the interviews were done with the more portable Mini Disc recorder with
which I also could edit the recordings in order to remove unnecessary pauses or other
disturbances from the recording. Also, I added a number of new tracks onto the disc at
those places where I thought something of importance was said, and in this way I
could refer to these track numbers in the Result-section.
After completing the interviews, I copied the edited interviews from the Mini Disc to a
recordable Compact Disc, which is presented in this thesis as an appendix.
There are a number of reasons for the particular treatment of the interviews. The first
thing to consider is the length of the interviews; with Peter alone I had more than four
hours. Another important aspect to consider is the various ways one can express
oneself through conversation. To write down a spoken sentence does eliminate the
different emphasis and articulations that a person adds to the meaning to the words
spoken. To reproduce the actual conversation keeps the opinions of the informants
Also, during the interviews the informants exemplify their opinions by singing short
phrases or making linguistic sounds to emphasise an opinion. The interviews were
held in English, which is not the native language of any of the people involved. This
resulted in some minor linguistical difficulties (vocabulary and grammatical
variations) and if entirely transcribed this would not make much sense. When listening
to the recordings these minor imperfections are easier to comprehend and overlook.

In order to refer to the different tracks on the discs I created a system for this. After the
initials of the informants I wrote the number of the disc and then each of the track
number. For instance:

William: WD 1\36.mp3 = interview with William Dongois, first disc, track no. 36.
Peter: PvH 4\5.mp3, PvH 4\6.mp3, PvH 4\7.mp3 = Interview with Peter van
Heyghen, fourth disc, track no. 5 to 7.
Marleen: M L\ 24.mp3, M L\ 25.mp3, M L\ 26.mp3, M L\ 27.mp3 =Interview with
Marleen Leicher, track no. 24 to 27 (the interview with Marleen lasted for 63 minutes
and fitted on to a single disc).

In general the informants seemed to be comfortable during the interviews. All of them
had strong opinions about the subjects chosen for this inquiry. At some points I had to
give explanations to the questions. This is probably due to the difficult task of
designing questions to find out as much as possible about the specific theme; it also
happened that the questions were understood differently by the individual informants,
probably because they often had a very strong opinion about certain aspects.


As mentioned in the previous section, the first parts of the questions are the same for
all the informants; therefore, I present them here together, one question, or section of

questions, at a time. Concerning the parts of the questions that were designed for the
individual informant these are presented in the chronological order given during the
interviews starting with William, then Peter and finally Marleen.


• Describe your musical background, artistically and pedagogically, during your

studies and after them (Where and what you studied; where, when and with
whom you played; what you learned at a certain time and place, etc.)
• How/When did you first encounter diminutions/improvisations? What was your

William: WD 1\03.mp3 Studied trumpet in Reims, went to Paris for higher education
in music and continued his trumpet studies with Pierre Thibaud. He realised he had
more interest in the music than in technical issues and was interested in many kinds of
music. Started to play in a brassband, Renaissance music amongst otherselse. After
finishing his studies in Paris he went back to Reims and assisted the trumpet teacher
there, played in the brassband and in a small orchestra. WD 1\04.mp3 A friend
introduced him to early music and the cornetto. He borrowed the instrument – “I tried
to play and: Thbthbthbthbp! Nothing, nothing, for a few months.” He went to a course
with Jean-Pierre Canihac5 and started to play the cornetto. A few years later he sold all
his trumpets. WD 1\05.mp3 Soon he started to play cornet at concerts – “Because,
twenty years ago, who played quite good cornet?” Soon he went to Basel to study the
cornet (with Bruce Dickey) and started to make a career out of it. WD 1\07.mp3
During the earlier course Jean-Pierre Canihac he heard about “divisions”, and quite
soon he bought all the treatises, he did not know exactly what it was but he knew that
if you want to play the cornet you have to learn this style. It was also important to see
the printed music and to get a different view of the music. As a cornetto player you do
not have a modern exercise book, but diminution manuals. During his studies with
Bruce he discovered more about this subject, not only the notes but also how
diminutions fits in the style. Since cornet players play mainly music from this time,
they learn this style more quickly than most other instrumentalists and can adapt the
division style quite rapidly. WD 1\08.mp3 During one year, without so many concerts,
he wanted to focus on improving his technique; he was looking for a method to do
this. He also learnt, at a course about counterpoint, the old method to improvise three
or four parts to a given melody. The origin of the polyphony is an improvised style6.
“It was like a shock”; he also realised that the diminution treatises only explain what
happens horizontally, very few explain what happens when one part meets another
part. “And you have only the description, the example of how you go from this note to
this note and never how… what you can play on this chord.” He realised that the
music until the 17th century works horizontally, even if you can hear chords, “it was
more – meeting of lines.” WD 1\09.mp3 It was from then on that he thought that it
could be possible to find a system, working from the same attitude as the people
during that time, to create a method in which you train the technical aspects as well as
practice improvisation.

Peter: PvH 1\03.mp3 At the age of seven he started playing the recorder at school in
Bruges. His mother was a music teacher, piano and recorder player. The same year he

5 Another one of the first musicians, in modern times, that specialised in the cornet.
6 As is mentioned in the background section of this treatise, described by Polk and Tinctoris.

started at the local music academy, to study solfége. The second year of the music
academy he had to choose an instrument, he chose piano, which he kept on playing
until the age of 16 to 17. He kept on playing the recorder as a part of the so called
“youth music school” which was not an official academy but an organisation for
young music students from primary and secondary school. There was also a youth
music group, or orchestra, at secondary school (between 12 to 18 years of age) and
Peter wanted to be a part of that, mainly because they made a lot of concert tours. It
was a youth music group with “Orff-instruments”, named after the founder of the
idea, Carl Orff7. Eventually Peter became a part of this orchestra as well and he was
part of many concerts and tours in different settings. PvH 1\04.mp3 In these concerts,
he started quite early to play solos and received good practise in this since the concerts
were fairly often sold out. The piano did not give him the same stimulation in this way
and soon he stopped playing this. PvH 1\05.mp3 At this point, after finishing
secondary school, he started to think about what to do for a living and music was
amongst the possibilities. He was not the “student type”, which changed, but always
tried to find an easy way around things. He was considering going to a conservatory
and did so after a period of hesitation as to which place to go to. PvH 1\06.mp3 He
chose the conservatory in Ghent, which is close to Bruges, so that he still could live at
home. The first year he did not like very much, he had problems socially since he did
not stay in Ghent. PvH 1\07.mp3 During his last years in the academy of Bruges, he
got interested in early music. He listened a lot, but so far did not read or study
anything. The problem was that in the conservatory in Ghent, there was little, or no,
education in this area at that time, why he also enrolled at the university in Ghent to
study art history. PvH 1\08.mp3, PvH 1\09.mp3 Also here there were some problems,
because Peter knew what he wanted to learn, which was not always what they taught
at the university. This, in combination with tension between the teachers at the
conservatory, made the situation more frustrated for Peter. He stopped university,
because it was too many things already. He changed teachers at the conservatory, one
who was dealing more with the subjects Peter was interested in; the teacher’s name is
Marcel Ketels. PvH 1\10.mp3 This new teacher suited Peter perfectly and improved
many things in his playing as well as opened his eyes to a lot of things – “I was
uninformed, completely uninformed.” From then on he liked his studies in Ghent. At
this point the conservatory system changed and was recognised as a higher-level
education. Peter enrolled in this new system, which also gave him enough to do. PvH
1\11.mp3 Now he started to think about what to do next, to stay in Ghent or to go
somewhere else? He went for the first time to the conservatory in The Hague – he was
very impressed by the atmosphere there, felt very small. He also went to some other
places to listen to master classes and lessons. Eventually he chose to stay in Ghent,
which at this point also offered him a new kind of freedom to be excused from lessons.
This meant he could go and follow lectures, or something similar, at other places
without having to worry about missing something in Ghent. This is what he decided to
do, to stay enrolled at the conservatory in Ghent and follow lectures at other places
when there was an opportunity for that. For a start he did so within Belgium and
attended lectures in the other music conservatories there, in Brussels and Antwerp. He
was part of the ensemble Currende, sang a few times with the Collegium Vocale which
led to further contacts in the early music world. PvH 1\12.mp3 In 1987 he completed
his first important diploma at the conservatory in Ghent. The same year he sang in a
recording with Currende, recording “La morte d’Orfeo” by Stefano Landi, which
required cornettos, played by Bruce Dickey and Doron Sherwin. This made a huge

7The famous composer Carl Orff, was known in his time for a special system of school music
pedagogy, where even the youngest children started being a part of the music education.

impression on him and he decided he wanted to learn how to play this instrument.
PvH 1\13.mp3 He talked with Bruce about this, who said it was no problem. Therefore
he went to Bologna in Italy. He already had a friend in Bologna and from then on he
went regularly, one week a month, to Bologna for lessons with Bruce, for two to three
years. PvH 1\14.mp3 Initially the cornetto playing went very well but later on he
discovered that it required a lot of work and practice, a lot of discipline, which is not
one of his best qualities. PvH 1\16.mp3 Other reasons why he did not make it with the
cornet was that there was so much that also interested him, especially in Bologna, the
library, the city and Italy as a whole interested him so greatly that this superseded the
importance of his cornetto lessons. PvH 1\17.mp3 In 1989 he completed his final
diploma in Ghent, still going to Bologna regularly. He participated in a competition for
recorder players, which did not go so well, but he received a good comment from one
of the jury members, Barthold Kuijken, which motivated and inspired him a great deal.
PvH 1\19.mp3 He attended master classes in Italy with Kees Boeke and Franz
Brüggen, who reassured him that he was a very able recorder player. PvH 1\20.mp3
He inscribed at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis as a cornetto student, which in the
beginning was a good experience, but after having been in the Bologna library and
other places, this was not so rewarding to him, since he also by then realised this was
not the instrument for him. He went there, again, one week a month and stayed then
together with William Dongois and Jean Tubery, which of course was very
stimulating. PvH 1\21.mp3 Eventually he stopped studying in Basel, after ca 1½ year.
PvH 1\22.mp3 In 1990-91 there was a somewhat calmer period, it was at that time he
went to Bologna for the last time. At the same time he was an assistant-teacher at the
conservatory of Ghent, where he used to study. IN Ghent he assisted in recorder and
performance practice, as well as in Bruges. PvH 1\23.mp3 He then thought that – “if it
turns out that I’m not able to live from making music to a certain degree by the time
I’m 35 years old, then I’m going to change.” But then in 1993, he was invited to a
symposium at the Utrecht festival of early music, to hold a seminar about the recorder
of the 17th century in Italian music. This had been his prime interest in Bologna, where
he had found out some new facts concerning this subject. PvH 1\24.mp3 He was
extremely nervous before this lecture. This led, though, to an invitation to teach
performance practice at the conservatory in Brussels where they had started a
department for early music. PvH 1\25.mp3 In 1994 he started teaching chambermusic
and performance practice in Brussels. He worked there for five years. It was from
Brussels that he was invited to hold a few lectures at the conservatory in The Hague
around 1996, mainly to replace people who were ill or so. This continued and finally
the conservatory in The Hague asked him to become a regular teacher.

PvH 1\26.mp3 Concerning his concert activities before the 1990s, during his school
time, as a recorder player, mainly smaller concerts here and there with people from the
school. His concert activities were primarily as a singer, most often with Currende that
made quite a lot of concerts. In some concerts he both played the recorder and sang. In
1989 he got to know his present wife, an organ player who came to Antwerp to study
and who also was an alto-singer in the same ensemble Currende. Together with some
friends they formed their own ensemble with which he mainly performs today. PvH
1\28.mp3 Today he says that he does 50/50 performing and teaching, the performing –
“is absolutely my motor, this is absolutely what makes me do it.” PvH 1\29.mp3 He
emphasise the importance teaching also has for him, to be a teacher of performance
practice, which is linked to his own need to study and do private research. “I have
never studied so much, in my life, since the moment that I started teaching at the
Brussels conservatory for performance practise.” PvH 1\30.mp3 He also says to his
students now, that you will meet the most severe teacher in yourself, after you have

finished your studies, just like he did. As a student himself, he did not study so hard.
PvH 1\33.mp3, PvH 1\34.mp3 He did study singing, but do not have any ambitions in
being a singer but wants to be good enough to be a part of projects.

PvH 1\38.mp3 In a way he encountered diminutions for the first time already at the
music school in Bruges when he was twelve years old. An important part of repertoire
was the diminutions, or variations, by Jacob van Eyck. He was then not aware that it
was a special ornamentation technique, but only that it was merely notes to be
performed. PvH 1\39.mp3 His interest in this subject grew as his interest in early 17th
century music grew, also around the time when he started to go to Bologna and
playing the cornet.

Marleen: ML\03.mp3-ML\09.mp3 Started with the recorder just before the age of 7.
Her first teacher was Patrick Denecker, with whom she is now playing in the group
“La Caccia”. After that, she had several different teachers in Antwerp until she met
Peter van Heyghen at the age of 14. She studied with Peter for 2 years and then went to
the conservatory in Ghent. After this she went to the conservatory in Brussels for four
years and studied with Bart Coen, now also singing and playing the piano. Got more
and more interested in early music, Renaissance and early Baroque, influenced by
Peter with whom she kept contact with all the time. She did private research in
repertoire and came in contact with other people in the early music field. After 2 to 3
years in Brussels she went to a concert with William Dongois – “I fell in love with the
cornet” – got in contact with William through Peter and started her cornet-studies
three weeks later. After this, still studying in Brussels, she went approximately every
three weeks to Paris. Went to cornetto-courses, met Bruce Dickey with whom she
started to take lessons from in Basel after some time. She did a pedagogical course in
Brussels for four years along with her studies in performing arts. After her exam in
Brussels she had a year with a lot of lessons in Paris with William and also did the
entry-exam to the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis8 to study the cornetto with Bruce Dickey.
During this year she was already teaching. When she was 22 to 23, already having
concerts and students, she decided to try work professionally as a musician and
teacher. She has chosen not to teach in only one place but changed a lot, and therefore
she has experience in teaching at approximately 30 different schools, from then until
now. For at least two years she has her own class of Cornetto students and a good idea
of what and how she wants to teach, from own experience and from seeing other

ML\11.mp3, ML\12.mp3 Her career as a performing musician started early since in

Belgium there are a great many amateur ensembles interested in early music. In the
circuits around Wim Becu9, with whom she played together at an early age, she met a
lot of musicians in the early-music field, which led to further contacts and concert
activities from around the age of ten.
ML\14.mp3 The first encounter with diminutions was by playing in the groups of
Wim Becu. When they played the music by Gabrieli, for instance, Wim tried to trick
Marleen by adding diminutions – “of course he did not play the notes as they were,
but he played lots and lots of diminutions”. She started early to try to imitate what
Wim did – “so I knew very early that it was not done to play only the notes, and it was
also more fun”.ML\15.mp3 In the beginning she was trying, but did not really “know
what to look for”. She was learning by doing – trial and error.

8The conservatory for early music in Basel, Switzerland.

9Wim is a musician (trombonist) and teacher in Antwerp, he is also a specialist in early music
and is also a very able recorder-player.

ML\78.mp3 She was very influenced by Wim Becu in the beginning. He added
ornaments in a very natural way. It was only during the performance of the pieces that
he showed, and played, ornaments so she could hear where it was appropriate to add
embellishments, as well as where it was a bit weird not to do anything at all, for
instance on very long notes or important cadences. To add a little tremolo or
something on the long notes made them so much more interesting.

• What importance does diminutions/improvisations have in the music you
mainly perform?
• In what way do you use diminutions/improvisations in your profession? (That
is, both in teaching and/or performance).
• Do you notice any difference in the level of ensemble playing of musicians
used to improvisational music compared to musicians without improvisational
experience? (Better/worse in ensemble playing if they are used to
improvisation or not).
• Do you think your capability of playing diminutions/improvisations has
helped you in other ways in your profession? Positive/ Negative (Does it help,
or not, to know how to improvise?).
• Do you think it is important (for others) to know how to improvise? Why? Why

William: WD 1\11.mp3 In the beginning he developed his division skills more and
more and eventually thought: “perhaps I can improvise?” He realised he could go
further and further away from the composition.
WD 1\16.mp3 William says that for him, practising divisions and the cornet is the
same thing. For instance, William thinks the treatise by Dalla Casa is an exercise book
for instrumentalists as well as a diminution-practising book for instrumentalists and
singers. You should also be able to do diminutions everywhere, but also do nothing. If
you do not do anything at a cadence point, for instance (where you almost always
should do an ornament), then what you do has to be very special. In order to control
this you have to practice this every day.
WD 1\17.mp3 In his concert, and especially in the encore of his solo-concerts, he adds
a piece with free improvisation, in the Renaissance style. Sometimes he goes a little bit
out of the style, consciously. He also sometimes plays with two jazz musicians,
harpsichord, cornetto, clarinet/saxophone and contrabass. WD 1\19.mp3 When
playing in this ensemble, he never experiences any style problems, since it is not early
music, nor jazz. Each member of the group brings their own idea, structure or a theme,
and makes something new, still with the individual musicians style intact. The
harpsichord is tuned in a late-baroque tuning and still it works perfectly to play jazz
chords together with the other instruments. Sometimes William plays in unison with
the saxophone “and it’s perfectly in tune” because they strive to play together, to be as
flexible as possible, and not in the idea of what style they play.

WD 1\12.mp3 If you look at music by Palestrina from a diminution point of view, you
will end up with a very different concept of what tempo, and sound, the music should
have, if compared to the way Palestrina usually is performed today. We are already
stuck in a norm of how it should sound like, even though no one can know exactly how.
WD 1\13.mp3 If you play a Bassano diminution on a piece by Palestrina you get a very
different sound. Of course, it could be minor deviations to the tempo of a piece,
whether you add little or a lot of division, but in general it was probably pretty much
the same. William mentions the difficulty of placing certain divisions on certain places,

what is in style and not, what will the reactions be? "Generally it changes a lot in my
performance". His sound, and the way to produce sound, has changed a lot by playing
diminutions. WD 1\14.mp3 He adds that perhaps the finest art he would like to be
able to perform is to make diminutions so naturally and flexible that no one notices
that he did a division.

WD 1\24.mp3 He thinks, in pedagogy, that it is important to leave the question of

style for a moment. The problem, when he plays with people who do not improvise is
that they have a different concept of sound, tempo and rhythmical aspects. He thinks
that improvisation has changed a lot of things in his way of making music. When he
plays with people that have not done that then “the meaning of the notes are not the
WD 1\26.mp3 If there are any communication problems, when he plays with people
that usually do not improvise, he tries to adapt to their way of playing.
WD 1\27.mp3 The biggest danger today, for young musicians, he says, is the copy
machine. In France, twenty years ago, there were hardly any copy machines, and when
he played the trumpet, he only had his part and copied all his music by hand. The
ways of rehearsing were different; they had a lot of rehearsals, each musician with his
or her own part, never with a score, since it was too expensive; and then, they tried
perform do the same program at least ten times. Today, with access to copy machines,
many people think it is faster to rehearse with a score, and they prepare a program for
one or two concerts at the most. WD 1\28.mp3 The difference for people who play
improvised music is that they play the same repertoire all their lives. Also with people
in the classical field, playing a string quartet by Mozart, they see only their own part
and know it well, they can also listen very carefully to what goes on around them.
Today, in the early-music field, people play from scores, and there is less and less
communication between them. This is not because they can not improvise, but because
they read the score but do not “open their ears”. This is especially dangerous for
young musicians who are used to using scores all the time. WD 1\29.mp3 The first
step to start improvising is “no score, never, and to play the same repertoire, all your

WD 2\23.mp3 Concerning players that mainly play music from written sources and
players who perform music by heart or by ear10, William says he thinks it is not the
same system in the brain that is used. But, he also adds that for the listener it could be
the same. WD 2\24.mp3, WD 2\25.mp3 He says that all the string players he knows,
that play by heart, play better without notes. You have more control of what you are
doing when you mainly listen and have more control of small details because you do
not need to use your senses in order to read and interpret the music. “I think the notes
are really, a little bit, a prison system.” WD 2\26.mp3, WD 2\27.mp3 Examples from
his own experiences support this theory. He also adds that he is not really an
improviser and plays rarely “by heart” because the group changes the repertoire so
often; he thinks he has lost a lot of his memorising abilities in this way. WD 2\28.mp3
He thinks that the sound of the early music would change a lot if the performers
would start playing more by heart, a completely new kind of music.

”Playing by ear” is a expression used by Johansson (2002) to explain the way of making

music without written material, see the section ”Aspects from the unwritten tradition” above.

Peter: PvH 2\22.mp3-PvH 2\27.mp3 Peter gives examples of the different kinds of
diminutions, in the broader sense of the word, that are important in the music he
performs and what importance they have. Why do you have to know them in order to
understand the music of the same time.
PvH 1\41.mp3 An important part in his artistry is imagination. If he finds the right
“image” in his head to formulate the problem, then this is already ¾ of the solution. He
does not spend hours practising the same piece and improving it little by little, but if
he understands the movement of it, what the intention is, then his body automatically
does the right things. He then just has to practice a little bit to fill in the image he
already has in his head. He stimulates his imagination by reading and doing other
things, but not by hours of practising. So, for Peter, diminutions went together with the
concept of style. PvH 1\42.mp3 For him it was something that became very natural
once he understood the style, and not by hours of practising an instrumental
technique. PvH 1\43.mp3 And then, as explained, you have to train your technique in
order to fill in what your mind is already playing. For him, the feel of playing
diminutions was the same as when he heard Bruce Dickey playing in the Orfeo project
by Landi, mentioned earlier. PvH 1\44.mp3 Subconsciously he already had these
patterns worked out in his head, at least the ones he had heard. So playing
diminutions is something you do because it fits a specific style. PvH 1\46.mp3 When
preparing for concerts he writes his own diminutions out. In this way he can
correct/shape his ideas, which he already has, so that it fits.

PvH 1\53.mp3, PvH 2\01.mp3-PvH 2\04.mp3 In this section Peter gives, in his very
intensive and interesting way, a concrete example of how he approaches a written
piece of music. How and, most of all, why he adds diminutions to a certain passage.
For this track, I suggest listening to the CD since much of his explanation is made by
singing. In a way, the essence of Peter’s way of teaching, performing and thinking are
introduced herein, which is of great importance to be able to understand many of his
thoughts later in the interview. PvH 2\04.mp3 On this track, he uses the term “aural
image” which he uses extensively in the rest of the interview as the sum of his
approach towards music and making diminution. PvH 2\05.mp3, PvH 2\06.mp3 He
continues further in explaining his idea of an aural image, that it is the starting point as
well as the end point of anything you do: “Something you really want to do, your
body is going to do it” – he gives an example of this when a child wants to learn how
to stand and walk. It sees the adults do it and wants to do the same. If it were
conscious of every little muscle that it needs to use to accomplish this it might never
work, but it gets up because it sees all the adults do it. PvH 2\07.mp3 “That’s why,
since Bruce Dickey has shown the way, so many good cornet players are around”,
because before him there was no one who could play the instrument the way he does.
PvH 2\08.mp3 Peter concludes with, that making diminutions it is much the same.
First, have the aural image and then try to fill it in, by using the treatises for instance.
PvH 2\09.mp3-PvH 2\11.mp3 As a continuation from PvH 2\08.mp3 he says, you
have your aural image and then it is time to fill it in by consulting books and the
sources of diminution and finding inspiration from other directions. PvH 2\10.mp3
Again, he emphasises that your motoric abilities are best stimulated by a clear mental
image, as compared earlier to the child who wants to learn how to walk. PvH
2\12.mp3, PvH 2\15.mp3 Peter says that your aural image does develop too, by
stimulating your imagination with other material from the same area or period, as well
as other arts and even studies of sociology. PvH 2\16.mp3 He gives examples of this
idea. PvH 2\13.mp3-PvH 2\14.mp3 Here he touches on the area concerning the
different styles in diminution and its correspondences to art during the same period,
the links these subjects have in history. PvH 2\17.mp3 Peter comments on the theories

of William’s tempo suggestions and that you can not have an aural image if you never
have heard the music in the correct way or previously.
PvH 2\18.mp3-PvH 2\20.mp3 He points out that it is possible to create your own
personal image as a performer if you manage to create a different mental image of the
music. He mentions Pedro Memelsdorf to exemplify this. This means that the
approach to an aural image does not have to be passive, a mere reproduction of the
sources, but very creative as well. “It is the mind that leads, and it is the technique that
follows and not the other way around.” He is disturbed by people, performers, who
start working on something and build it up and in the end shape it so that it resembles
to be played the style a little bit. PvH 2\29.mp3 He says he tries to use diminutions in
his concert activities wherever there is a possibility. He almost always includes at least
one piece in his programs. PvH 2\30.mp3 However, if he has once come up with a
good diminution, that he really likes, he admits that he often does not have the
courage to change it, even if he gets bored with it eventually. As long, though, that he
feels that he can do it with conviction, he will keep on adding the same ornament in a
specific piece. PvH 2\31.mp3 He explains the difficulty in varying your diminutions
and also how he tries to do it. “Once you have found something that really works, why
not repeat it as long as it still works?” PvH 2\31.mp3 In teaching he includes, what he
calls, little projects on diminutions with students that happen to study material where
it is required. Also, he mentions, larger projects that are dedicated to a specific style, on
the CD he mentions diminutions by Corelli. Most often he does not “force” his
students to study this subject, but if they want his help he is there to help them.

PvH 2\34.mp3 Peter’s experience of students or performers, in courses, that have

improvised over bass-patterns is that, all of a sudden, the levels between the students
can change dramatically. “The very skilled players are not always the best
improvisers.” PvH 2\35.mp3 “[T]he skilled player is just blocked totally and does not
know what to play anymore.” Peter means that you are not necessarily a good
musician if you can improvise. You should be able to do it, to some degree but he does
not want to say that you can not be a very good musician unless you can also
improvise very well. He says to his students that they should try to improvise, but if
they notice that they are not the greatest improvisers, he would suggest that they write
out their improvisations or diminutions, “learn them by heart and fake!” “There is no
value in, and no virtue, in letting the audience hear that you are not a good
improviser.” Peter means that, while doing so, learning things by heart, you stimulate
your mind and perhaps actually improve your improvisational abilities.
PvH 2\38.mp3 Peter says he can give examples of people that are perfect ensemble
players that are not good improvisers. He emphasis the fact that different people react
to different stimuli, takes the earlier mentioned “Landini student” as an example and,
again, that a good, listening musician does not need to be a good improviser.

PvH 2\40.mp3 He gives two examples where his ability to make diminutions has
helped him, situations which confirmed his belief that you can do similar things if
your imagination is strong enough. PvH 2\41.mp3 He says that the aspect of
diminution making is just one part of many things in making music. PvH 2\43.mp3
Again he returns to the “Landini-student” and explains how she may be able to use
her ability to play music by Landini, as well as on music by Telemann. As a teacher
you should take care of developments like these and use it in other areas of teaching.
PvH 2\44.mp3 Also, he says, he knows of already established musicians that are
fantastic in one style but not in another and they can not analyse why. If they could,
they would most likely be able to play well in other styles.

Marleen: ML\17.mp3 “I see it as a possibility to be more free in the way of playing
and being a musician”. ML\18.mp3 “I was one of those players, at least in the
conservatory, I was among all these people only reading from the music they have in
front of them, and then you get stuck in this sort of: I do not know what to do with the
music.” She finds, by working with the examples in the diminution treatises that this is
already one step away from this problem and tries to avoid making her own students
become dependent on written music. ML\20.mp3 “And with this improvisation, it
really helps them to be more creative also in their musicality, of what they think of the
music and so.” ML\23.mp3 She uses a lot of Peter’s approach to the subject of
diminutions, she speaks about the music and composers, which creates an atmosphere
and she shows the facsimiles and does exercises from them. When they know a bit
about the different treatises she starts using Williams method a bit, tries to integrate it
into the pieces.

ML\28.mp3 In jazz ensembles, it is different with people used to improvising. In early

music there are very few ensembles that are used to improvising, but for the ones who
do – ”Yes, I think you can hear a big difference.” ML\29.mp3 ”What I hear with my
small students, which I let improvise melodies in child-songs and so, is just that they
are more open (...) if they play written out music, they will always do something they
want with the music and not see it as an obligation.” ML\31.mp3 She thinks it is
important to let students in the music schools, already at the age of 7 to 8, to start to
improvise and also to start ensemble playing, also with possibilities to integrate
elements of improvisation. ML\32.mp3 She thinks that being able to improvise and
working well in an ensemble does not have to be connected (gives an example) but is
much more dependent on the personality of the performer.
ML\34.mp3 The ability to improvise has helped her to break the strong focus on
written music. She mentions the traditional school where you get stuck in reading
written music. It helps to listen to music with an improvisational character, like jazz,
salsa and folk music – ”for a classical musician this is very important.”
ML\35.mp3 She says that in these times it is not enough to just be a musician, but one
also needs to be able to create something. Today more and more “they” ask if you can
improvise. ML\36.mp3 Everything is becoming commercial – ”it’s true that sometimes
it feels like if you are a clown, who has to make a show” – everything points in the
direction of creating and ”crossover” concerts, in those cases, being able to improvise
helps a lot. She mentions that this is probably one of the reasons that Peter is not
playing more concerts right now. ML\39.mp3 It is important that you can improvise
but perhaps that should not be an obligation. Today there are so many courses at
conservatories already, courses that are obligatory to music students. There is a strong
pressure on young music students to become professional performers, already around
age 17. ML\40.mp3 ”I do not know (...) if you can make a course of it, like now in the
jazz, it’s like: you have to know this and this…standards and you get a bit [on the]
contrary to where we were in the beginning. The original intention was getting the
music [to be] more open and more free and more away from the written out music.
And in the jazz it’s really going in the other way.” What Marleen says here, more or
less, is that also jazz has become institutionalised. ”Because now they write out every
improvised melody…and then they have to study them, to get to know the music of
course, but I do not know if it is the good way.” Therefore, she is not sure if it is the
right way to add improvisation as a course in music institutions and to make a written
method of improvisation obligatory.


• Where do you teach/have you taught?
• In what subjects/instruments?
• Do you use diminution-related material in your teaching?
• In what way? How do you teach diminutions/improvisations?
• Has the interest for diminutions changed during your musical career?
If so, how? Why do you think it has changed?
• In what ways does it occur today? Different genres?
• Do you think it is important to teach diminutions/improvisations? Why? Why

William: WD 1\31.mp3 William teaches the Cornet and improvisation in Genéve.

Before that he only gave private lessons and taught courses. In the beginning of each
new course, he had to explain his method from the beginning and in this way he has
been able to see the development of it. WD 1\35.mp3 Also sometimes recorder players
and singers came to the courses and sometimes he teaches courses for modern players.
WD 1\37.mp3 His view of the 16th century repertoire has changed over the years. He is
disturbed a little about people that do not practice diminutions towards the direction
of improvisation, who play the written out diminution pieces as ”pieces”; he now
thinks those pieces are just examples of how to embellish a madrigal, motet or
chanson. He does not use these diminution-pieces in his courses in improvisation, he
tries to give the students the means to do, in a few years, the same themselves.
WD 1\39.mp3 William thinks the interest in diminutions has increased over the years.
He and a colleague, a French gamba-player, have made the same thought concerning
the use of diminutions in France that today, more or less, all ensembles in early music
try to add some improvised music in their recordings. The problem is that often it is
used to show off, rather than - ”to make nice music.” WD 1\40.mp3 He says that
improvisation, to him, is a mean to practice technique, to leave the written music a bit,
to understand the music of that era better – which probably was more improvised than
we might think today – and also to create music in another way. But improvisations
should not be a goal in themselves, a way to show how fast you can play. If the written
music is very nice already, then why add extra ornaments? It is not supposed to be a
show. If you improvise without any idea of structure, you use the music to show off
yourself and not yourself to show the music. This does not apply to jazz. There have
been so many good improvisations recorded; the goal is not to show that a person can
improvise, because it is so normal for jazz. WD 1\41.mp3 Presumably it was the same
during the renaissance – ”and the goal in each performance was to [make] music.” He
emphasises that improvisation is only means and not a goal. He admits that he too
makes mistakes in this way, it is very easy to do and he criticises his own experiences.
The difficulty is to show virtuosity at the right moment, to create a structure, to be able
to improvise over a passa mezzo for hours without being boring.
WD 1\43.mp3 His opinion is that improvisation, also in jazz, is more or less horizontal,
just like the Renaissance diminution technique. Therefore, this way of improvising is
similar to other kinds of improvisational techniques. In all cultures, the music of that
culture has something special, something of its own kind. He means that the way to go
from one note to another note, using three or four notes, does not have so many other
solutions than the ones you find in the diminution treatises. Each culture has its own
tonal language so the notes that are possible to use are different, but the principle is the
same. WD 1\44.mp3 He gives an example, the brass bands from Rumania. They play
so very quickly on the modern trumpet, still they are only playing ordinary pieces
from their folk culture, but he thinks that it could be similar to the diminutions of Dalla

Casa 11. When listening to the recordings with these brass bands he tries to figure out
what “figures” they play, he believes it could be very similar to the figures by
Ganassi12 or Dalla Casa. Therefore he thinks the way of making diminutions is a
universal system, but the music of the different cultures is not the same. The music is
special, but the way to go from one note to another is probably the same.
WD 1\45.mp3 The question William has is: “How [did] they teach that?” He means
that musicians in the classical field of music are not able to improvise today, while for
a young boy in Rumania who hears this music everyday, he learns this music with a
very clearly defined style. For us classical musicians we learn all kinds of music and –
“we learn the music from the notes and not, at first, from the ears, it makes a big
difference.” We learn the music at a young age from the notes, without any idea of
what it is – “you have young people from eight years [old], who play on the piano [a]
Mozart sonata, what do they understand from Mozart?”
WD 1\46.mp3 If a student learns early music young and tries to improvise with this
method, or a similar one, the result would be very different. The method does not
belong to any specific style. When you were a child, you learned a language at the
same time as you learned to use your voice. WD 1\47.mp3 The problem is that there is
no language to learn now. In Europe today, you hear all kinds of music at the same
time and we learn ancient music from a dead tradition, we do not have a good model,
only modern recordings of what it could have sounded like. We do not have a living
tradition and you can not learn a living tradition from notation. In the area of classical
music we often think that the meaning of the music is in the notes; but if you play
something and then you try to put it down in notation, then you understand how
much you loose. The written tradition is far from how it actually sounds. But we
realise the notes with an idea of music that we have heard before, but with early music
we do not have an idea of what it should sound like.
WD 1\48.mp3 Students come to him to learn how to play diminution pieces, to learn
the individual notes, while the Rumanian brass players probably only see what they
are playing as lines. If you compare this to the music of Dalla Casa, it is the same
attitude. William believes that Dalla Casa also played so fast himself, that nobody
today can play in the same way today comfortably, and if Dalla Casa improvised in the
same way, we are far away from the ability the musicians had at that time. So first we
have to learn how to play that fast and also to be able to apply this to the pieces of that
WD 1\49.mp3 He gives an example of how he teaches in Geneva. He takes one motet,
does the improvisation exercises and then the students are supposed to apply it to the
motet. This exercise they practise through the whole year. The problem for us today is
that we do not know the repertoire of that era well enough. Who knows Anchor che col
partire13 by heart today? He tries to re-learn some of these famous madrigals by heart
every year, and also tries to teach his students in Geneva to do this with the motet they
are working on.

Peter: PvH 1\45.mp3 Peter says himself that, in his teaching, he tries to help the
student become aware of a specific kind of music and style, the inspiration that you
can find in listening to music, reading books or looking at paintings from the same era.

11 Girolamo Dalla Casa was the principal wind-player, Cornetto player, of the Basilica di San
Marco in Venice.
12 As Dalla Casa, but approximately 50 years earlier, Silvestro Ganssi was the principal wind-

player, possibly also cornetto player, in Basilica di San Marco in Venice.

13 A madrigal by Cipriano de Rore, one of the most popular pieces from the 16th century, with

12 different diminution-pieces written on it.

And then, to compare all these different aspects of the specific style in music and see
how it, in this case, corresponds to the treatises of diminution.
PvH 1\47.mp3 For Peter, there is great importance between the different diminution
styles, which he also emphasise to his students. PvH 1\48.mp3 He mentions one of his
present recorder-students that is fasinated by 15th century music and is now writing
her own diminutions on music by Landini. She has done so in the way explained by
Peter and has achieved some remarkable results. She studied the musical language of
the 15th century and some of the preserved sources of diminution pieces from that era
in order to make her own. Peter says that you need both the imagination and the
practise time to gain a good result. PvH 1\49.mp3 He adds that he can not imagine
that you could reach a convincing result without a mental image. PvH 1\50.mp3 He
illustrates what was said on the previous track with a comparison to the Muses and
Graces. In mythology the artist, in the Renaissance and the Baroque periods, had to
meet the Muses, who instructed the artist in the technique. But before he could become
an artist he had to meet the Graces who added elegance and attractiveness to the art.
PvH 1\51.mp3 Peter concludes here that if your technique and skill are not linked to
an idea or imagination – “you’re working in the emptiness, you are never going to… to
find the right diminution for that place.”

PvH 2\59.mp3 Peter’s interest in this subject has increased, since it goes so much
together with the concept of style, as well as his activities in this field.
PvH 2\62.mp3 Concerning the audience interest in this, he says he always has had
good reactions to whenever he performed such music, sometimes they did not notice
he had made any diminutions, which is a good result since they become a part of the
composition. PvH 2\63.mp3 He says that it is a new trend in early music, that you
need to be more creative, sometimes even in less positive ways. He criticises this new
trend because the creativity affects the authenticity. “The more inventive you are, even
if it’s completely weird and detached from any context, stylistic context, the audience
will love that. I think the audience is in for anything new.” PvH 2\64.mp3 This does
create problems, since the best performances he has had, the audience did not even
notice he made any of his own diminutions. To make the audience notice you did
something, you need to do them so special, weird or out of the normal ways. In
general, though, the audience appreciates diminutions or improvisations when
performed in a good way.
PvH 2\68.mp3 The question is brought up: what are diminutions? What are the
distinctions between ornamentations, diminutions and improvisations? Peter discusses
this and comes to the conclusion that in ethnic music traditions PvH 2\69.mp3 there
are lots of diminutions.
PvH 2\70.mp3 Here he gives a brilliant example of a violinist from the Czech republic
that played diminutions. Once he was a guest conductor in the Czech republic,
conducting Bachs Magnificat just after ending a long project about diminutions at the
conservatory. One day in the Czech orchestra there was a violinist that asked Peter to
come one evening and listen when he and a friend of his played some of their music,
folkmusic. This music contained a lot of ornaments that Peter would call diminutions
or improvisations. Peter said to himself: “Everything you have said in the past weeks
at school – you could just wipe that out, take this guy to The Hague, put him in front of
the classroom, say nothing anymore and let him play for two hours and everything is
said.” After which, he would tell his students to apply that to 16th century music. The
explanation the violinist gave afterwards about his performance was: “Oh, it’s boring,
to play six times the same thing!”
PvH 2\71.mp3 Peter brings up the theme of aural images. The Czech violinist lives
within his own aural image, is raised within it and feeds it daily by listening to his

colleagues. PvH 2\72.mp3 The problem for us, Peter says, is that we have so many of
these traditions and aural images in our music, and it is impossible to live within all
these traditions at the same time. We change this for almost every program we
perform, and for a student it is even more difficult. In an ordinary exam-program you
usually have to play five different styles of music. We constantly have to construct that
tradition for every concert we perform while the Czech violinist has it around him all
the time. PvH 2\73.mp3 This is an advantage for cornet players, since they primarily
remain in the area of 16th and early 17th century music and thus they are able to
develop this area more thoroughly.

Marleen: ML\42.mp3 “In that way I work with blind people, I also have some blind
students.” Extremely interesting, Marleen tells me that her blind students can
remember incredible things about the music and that they improvise very well, just
because they are trained to play by heart. “Of course they do not have any note[s].”
ML\43.mp3 She mentions the great ability her blind students have in detecting
melodic divergences – “immediately they will hear.” ML\46.mp3 She says it is
important not to make a theory of improvisation, because then it is not improvised any
more. ML\61.mp3-ML\62.mp3 She also taught a lot of chamber music. In Belgium you
can study chamber music in your pedagogical studies. As mentioned earlier, she never
tried to get steady employment, but went around to many schools, because she was
travelling so much to play concerts and to attend courses or studies. Also, in Belgium,
they have something called instrumentaal ensemble, in the schools, where they put all
the music students between 4 to 7 years old. Then you get groups of approximately 20
people that play all kinds of instruments. Then you have to find a piece and adjust it to
the circumstances. This process makes you very creative. “And then, all these things of
improvising and getting a bit away from, from things that are written out, of course
you have to do them”. ML\64.mp3 Marleen says that the interest for diminutions (in
music of any kind) is very popular today. People today really appreciate something
that involves creativity. ML\65.mp3 Groups that play completely without notes and
just look at the audience – “that they always find marvellous” – you get much stronger
experience. ML\67.mp3 Musicians nowadays are really “pushed” in this way and
therefore she thinks it is the reason Williams’s method is very successful. Many other
musicians come to Marleen and they ask how they can perform diminutions; in
addition conductors nowadays increasingly require people who are able to add



• Describe the method.

• Describe the development of the method – sources of information/inspiration –
other sources (Where did you get the idea and how did it evolve?).

William: WD 1\51.mp3 Except for the earlier mentioned thought William had, to be
able to create a method to practice technique and improvisation, there was also
another problem when he started to read and study the treatises. The fact that they
contain such a large amount of examples makes it impossible to remember them all.
He tried to memorise a few of them, but still, two days later, he did not remember
them all. WD 1\52.mp3 When he then took a closer look at Ganassi and studied the
simplest examples, he noticed that they only consisted of four or five notes. These
simple figures are then divided into note values of double speed, quarter notes into
eight-notes for instance, or even four times the speed, quarter notes into sixteenth

notes, but with the same length of the example. A few examples, or patterns, in
Ganassi, are figures that go from one note to the same note. This was a new thought
for William, usually when you make a diminution you try to go from one note to
another, to fill out an interval. He then understood that a complex diminution figure
consists of many simple ones combined into a longer, more complex figure.
WD 1\53.mp3 His idea was to develop a new sort of system, learning these simple
patterns of three-five notes, and to put them together into more complex ones. In an
interval of five ascending notes, you could, for instance, combine a figure of two
ascending notes with three ascending notes, or use patterns that stay on the same note,
unison, and then do the final leap of a fifth. After having learned these few building-
blocks you can change the rhythm or do other things with it. All the material for the
building-blocks he found in Ganassi, by only looking at the simplest examples.
WD 1\54.mp3 The second important aspect of his method he found in the treatise of
Diego Ortiz, who describes three ways to make diminutions14:

1. The last note of the diminution should be the same as the first note. This means
that the interval-leap after having done the ornament will be the same as in the
written music.
2. More freedom towards the composition. To make a diminution between two notes
and the last note of it is not the same as in the written music. According to Ortiz
this is less good, because you could have contrapuntal clashes with the other parts.
3. To make a diminution, more or less by ear, and leave the written music. Ortiz is
very critical about this way, William says – “it seems he do not like people who

WD 1\57.mp3 This shows that you have three levels of diminutions and by only using
the first two of these, William constructed his system together with the patterns
provided by Ganassi. He learned static patterns, to stay on the same interval, and
dynamic patterns, to go from one note to another and then to combine those patterns.
WD 1\58.mp3 In this way you do not need to learn all the examples found in the
treatises, but just create your own ones from these simple patterns, you create your
own “catalogue”. On this track he also explains how to use some specific patterns,
which is easier to present by listening or to show with notations. After having learned
these patterns, you just learn the original melody, which you want to embellish, and
you create your own diminutions, simple or complicated – “you create yourself” – and
just apply it to the melody. WD 1\59.mp3 “I can say my idea is only that.” The rest, he
says, is using different approaches of how to use the method in a specific context. To

14The original rules by Ortiz, English translation by Ian Gammie:

The first and most perfect way: after having played the passaggi or division on the
relevant note, and being about to move to the next one, the last note of the extemporisation
should be the same as the original note which is being embellished.
The second way takes rather more license, since at the point where it moves from one
note to the next it moves in the opposite direction to the original interval of the basic notes. This
way is necessary because by taking this freedom one can create fine things with beautiful florid
runs which cannot be done with the first way alone; and the fault which it can have is that in
not following the original intervals it can cause consecutives with one of the other voices (of the
composition) but this is of little importance since it is not noticeable at that speed.
The third way is to leave the written notes and progress more or less by ear, without
much certainty of what one is doing. This is what some – having little skill – wants to do; they
set out without a fixed aim in mind and without regard for the written notes, and end up with a
cadence or notes which they already know; this is a bad thing in music; it does not follow the
original and cannot have any perfection at all, since the composition has not been understood.

use the building-blocks like pieces of LEGO. “LEGO is exactly an image of my system.
You have little pieces, several, and you want to build some house, some plane, oh –
you do it!”

• Has the method or the structure of the method changed?

• Any other changes?
• Describe the practical performance and use of the method in the courses
• What musical material do you use (together) with the method?
• What kind of music or musical patterns?

WD 1\61.mp3 In the beginning of each course William plays very simple figures and
the participants imitate. This is also the method used during the Renaissance, the
student did not read music, and they only repeated what the master did. “I should be
the meister in that case, in some cases I would prefer to be student. But, OK, I am the
meister, I have to, I get money, sometimes, to teach, so I have to show.” WD 1\62.mp3
He then shows a few examples, the students repeats, they practice for a while and after
some time the students are supposed to create their own figures. The third step in the
course is that they try to apply this on a “bass-model”, that is, a chord progression of a
dance form or madrigal/motet, which is more difficult and he has not up to now, had
any successful results yet. WD 2\02.mp3 After some theoretical introduction of the
method, the first exercise is to play a canon without notes, or someone reads the music
and the other plays a canon. WD 2\03.mp3 In this way you can see who will easily
advance further with improvisation and who will become blocked. WD 1\63.mp3 In
Geneva he teaches for 90 minutes, which includes half an hour of basic exercises on a
simple melody, half an hour making their own figures on this melody and last half-
hour on a bass-model or madrigal/motet. During this time he does not use any written
material. WD 1\65.mp3 Concerning the practical approach, to teach this method to
others, he has a large amount of different devices. Now he thinks that the best would
perhaps be to concentrate on one madrigal for a whole year. WD 1\66.mp3 He
explains different ways to practice on a madrigal or motet: to concentrate on one of the
parts, or perhaps two, or together with a group where you have to practice a lot to
develop the reflexes in the group. He has now, after doing this for a few years, a lot of
papers and descriptions of the exercises he has used, which makes it rather difficult for
him to clearly explain his teaching strategies.

• Does a participant in the course, that has not encountered this kind of music before
(beginners, musicians from other genres etc.), have any problems understanding
what to do?
• Do they receive the method differently?
• How do you explain to them what to do?

WD 1\67.mp3 William says that you should just adapt your methods to the situation,
because - “With this method you can work with some childs.” Which he also has done
a couple of times; and even if they only can play two notes, they should be able to play
those notes without writing them down. Improvisation does not mean that you have to
be a virtuoso all the time, perhaps it could be just another way to learn to play music
without notes. WD 1\68.mp3 Again, he mentions that during the Renaissance, just as
in jazz today, it was not a big thing to improvise; it was the normal way to make
music. You play the written melody and then there comes the moment when everyone,
or anyone, can improvise. He says that he hopes it can become the same in the early
music genre, because it is just as an important aspect in the music of that era, even if

you only know two notes it could still be very nice. “If you have the last CD of Chet
Baker or sometimes Miles Davies, two notes [are] marvellous.”
WD 1\70.mp3 He says he has tried to make a compendium of the method but it
becomes too big, ten pages on descriptions of what can be done with just two, three,
four or five notes.

• In what ways can the method be used?

• How do you use it yourself?
• How can other use it?
• Can it be used in other genres?

WD 1\22.mp3 He held a course in improvisation with his saxophone-colleague from

the mixed jazz-early music band. They discussed music a lot and discovered that the
saxophonist’s way to practice improvisation was not so far away from the way William
does it. Of course, jazz-people think in chords, but the way to practice is to go from one
note to another note. In this case, jazz is quite horizontal too. Thus William can see a
meeting point with his method and jazz. Since he started to practice moving more and
more towards improvisation, he has also increasingly started to appreciate jazz.
WD 2\13.mp3 William thinks the method is possible to use in other kinds of music, if
it is adapted to that music, its tonal language and manner. For jazz people it is not
necessary to try to use this method, they have enough already. WD 2\14.mp3 The way
he uses improvisation is, first of all, to develop a new way of practising technique; in
his daily exercises there are always a few exercises like this. He does not separate the
two things, to practice cornetto and improvisation. WD 2\16.mp3 His method is
developed and adapted to the cornetto, but if you play another instrument and have
understood the principle you should be able to make your own catalogue of patterns
to use, one which fits your instrument. WD 2\18.mp3 For a beginner on a modern
instrument this method could work as well, instead of playing exercises from a book,
you can create your own. WD 2\19.mp3 One idea could be, for a teacher of modern
instruments, to use a modern method and to mix this together with the method. In this
way the students can learn that most of the patterns that you find in excercise books
are the same that you learn from this new method. Then you can tell the students that
they do not need to read music all the time. (He explains and sings examples of this). In
the French conservatories today, the students can not use their technical ability if they
do not have written music to read. WD 2\20.mp3 His goal is to help students develop
a good technique without the necessity to have written notes. WD 2\21.mp3 He
explains some examples where this method could help to improve playing from
written music, something, he says, we should not abandon, of course, since it is also
very good music.

• Is there a difference in understanding the method between people used to

improvisational music compared to people not used to improvisational music?
• Is it easier to teach if a student has improvised before?
• Is it harder if you are more closely tied to notation?

WD 2\04.mp3 If you play the canon part with someone, you have to keep in mind
what the other player, who is playing with notes, plays at the same time as you have to
listen to what is going to happen next. The third thing to remember is to play the
following note, to have the reflex to go to the next note with the right fingering. These
are the same reflexes you need to have, or to learn, in order to improvise. WD
2\05.mp3 Students who have these reflexes do not have problems with intonation or
rhythm. He has noticed, playing with musicians who mainly read from scores, that

there are often discussions about tempo because they always refer to the written
music. If you only using your hearing abilty, you can adapt your playing to the context
and do not need to change the tempo, if you want to change the tempo you can, of
course, do that as well. WD 2\06.mp3-WD 2\07.mp3 The problem when you read
music is that you use a lot of your live-memory, comparable to computers, and you get
problems with adapting to the situation, you become less flexible. WD 2\08.mp3-WD
2\09.mp3 Some people, who can play very well when reading notes, encounter
problems when they try to leave the notes. If they only play with their mind or by ear
they are unable to play very fast, they are bound to the written music; their body is
unable to work freely. If you have someone like this in a course, the first step is to
practice by playing canons.

• What is the general result for the participants of the course?

• Does the students understand the method?
• Has participants in the course given any spontaneous reactions/comments of how
they experienced the method?

WD 1\32.mp3-WD 1\33.mp3 In the beginning, the courses on improvisation were

more “information” than “formation”, more explaining of the method than performing
practical exercises. Some people could, after the courses, continue on their own, if they
understood the system and practised. Most people, though, expected to learn and be
able to do it on their own, right away. Instead of practising on their own, they come
back to the next course a year later and needed more practical excercises. Nowadays,
the course consists more of making music than before, not so much explaining. His
basic thought is to present the method to the students so that they can do whatever
they want, if they want to continue, they can do it on their own, “they do not need
me.” WD 2\30.mp3 In a course that is three or four days long, he generally gets some
results. The participants can play some simple pieces improvised. WD 2\31.mp3
Usually the students attending the courses say that they have too much to do anyway,
so they usually do not continue on their own, and then they come to the next course.
WD 2\33.mp3 “If the course is shorter than three days, there is not so much result.” It
depends a lot on the level of the participants. WD 2\34.mp3-WD 2\36.mp3 He had
very good results from teaching a passage from a motet by ear; he never showed the
parts to the students and taught them the first bars, three voices, by ear. After three
days the students knew their parts, but could not really feel free, that is, could not
make more complex improvisations, but the music sounded very natural. The question
of tempo, discussed earlier (see track no. WD 1\12.mp3-WD 1\13.mp3), was no
problem when the students learned their parts in this way. William is attempting to
investigate the possibility of playing motets in a much slower tempo than what is
usually done, because the diminution examples indicate that. When learning to play by
ear, this issue is not problematic. WD 2\37.mp3 William’s question is in that case if we
are performing these motets in the right tempo. WD 2\38.mp3 If you try to play these
slow tempi when reading the music from a score it is usually a catastrophe. WD
2\39.mp3, WD 2\41.mp3 When taught by ear, there are never any problems. WD
2\40.mp3 It has only been during this year that he has tried out this idea and he wants
to try out more. WD 2\42.mp3 He had another good experience with teaching by ear
with a recorder trio. Usually when you hear a Renaissance polyphony piece you hear
chords and not lines, in this case it was the opposite. The polyphony was so clear
because the performers were playing their own parts and not notes in a chord. William
says that usually you hear lines and chords, but in this case he heard only lines. The
performers only knew, and only had played, their own lines. WD 2\43.mp3 Perhaps
one should learn ones repertoire completely without notes, or a score. WD 2\45.mp3-

WD 2\46.mp3 It was very difficult for the students to learn the motets by heart (see
WD 2\34.mp3-WD 2\43.mp3) but they did not get tired of it. They practised the same
thing, each day, for three days, and the students were not bored – “Oh, William, more,
more! We do the motet and they dreamed from the motet!” WD 2\48.mp3 The
participants in the individual courses come from many different musical styles.
Sometimes, modern instrumentalists attend the courses, if the courses are held in
ordinary schools of music; in general they are interested, but they do not go on
practising this method on their own. Most often, students in early music attend the
courses and they always appreciate them a lot. WD 2\49.mp3 Sometimes William is
criticised by some students who claim that it disturbs their technique, and they say
that they can not work any more with the method. WD 2\50.mp3 His interpretation of
that criticism is that, if a person plays with too much control mentally and then is
forced to use a system in the direction to play more freely – “it’s like a medicine
[which] is too strong.” WD 2\51.mp3 Usually, if any person has any criticism towards
the method, they seldom come to William with it; therefore he most often gets positive
reactions. WD 2\52.mp3 Sometimes he gets the feeling that people think the system is
too artificial, which he also thinks at times. As he said before, perhaps he should use
more methods, like the one when learning a motet by ear, to get the method into a
more musical context.

• Do you know other teachers that have become inspired to use the method in their
own teaching?
• How are their results?
• What does their students think of it?

WD 2\54.mp3 There are some other teachers that also use the method, but it is too
soon to know if they get any results. WD 2\55.mp3-WD 2\56.mp3 Very often teachers
that use the method do not have enough time, or interest, to spend on it to get any
results. You can not really teach this method if you have not done it yourself for a
couple of years; to feel comfortable in it. William has worked with these ideas for ten
years, it is quite new for him too, and things take a lot of time to learn.

• Advantages/Disadvantages?
• Further opinions?

WD 2\57.mp3-WD 2\58.mp3 As mentioned before, William emphasises the

importance of the the issue in early music, the relation between source-style-live
music, how we perform live music. You can use this method to play Palestrina or a
passa mezzo. WD 2\59.mp3 Some musicians say we have to choose to play in a certain
style, early or late Renaissance or early Baroque, but William thinks it is too detailed.
Sometimes this view could be of importance. Why is it important to respect a style –
“that is another interview, perhaps?” WD 2\60.mp3-WD 2\61.mp3 In teaching it is
very important not to make the method too limited for the student. “If you are afraid
to make a mistake, for stylistic reasons, how can you learn?” A baby tries to walk
because nothing stops him, sometimes the parents say: OK, but do not go close to the
fire! “But in the music there is no fire.”WD 2\62.mp3-WD 2\64.mp3 During his
concerts he thinks it is not so important always to follow the style – “If you go out of
the style, you do music, perhaps, it’s another music, only you do not get the name
ancient music.” It’s important to respect the context but the context could be more or
less broad. In the practising situation, especially, he thinks we should leave the aspect
of style behind and only save the aspect of context, because without the context you do
not get any help, no tonal language. If you improvise on a drone, you will

automatically have an “identity”. Within this chosen context, you have to explore and
learn – “you have to learn to walk, to jump, to run, to do all the things” WD 2\65.mp3-
WD 2\66.mp3 In early music you always have the urge to control the style; William
thinks that is the last decision to make, during your education you have to “learn how
to play, to be able to play.” WD 2\66.mp3-WD 2\67.mp3 Once he read about early
improvisation and the author concluded with – “a good improvisation is: that point,
that point, that point, in this list. It was very restricted.”

It was not unrelevant opinions that the author had, but he gave less possibilities than
the possibilities given by all the treatises, and sometimes the students wanted to do
improvisation that went slightly over the limit, which William comments: “it should be
allowed to do that.”
WD 2\68.mp3-WD 2\69.mp3 In the beginning of learning how to improvise, you
should not learn what you can not do, instead what you can do. The problem of style is
not included in the field of teaching; it is rather an ideological decision. First you have
to learn to play, and play notes in the chosen context ant to explore the context. From
there you learn to control your style.



• Have you tried William Dongois method of learning improvisation?

• Have you, in your own teaching, used William Dongois method?
• Do you have an opinion/comment/reaction/reflection about the method?
• In what ways can the method be used?
• If you use it, how do you use it yourself?
• How can other use it?
• Can it be used in other genres?

Peter: PvH 2\46.mp3 He is familiar with Williams’s method for improvisation, but not
completely and do not know it in detail. He has not tried it himself. PvH 2\47.mp3-
PvH 2\48.mp3 Peter thinks that the method has one great advantage, which is the
combination of building up a stock of examples, or patterns, to use in improvisations
together with the method of learning how to play an instrument. At the same time as
you learn an instrument you also study diminution and improvisation, or an
improvisational style. He can consider using it with his recorder students so they,
unconsciously, also learn a stock of diminution patterns. PvH 2\50.mp3 He has used it,
in a way, to train finger techniques with students. It is appropriate to this since you
focus on one thing while you train another. PvH 2\52.mp3 It depends on how the
method is used in the total education of a music student. If it were the only method
used to approach diminutions, then it would need to be balanced with other material,
such as existing examples. Peter says he would miss the important component that he
has been emphasising during the entire interview, the imagination. Instead of starting
with that, you start with nothing and try to build something up without a clear
direction of where to go – “an undefined end.”
PvH 2\54.mp3-PvH 2\56.mp3 If the interpretation of the method is to combine
learning a stock of possibilities, patterns, as well as practising specific technical skills,
then this is not something new but already done in jazz. If used in this way, Peter
thinks it can be used in any style, if it is combined with musical imagination, even in
romantic music. He also says that in order to perform a Baroque sonata well, the player
should be able to improvise or compose one.

PvH 2\57.mp3 To conclude, Peter says he thinks it is a good method, but without the
stimulus of the musical imagination, the aural image, he does not think it would lead

PvH 3\10.mp3 Peter adds that you always need a tradition, an environment. ”As soon
as you have a tradition, this implies change and evolution. And as long as you do not
have a tradition anymore, this means freezing of a specific state.” This is strange,
because in general, ”tradition” means, ”at it was done before”. But, as a matter of fact,
every living tradition keeps on renewing itself constantly. PvH 3\11.mp3-PvH
3\12.mp3 Peter gives an interesting example of a Turkish musician he knew who was
so happy about his new instrument – because it was made of plastic! He also uses the
example of Ûd-players in Iraq that study with a master. When they do their exam, they
are expected to make some kind of change in their technique, instrument or something.
PvH 3\13.mp3 All of this creates a problem for us playing early music. On the one
hand we know that the tradition of making improvisations over the late 16th century
Venetian music was an integral part of the music at that time, so we need to learn their
improvisational methods. But on the other hand we can not modify those methods too
much because then one moves further away from the music that one wants to play, if
your goal is to play late 16th century Venetian music.
PvH 3\14.mp3 There is, though, another possibility, which is to say that if you really
like a specific instrument and that you also like the tunes from the 16th century, you
can decide to create something of your own with that material, then you make the
changes consciously. PvH 3\15.mp3 Peter points out that we are not within the living
tradition anymore – ”So we have to find a middle way between behaving within a
tradition, but behaving within a certain stage of that tradition.” He thinks that there is
a direct link between the later ornaments of the Baroque and the diminution
techniques of the 16th century. But, if you perform music from the time of Cima15, for
instance, you can not apply Corellian variations to his music, but rather the
diminutions explained by Fransesco Rognioni16. There are also boundaries as to how
much you can change following a tradition. He also says that we, being musicians
working with early music, have to set our boundaries ourselves, there is no one that is
living within the tradition that can tell us that we are not being correct. So we have
freedom, but until where, and why? This is also why Peter keeps on emphasising that
you should start by building your mental image, because it defines where the
borderline is. This borderline will be different for every person, but if it fed with the
right kind of ”food” (sources, treatises, paintings, sculpture and literature) you will
create the ”right” kind of boundaries.
PvH 3\19.mp3 Peter touches the subject of William playing in a jazz ensemble, which
he thinks is very interesting. But if William would have to change his instrument in
order to perform that music in a better way, he would then have created his own
tradition and he no longer would be playing in the 16th century cornetto tradition
anymore. PvH 3\20.mp3 If the teaching and learning of diminutions is only used to
practise your technique, if it is not balanced with the “food” that feeds your mental
image, than you will clearly and easily go outside the boundaries of the style of the
music that you are playing. This is no problem if you are aware of it, but then you are
not playing early music anymore. PvH 3\21.mp3 This aspect is something that should
influence all thoughts about teaching methods of diminutions. PvH 3\22.mp3 Peter
gives some amazing examples of the question of authenticity in other fields.

15 Giovanni Paolo Cima, Italian composer from Milano around 1600.

16 Fransesco Rognioni, Italian violinist from Milano, published a diminution treatise 1620

PvH 3\23.mp3 This question applies to all aspects of early music, but especially in the
field of improvisation. He says that one problem regarding Williams’ teaching method
is that it does not take this aspect into account. PvH 3\24.mp3 I explain Williams’ new
approach to learn madrigals by heart and then to start to embellish these with the
building-blocks. How would it work to use the same method for different epochs?
Would the result be “authentic” even though you use the same approach? PvH
3\25.mp3 Peter replied: probably yes. But you would need to put a new “varnish”
over the building-blocks of the embellishments (which Williams’ method is based
upon) to link them to each other in an organic way. He thinks that this is, again, done
with the same mental image that he has explained before. PvH 3\26.mp3 Again, he
says that it is not enough to have only the formulas from the treatises, you also need
the overall idea of what that culture uses to link these formulas together. He gives an
example of the composer Cavallieri, and how the artist Michelangelo, who was a
friend of Cavallieri’s father, could have inspired him.
PvH 3\27.mp3 He thinks that this is the same for ornaments. One of the patterns from
the treatises can be played in so many different ways, and to know how to play the
pattern in a specific style you need to feed your mental image of that style.
Peter mentions that improvisation, in modern classical music, has become so special,
that it receives such special treatment, when performed in music generally linked to
the term “classical music”. “We feel that emptiness and that we try to fill it up with
very special actions, you know. I think it is dangerous, because it might go over the
PvH 3\28.mp3 Peter says that he sometimes gets students who say: Show me how to
do it! And he refuses to simply tell them. If you do not want to invest time to learn
about the Renaissance and Baroque culture, then it’s not worth the effort to explain
what finger to lift and how and when. It is the same with diminutions. –How can I
play diminutions? Well, feed yourself with aural images, first of all! PvH 3\29.mp3
This is, again, what the so called “Landini student” did, and according to Peter she got
it, the style and all, to a much greater extent than she had in any other field. “And
everybody who hears her, says that.” “You know what you want to do, now you have
to do it.” PvH 3\30.mp3 He says that it is the one thing that a teacher can not do, to
create “hunger”. You can only help the student to feed himself, if the student has
hunger. “You are not even feeding him, you’re helping to feed himself, or herself, but
the hunger must be there, first of all.”

ML\49.mp3-ML\50.mp3 In general she thinks the method is very positive. She
criticises the computerised version of the accompaniment to be used as exercise
material in addition to the method, so you can practice at home. The somewhat static
recording makes it difficult to use in a musical way; the exercise remains an exercise
(in a conversation with William after this interview he said a new version was in
production). ML\51.mp3 In a way it is in line with Williams thinking, that when you
learn the Cornet you should not worry too much about the sound, usually this is not so
good in the beginning. You should not worry about the sound and especially so if you
are used of playing another instrument before and has grown accustomed to an idea of
good sound quality. You have to keep on playing even if the sound is bad, so to use
the pre-recorded accompaniment of the method, even if it sounds static, and play
together with it as an sound-exercise is an important part in learning this instrument.
ML\52.mp3 Some people do not agree with William’s ideas to practice in front of the
TV, or with music, in order to avoid analysing your sound too much.

ML\21.mp3 Marleen says that the students will not start using the method, even if
they do have all the material. She mentions that William even came to the school once
to practise this method with them. The students needed someone to show them what
to do.
ML\41.mp3 At the same time William does not want to write down too much. In the
beginning he was reluctant to write down anything – “the moment I write something
down it’s again written music and you will, again, look at it and get stuck in this” -
because of the same reasons that jazz often has become institutionalised.
ML\24.mp3 Something that was missing before were some examples of written out
forms, or patterns for the student to use, this is now included in the method. William
tried to avoid it in the beginning, as mentioned, but the step for the beginner was too
big. From knowing nothing to start playing diminutions, the step was too big. The
result in a three-day course was not satisfying so William started to give some basic
patterns17 to be used by the participants, to start with, in the courses, just like in jazz. It
is a bit too much to ask to expect a beginner to improvise, to invent, in a style that is so
old. ML\25.mp3 When William improvises himself, he goes much further away from
the old style – “that stays a bit always the problem, that you improvise something
that’s, in fact, in a style that’s very, very far away from us”. Still, the base, or
accompaniment, is still in the old style and that is why it sounds a bit strange to
abandon the old style too much.
ML\44.mp3-ML\45.mp3 In the courses, William played an example and then the
students imitated him. This caused some problems, he had to play the same thing
repeatedly, in order to make it plain and clear enough, and then it became static and
not so musical or improvised. In a way, the same problem as with the pre-recorded

ML\54.mp3 Marleen uses the method with her cornet students just to play notes, as an
exercise. The method allows you to play and create simple melodies, even if you only
know three notes, you can play around with those three notes and work with different
dynamics. Also, to get them used to this kind music, the different dance-pieces, which
the pre-recorded accompaniments are based on; she tries to make them create own
melodies in this style, which works really well. She do not know if it makes sense to
use the method for other kinds of instruments since the accompaniments used for the
method is so typical for the music of that time.
ML\56.mp3 “I think that, the way of going from one note to another note, like, for
example, in classical or Romantic music, is maybe not the same”. Marleen points out
that the method is based on a soprano- or the melody-instrument principle (violins,
cornets and all the other upper voices), which makes the method more difficult for
lower sounding instruments to use.18 William does not explain so much what a bass-
line instrument (bass-lines in those times used quite a lot of large intervals), such as
gambas, could do. Marleen thinks it is difficult to see how this method could be
integrated in later music, such as classical or Romantic music.
ML\57.mp3 The method is especially well suited to the cornet since the instrument has
certain limitations in its range. Some notes you preferably avoid since they are difficult
to play in tune, but the music the method is based upon does not have those notes,
thus it is very suitable for the instrument. ML\58.mp3 With some of her cornet
students she tries to do some jazz pieces in order to practice these hard notes and to

17I will include these patterns and papers from William in the appendix.
18In the 16th-century treatises there is a common practise to be found used mainly by bass- or
tenor-instruments which was called alla bastarda, when you used, more or less, all the voices in
a madrigal to make your improvisation. This style would probably require a somewhat
different method.

play music with three flats and not get panicked (!). ML\59.mp3 She says that perhaps
it is a good idea to try to use some of the chromatic notes in this method and see what
comes of it, maybe it is possible.



• How did diminutions evolve?

• Why did they evolve?
• Who performed diminutions/improvisations? (What people performed
diminutions where and when?)
• How did the art and knowledge pass on to others/new generations? Is it possible
to recognise any pedagogical methods?
• How does it exist today? Where, in what ways and what genres?

Peter: PvH 2\76.mp3 The playing of diminutions was an integral part of an artistic
skill, both instrumental and vocal. It is a “doing” thing. It is like many ethnic
traditions, it goes together with the “joy” of playing on your instrument, singing
included. This corresponds to what Peter said about the Czech violinist, but also you
can compare it to what Ganassi says in the beginning of his treatise. Under the heading
of Mano, this is mentioned as one of the skills you should have. Playing for Ganassi is
the same as making diminutions. Historically we can relate the art of making
diminutions to the class of musicians that were actually players. In the Middle Ages
you have the clear division of musicians as Theorists, that considered music as a science
(Scienza), and the Doers, that considered music as a craft (Arte), the people who actually
performed music. PvH 2\77.mp3 Probably we are only partly aware about the skills
the musicians of the Arte category used, since the music was almost never written
down. The writing down of music belonged to the Scienza category, since it provided
that you could read and write. This changed during the Renaissance due to the
changes in society. The earlier class divisions were beginning to disintegrate and a
middle class was created, which consisted of the amateurplayers19. It was for this new
class musicprinting and such was invented and soon you could also begin to find
instrumentalists, that traditionally could not read or write music, publishing works on
their art and craft, the diminution manuals that are preserved until today. In some of
the earliest examples, like the treatise by Konrad Paumann or the Robertsbridge codex,
it is difficult to see if it is a composed piece or a written down improvisation, or
perhaps both. You begin to see that the two separated classes in music start to merge,
mainly because of the amateurs, and the traces of this resulted in the diminution
treatises. PvH 3\01.mp3 So, it is not that people started to perform diminutions in the
16th century, it is because it was not until then that it surfaced. The evolution of the
diminution is linked to the development of instrumental skill and the development of
other aspects of musical style. PvH 3\04.mp3 In the social shift between the Middle
Ages into the Renaissance, the group of people that actually performed music and the
use of diminutions also changed. Earlier it was only the professional musicians that
performed; during during the renaissance it was increasingly the noble amateur
musicians who started to do this. This is also the reason why the word virtuoso is used
increasingly, which was not linked to music in the beginning at all, rather a specific
state of mind and behaviour. It was later in the 16th century that the word was
transferred to artists in general, when an individual artist became increasingly

19Amateurs in the Renaissance meant people who didn’t need to perform music for a living,
just for amusement, which in reality was the noblesse and the new bourgeois middle-class.

important. PvH 3\08.mp3 Peter thinks that in addition, during the 14th century, skilled
musicians were also invited to play at courts. The difference was, then, that the
noblemen did not want to try to learn how to play themselves, which was the case
with the amateur musician in the 16th century. This was probably because the classes
were too separated in the middle-ages, while the amateurs in the 16th century were
from the middle class and they were even expected to know how to play an instrument
and to make improvisations. PvH 3\05.mp3 Since more diminution manuals were
published and probably studied by amateur musicians, this probably led to a
decreased level of improvisational skill. A publisher, thinking of his audience or
customers, probably would not publish the improvisational patterns and phrases that
he, as a musician, himself performed. “If you buy any jazz method now, you will see
that there is a huge gap between the examples that will be given in that method and
the actual performances of jazz musicians that you can witness on CD’s or on
PvH 3\06.mp3 The specific performers class decreased more and more as the centuries
progressed. In the 19th century you see the things that musicians did on concerts are
more or less exactly what gets printed and published. Peter gives an example of a
critic, making fun of Vivaldis playing of ornaments. None of these ornaments are to be
found in Vivaldis written violin parts, which indicates that this was something that
was created while playing. As history progresses, these ornaments are increasingly
written down and printed. The separate class of the Doer, who adds embellishments,
narrows down and the musicians play today almost nothing that is not printed.


 How were these treatises used?
 Pedagogical methods?
 For whom were they written?
 Who used them?
 Further comments to the individual treatises?

1. Konrad Paumann, from the “Buxheimer Orgelbuch” ca 1450.

2. Silvestro Ganassi, “Opera intitulata Fontegara” Venice 1535.
3. Diego Ortiz, “Tratado de glosas sobre clausulas”, Rome 1553.
4. Girolamo Dalla Casa, “Il vero modo di diminuir”, Venice 1584.
5. Giovanni Bassano, “Ricercare, Passaggi et Cadentie”/“Motetti, madrigali et
canzoni francese”, Venice 1585/1591.
6. Ricardo Rognioni, Passaggi per potersi essercitare nel diminuire”, Venice 1592.
7. Giovanni Luca Conforto, “Breve et facile maniera d’essercitarsi (…) a far passaggi”
Rome 1593.
8. Giovanni Battista Bovicelli, “Regole, passaggi di musica, madrigali e motetti
passegiati”, Venice 1594.
9. Valerio Bona, “Essempi delli passaggi consonanze et dissonanze”, Milan 1596.
10. Aurelio Virgiliano, “Il dolcimelo”, ca 1600.
11. Giovanni Battista Spadi, “Libro de passaggi ascendenti et descendenti”, Venice
12. Antonio Brunelli, “Varii esercitii”, Florence 1614.
13. Francesco Rognioni, “Selva de varii passaggi”, Milan 1620.

Peter: PvH 2\66.mp3 The different fields of diminution that Peter himself encounters
• The late 15th century, like the Konrad Paumann treatise and similar ones.

• The first half of the 16th century, with Ortiz and Santa Maria as one stylistic
category as opposed to Ganassi in Venice.
• The large Venetian treatises in the late 16th century of Dalla Casa and Bassano, as
opposed to the Milanese treatises of Bovicelli and Rogniono/Rognioni. In the same
period there are a few others that still have to find their place, such as Conforto in
• For Peter, van Eyck is an important stage, because he uses what Peter would call
harmonic diminutions, which not only playing around one part but use three or
four lines. This can also be found earlier in the manuscript treatise by Virgiliano.
• The era of Corelli and the followers of his style.
• The German style of Telemann and later also Quantz, to use as sources for
• Early 19 th century, Viennese variation techniques.

PvH 4\05.mp3 One important aspect of the spreading of the diminution treatises was
the possibility to print music. In this way, the printing of music also serves the
professional musician. First of all, the printing business was directed to the amateur
musician. Before, music was reproduced by copying manuscripts by hand; later,
churches bought the latest prints to add the new pieces into their choir books. So, as
the century progresses, the advantages of music printing are also directed towards the
professional musicians and will also reflect the practise of the professional musicians.
It is not until Dalla Casa’s print in 1584 that you can say that the tradition of printing
diminution manuals starts; Ganassi in 1535 is just an isolated example. PvH 4\06.mp3
Since there are so many prints from the end of the 16th century, you could probably say
that they were meant for general use which would imply that the techniques displayed
in these prints are also what the musicians were playing. Peter says that, what Ganassi
describes was probably also what he actually played, possibly a little bit more than
what he did.
PvH 3\32.mp3 Peter says that the list I chose is only a selection of sources; there are
more sources that you can consult and add, especially more sources with written out
examples of diminutions, variations and/or embellished popular songs and sources
like those found in the Robertsbridge codex.

1. Konrad Paumann, from the “Buxheimer orgelbuch”, ca 1450.

PvH 3\33.mp3 This is a source which is representative of the improvisational style at
the later half of the 15th century. Is it only for keyboard instruments or also for other
instruments? (III: 35) Peter says he has not dealt with it enough to be sure if it is a
pedagogical manual or not.

2. Silvestro Ganassi, “Opera intitulata Fontegara”, Venice, 1535.

PvH 3\36.mp3 Ganassi is not without problems either. He is the only one who gives
such incredibly complicated and difficult patterns, which no other diminution treatises
do. Peter says that it is also problematic because he can not link it to a specific style.
One thing that can be said is that Ganassi, in his treatise, is pushing the limits. He
wants to describe a practise and then he adds something to it, to be more special.
PvH 3\37.mp3 He gives a few specific examples from the “Fontegara” of Ganassi’s
way to explain some extraordinary aspects of recorder playing, some things that Peter
challenges anyone to try to reproduce. “We should take that…cum grano salis, with a
little bit of salt.” Ganassi writes his treatises about the two typical noble instruments of
that time, the recorder and gamba, and probably writes this to impress his audience.
PvH 3\38.mp3 It is dedicated to the Doge Andrea Gritti, and the treatise could be a
reflection of the kind of mannerisms that surrounded the people around the Doge.

Also the name “Fontegara” brings up questions concerning the origin of Ganassi.
Peter’s opinion is that Ganassi is a Doer, a part of the Arte category mentioned earlier,
and is probably a professional wind player, like cornetto or trombone (as is printed in
encyclopaedias and assumed by musicologists). PvH 3\39.mp3 We discussed the fact
that other treatises and examples around the same time are made by keyboard players,
which belongs more to the traditional Scienza category, and therefore this could
explain why they are more systematically arranged. Ganassi being a Doer, could be
trying to write down his way of making ornaments, like trying to write down jazz
solos, which is why he comes up with these incredible patterns of 5 against 4, 7 against
6, syncopated 5 against 4 for example. Peter says it is worth consideration, but in later
treatises, the difference between keyboard and wind instrument diminutions are not so
clearly separated, so it remains an open question. PvH 3\40.mp3 Important questions
in the case of Ganassi are – “What type of music would I have to play?” “In what way
do I have to play it?” Concerning the wild rhythms that are given in the treatise. To
Peter, Ganassi will remain a question mark until he receives more facts about the
subject and can start to form a beginning of an answer.

PvH 3\42.mp3 The pedagogical aspect in Ganassis treatise is first of all, to include the
human song as a model for all instrumental playing. Then he gives the technique of
recorder playing. The ornaments are arranged according increasing difficulty. He
starts with the easiest transitions from one note to another and with every new ordinae
he makes the diminution more complex. The most extended examples he gives in the
Fontegara are embellished cadences. However, in one preserved manuscript he also
gives small melodic fragments. In many other diminution manuals, the authors also
provide examples of complete pieces with ornaments; this part is absent in the treatises
by Ganassi. Peter has not studied his gamba-treatise20 and can not say that Ganassi
does not provide it there.

3. Diego Ortiz, “Tratado de glosas sobre clausulas”, Rome, 1553.

PvH 3\43.mp3 Very interesting source, gives complete examples of embellished
madrigals and ricercatas, which are on the edge of being improvisations or composed
pieces. This is because the pieces clearly seem to be arranged. Peter’s student found
out that in one of the ricercatas, a huge interval-leap was right on the “golden
proportion”, which would indicate that it has been prepared carefully. Ortiz also gives
suggestions of how one can combine instruments to be used to improvise on and
combinations for accompanying instruments. Printed in Rome at the mid 16th century,
he is quite isolated with the exception of a harpsichord treatise by Thomas de Santa
Maria; and together they could form a source of a specific style from that area and

4. Girolamo Dalla Casa, “Il vero modo di diminuir”, Venice, 1584.

PvH 3\44.mp3-PvH 3\45.mp3 He is very interesting because it is very clear that he is
not a composer. He is a Doer. There are so many mistakes in his treatise, but he tries.
Peter thinks that this is the treatise which comes closest to the actual improvisations
that the person played. Since there are so many mistakes in his treatise, Peter means
that this could be nothing else than what he did in reality. It is also problematic. Dalla
Casa calls himself the inventor of the 32nd note, and if you follow his own instructions

20Regola Rubertina 1542, I had a brief glance at one copy of it after this interview and found
examples of a few madrigals. These were not embellished to such a great extent, they were
mainly meant to be examples to show how to play polyphonic pieces on the gamba. The
embellishments that were added were not more complex than any of the other examples from
the 16th century, compared to Ortiz, for instance.

that every note should be articulated then they had incredible fast tongue-technique or
they played the music much slower than we do now. Dalla Casa, also being a
Venetian, could be the same kind of person as Ganassi, printing his 32nd notes to
impress his audience. Another important aspect with Dalla Casa is that he writes the
ensemble diminutions and he is the only source that gives these kinds of examples. He
is also the second source, which describes diminutions alla bastarda.
PvH 3\46.mp3 The ensemble diminutions are organised so that there is not constant
activity in one voice, but every voice gives place to another one and the diminutions
focus around the cadences. This is also mentioned by Agostino Agazzari when he
explains how to play basso continuo: everyone should not improvise at the same time,
but give space to each other.
PvH 3\48.mp3 His pedagogical approach is the same as with most of the others. First
he explains how to play the instrument, in his case the cornetto, and then gives
exercises to practise tonguing. Peter points out that a discussion today concerning this
is that the typeface with which this treatise is printed sometimes blurs the letters.
Therefore, the t:s and the r:s become a bit vague.
After this he focus on intervals and how to divide these into passaggi, then cadences,
followed by his extra part on ensemble diminutions and, finally, complete madrigals
and chansons with written out diminutions.
PvH 3\49.mp3 One special aspect with Dalla Casa is that he only gives the
ornamented part, while Ortiz, for instance, always refers to the intabulation of the
other voices in the polyphony. Here Peter agrees with William, that the musicians at
that time did not think horizontally, but mostly thought within their part. The only
exception in Dalla Casa’s case is the alla bastarda diminutions, when you really need to
know what the other parts are doing. Also, with Dalla Casa, the content of the text
from the madrigal did not play a very important role.

5. Giovanni Bassano, “Ricercare, Passaggi et Cadentie”/”Motetti, madrigali et

canzoni francese”, Venice, 1585/1591.
PvH 3\51.mp3 Bassano was a composer. It is clear that everything that Dalla Casa
does not do, Bassano does. He follows the text perfectly; there are even puns included.
Peter gives a brilliant example of Anchor che col partire where the text has a double side,
with hidden erotic meaning, where the words “partire” (to leave or go away) and
“morire” (to die) mean something else. Bassano of course knew this and makes the
most of it in his diminutions of this madrigal. This also means that you can ask if these
improvisations are not really compositions. PvH 3\52.mp3 The question is, also, if
improvisers are not also composers. Peter takes himself as an example; if he finds
something he likes he will use it again and reproduce it. The mere fact that these
diminutions are printed actually makes them compositions. PvH 3\53.mp3 Peter says
we should not make the artificial difference between composition and improvisation. If
a student can write a good diminution, for Peter this is enough.
PvH 3\54.mp3 The Bassano treatises, like most of the other ones, include the
diminution patterns and also complete pieces. He does not provide instructions of how
to play an instrument. He starts with note progressions, intervals, then cadences; and
in his first book from 1585, two examples of embellished soprano parts from Cipriano
de Rore’s Signor mio caro. In his publication from 1591, he gives us only examples of
embellished pieces. In addition two-part examples in which you find the same
principle as Dalla Casa; for example when one part plays a diminution the other part
moves slowly in long notes only.

6. Ricardo Rognioni, “Passaggi per potersi essercitare nel diminuire”, Venice, 1592.

PvH 3\55.mp3 With Richardo Rognioni we move to another “country” and, as
opposed to the Venetian group of Ganassi, Dalla Casa and Bassano who focused on
wind instruments, the Milanese tradition mainly focuses on voice and string
instruments. This is clear in the way they make their ornamentations, we find new
devices: The style of ornamentation is more sensual.

7. Giovanni Luca Conforto, “Breve et facile maniera d’essercitarsi (…) a far

passaggi”, Rome, 1593.
PvH 4\07.mp3 He is the only one of the later group of publishers that publishes his
treatises in Rome, if Ortiz is considered to be one of the early, isolated ones. Rome, in
this subject, is really a southern area, the capitols in the north, Venice and Milan, are
the main areas of musical activity. In his treatise he only has the note to note
progressions and cadence formulas. Peter finds his method very useful because he
writes the different alternatives, to go from one note to the other, under each other,
together in one line. On the CD, Peter gives a singing explanation of this. In this way
you can make your own choice to embellish the interval or not and it is easier to
understand the different options. PvH 4\08.mp3 Conforto does not describe all the
alternatives, as most of the others do, but seems to pick the best ones. Apart from this
his little treatise, he also printed three books with psalms with diminutions. So, in this
way, he also provides us with the fully written out examples, like some of the other
authors provide in their treatises. Conforto does this with three extra books. Conforto
was a contemporary of Palestrina and, thus, he would be interesting to use together
with music by Palestrina.

8. Giovanni Battista Bovicelli, “Regole, passaggi di musica, madrigali e motetti

passegiati”, Venice, 1594.
PvH 4\01.mp3 Peter says that Bovicelli, as one of the Milanese authors, that his
diminutions are more “plastic”, more slurring, dynamic and are based on a late 16th
century singing style and are almost erotic. He even would consider calling it a
“seconda prattica” style, even if he knows it is not correct, because it’s already very
affective. He gives a few examples by singing, as found on the CD.

9. Valerio Bona, “Essempi delli passaggi consonanze et dissonanze”, Milan, 1596.

PvH 4\09.mp3 Valerio Bona – “Never heard of, sorry! Ha-ha, I’ve never heard of, I did
not know [if] it existed!” Peter adds. Could be interesting to compare to the other
Milanese authors.

10. Aurelio Virgiliano, “Il dolcimelo”, ca 1600.

PvH 4\10.mp3 He is probably north Italian, around Verona perhaps. His treatise is not
printed, contains the usual parts discussed earlier, but he also adds a fifth part in
which he describes instruments with drawings, most of them not complete. He does
not give diminutions of existing pieces but provides a huge number of ricercatas; some
of them are based on melodic ideas of known pieces. He includes the possibilities for
instrumentation for each piece. He differs from the others in that he does “harmonic”
diminutions, so that it sounds like two parts together. His pieces are like 16th century
etudes where he forces you to practise the unusual stresses of the melodic line. On the
CD Peter gives examples by singing.

11. Giovanni Battista Spadi, “Libro de passaggi ascendenti et descendenti”, Venice,

PvH 4\11.mp3 For it’s era it is a bit old-fashioned. He only gives the note to note
progressions, cadences and just a few examples. It’s not very well done, not like

Bassano. Perhaps Spadi was “a local hero” that might have played an important role in
his environment. The fact that it is printed in Venice does not mean anything, he could
have come from somewhere else. He chose Anchor che col partire as one of the pieces to
embellish, a piece that almost everybody chooses, not so original. There are differences
from the earlier versions of the piece; Spadi uses a higher range than Bassano does, for
instance, which could mean a different transposition.

12. Antonio Brunelli, “Varii esercitii”, Florence, 1614.

PvH 4\12.mp3 Until now, we have discussed treatises printed from the major cities
and musical capitols in the 16th century, such as from Venice, Milan and Rome.
Brunelli is from Florence. This is interesting, since Florence was, in the last decades of
the 16th century, the anti-diminution region. PvH 4\14.mp3 In 1589 the four monodists,
who produced monodies for the Intermedio della Pelegrina used a lot of diminutions. All
those people who wrote for this will later announce that they are against diminutions
in music. Instead they came up with a new ornamentation technique, which sometimes
seems a bit artificial, as mentioned while talking about Bovicelli in Milan. It is not so
different from what Caccini presents in his Il nuove musicae from the beginning of the
17th century, 1602. The difference is the way they use these ornaments, or the way they
say they use them. Peter means that you can discuss if it really is such a big difference
between Caccini and Bovicelli, Caccinis madrigals are rather full of diminutions.
PvH 4\14.mp3 Peter thinks Brunelli was working in Pisa, also in Tuscany, the city
between Florence and the sea. His treatise is interesting because he uses most of the
ornaments that Caccini presents in his Il nuove musicae, for example the ribatutta di gola
and the exclamatione; Peter sings a few examples. PvH 4\15.mp3 Also, all Brunelli’s
diminutions, which are real diminutions and not only ornaments like Caccini presents,
are on a bass pattern. In this way he is sort of linked to Ortiz, who also did that.
PvH 4\16.mp3 So Brunelli is a bit in between all of the traditions. You have real
diminutions, bass patterns and seconda prattica ornaments, “so it’s a kind of a mix of
everything that was going on around that period,” Peter adds. Unfortunately it is a bit
too short and he does not give complete diminution pieces.

13. Francesco Rognioni, “Selva de varii passaggi”, Milan, 1620.

PvH 4\01.mp3 The new ornamentation style, that Peter mentioned while discussing
Bovicelli, applies to Fransesco Rognioni as well. This, so called, new style was also
meant for the wind instruments, since Rognioni mentions both Flauto (recorder) as
well as Trombone. Peter thinks, in order to play the famous sonatas by Dario Castello (a
Venetian), you have to study the Venetian diminution treatises, but you also have to
make the detour to study the Milanese treatises. This is probably also important when
playing the canzonas by Giovanni Paolo Cima.
PvH 4\03.mp3 The general structure of the treatises is the same. First, a few words
about instruments and/or articulation. Fransesco Rognionis contains two parts, one for
instrumental and one for vocal practise, which is a bit strange since he writes that you
can use the vocal part for instruments and vice versa. Then the note progressions, then
the cadence ornamentation and musical fragment ornamentation, and finally the
complete pieces with diminutions.

• Other sources or examples you find important?

• Further modern literature or scientific material on diminutions?
• Further modern literature or scientific material on pedagogical methods/matters
from the Renaissance?
• Further questions?

Peter: PvH 4\19.mp3 Vicenzo Bonizzi, who writes for gamba, 1626. Bonizzi gives
written out versions of madrigals. Peter tells a fantastic story about one of the pieces
from this treatise. It is titled “Dolce me moy” in the treatise. If you then play it you will
recognise it as “Douce Memoire”, written by Pierre Sandrin in Paris around 1520. The
treatise by Bonizzi is from 1626 - “and he does not even know the name of the
chanson! He has heard it somewhere and he writes it like Dolce me moy= Douce
memoire. He is an Italian, he can not speak French.” This means that pieces survived
without people even knowing the names or the origin of them. The players knew of a
piece, which was commonly known, and have heard a name. Bonizzi is not even
ashamed to print it with this corrupt name. An interesting aspect of the diminution
PvH 4\18.mp3 Bartolomea Selma di Salaverde was the last one known to have written
a diminution treatise in the Italian tradition. PvH 4\20.mp3 He writes two part
versions on Vestiva i colli. His treatise was published in 1638. Peter knows of no more
examples of diminution manuals in the Italian tradition. There are only a few songs
that still appear, this makes Selma di Salaverde the last known author in this tradition.
PvH 4\21.mp3 Peter finds that some of the most interesting things are that the
tradition is geographically spread. Temporarily it is to condense to be able to say
anything in general. We know a lot about the period 1580-1630, but what can be said
about the 1540s? First Ganassi, then, in the 1550s, we have Ortiz. Therefore, Peter says,
that he concentrate on the late 16th century, to a period where you have more
information to rely on.
PvH 4\23.mp3 As a conclusion, Peter says that in the trial to make a list over material
with diminution-related content, you will encounter this border between composition
and improvisation. He finds this so typical that this borderline is a part of the tradition –
“and that it is not always clear. Is this a composed piece or is this an example?”
PvH 4\24.mp3 Finally, Peter again emphasises that he thinks the right approach
should be to examine other art forms for inspiration.



• How would you compare the methods to teach diminutions used by your former
teachers Peter van Heyghen and William Dongois (and/or others)?
• What advantages or disadvantages are there in their ways of teaching
• How would you like to compare their methods to others?
• Which of the methods do you prefer/would you prefer to use in your own
teaching? Why?
• Which method has been most rewarding to you?

Marleen: ML\70.mp3 She says that she can not compare the two methods, mainly
because Peter never taught how to improvise.
ML\71.mp3 For diminutions, on the other hand, Peter always stayed close to the
written sources, the treatises, and William always tried to avoid getting stuck too
much in the sources. ML\72.mp3 Peter usually did not talk so much about
improvisations. He sometimes also writes out ornaments, which Marleen says she
never has seen William do. For Peter’s recording of Handel’s recorder sonatas, he
studied Handel’s own ornaments for weeks, in order to create his own. ML\73.mp3
She thinks that William’s the personal touch is much larger, but sometimes you “get
this strange style” which is somewhat a bit away from the original style. ML\74.mp3
She mentions that when you put all the different types of ornamentation and

diminution “and you put it, like, in a washing-machine” and use it in your
performance, “well, it can be a bit too much”. ML\76.mp3 The main difference
between the styles of Peter and William is either to stay close to the sources or to go
away from the sources (still, with them as the main inspiration).
ML\80.mp3 She mentions Doron Sherwin, another cornet player, that does ”crazy
things” when playing, but differs from William, who does improvisations constantly
and also creates his own pieces from it, they are very rare in the early music field.
ML\81.mp3 She says that the performers, who do a lot of diminutions, do it to amuse
themselves, to make variation. “Because, like, if you play for the 60th time the
Vespers21, then of course you do not want to play the same notes again and they do all
kinds of ornaments, and try always new ornaments...because otherwise they are very
ML\83.mp3-ML\84.mp3 When she studied with Bruce, she says that she heard more
“do not do ornaments than do ornaments”; in first case he wanted them to learn to
play correctly, a lot of articulation and intonation. He is very creative concerning
articulation and has studied the repertoire for the cornet more than anyone before him
but he has not dealt with the subject of improvisation so much.
ML\88.mp3 It is very difficult for Marleen to say which method, Peter’s or William’s,
that she prefers, both methods are important. “They are both so interesting. . . if you
really speak about improvisation then you must name William as the person that you
put in the first place”. She says that William works a lot on making the music sound
organic and natural as well, to feel comfortable with the instrument (the cornetto) and
to make progress. Marleen says that Peter has such enormous knowledge and
enthusiasm so you have to name him as well. She personally tries to use both sides.
”Peter is like a dictionary of music, he knows everything”; she does not have all that
knowledge but tries to create the atmosphere around the music in the same way as he
ML\89.mp3 Concerning Peters method, aural image – “you are like in a bath of this
time and this period. . . it was really as if we go in a machine like this, and go 300 or
400 year back, and then we were like days in this kind of atmosphere”. In this way
Peter’s way of working with this music is very inspiring (I would certainly like to
agree on that point myself!). ML\90.mp3 William does not talk so much about
historical things, “in that way it is different but if you can have both, of course, it is the



Because of the reasons I mentioned in the ”Method” section above, that I let the
informants talk quite freely over a given subject or theme, it resulted on the one hand
in a large amount of material; in total, approximately six hours and twenty minutes of
interviews! On the other hand, it also led to that some of this material did not fall
within the borders of this research, even though it does relate to the subject. This
meant that I had to make a choice about what material to use for the discussion.
However, much of the material I have not used are still very interesting: ideas,
opinions, thoughts and experiences that can be rewarding to take part in, why I highly

21Here she means the ”Vespro della beata vergine” or ”the Maria Vespers” by Claudio
Monteverdi, a very beautiful and popular piece that requires cornets and sackbuts and is
considered to be a ”standard” in the orchestra repertoire of these instruments. The piece is
performed many times a year and there are stories of musicians in the early music field who
have parties to celebrate their 1000th –Vesper gig!

recommend listening to the recorded interviews on the CD’s. On the second CD of
William’s interview I have added six extra tracks from his record ”La Barca d’amore”
with permission of the producer Thomas Görne. On these tracks you can hear the
different ways he performs the improvised music of the renaissance. Track WD
2\70.mp3, WD 2\72.mp3 and WD 2\74.mp3 contains dance-tunes with Williams own
improvisations, while track WD 2\71.mp3, WD 2\73.mp3 and WD 2\75.mp3 are
examples of some of the preserved, complete pieces with written out diminutions by
Giovanni Bassano, Francesco Rognioni and Giovanni Battista Bovicelli.


The origin of diminutions came from the oral traditions of folkmusic according to the
information presented in the background, which is also supported by the interviews.
Therefore, it is of great importance to take a closer look at the learning handed down
by oral traditions.


William talks a lot about how different cultures have their own “musical languages”,
that the principles of making music are the same but the actual musical content, the
choice of notes, harmonies and the musical style to use, are different. For me, when he
talks about trying to learn another culture’s musical language, he means the same as
when Peter talks about “feeding your mental image” in order to understand a musical
style. All the informants have been affected by learning in oral traditions. Peter talked
about the Czech violinist and Marleen learned to make ornaments when she played
music by Gabrieli with Wim Becu and imitated his ornaments. In doing so, she is, in
fact, the one that has come closest to learn how to play renaissance music through oral
William used the example of a young Rumanian boy learning to play “diminutions” in
the Rumanian brassband tradition and also made an interesting parallel between the
music these brassband musicians play and the very complex diminution-patterns
given in the treatise by Ganassi or Dalla Casa. He demonstrated this by playing a piece
from a recording with the Rumanian brassband, which was quite amazing: A few
lower instruments, like baritone and valve-trombone, kept the accompaniment while
the treble instrument, like the trumpet and (ordinary) cornet, played an incredibly fast
and, to me, very complicated melody. It was more of a wall of sound rather than single
notes, and the melody-instruments played perfectly in unison! William said that the
players probably do not see what they play as separate notes, but more as a shape or a
phrase, and he thinks that the phrases they use could be very similar to the ones you
find in Ganassi or Dalla Casa. After having heard the recording with the brassband I
can imagine that this could be true, that the players in the brassband approach their
music with a similar attitude as a player like Ganassi did in the early 16th century.
What we think are so amazing about this attitude towards music, the players in the
brassband and in the Renaissance probably saw as the normal thing. That would then
suggest a different attitude towards music than what many classical musicians have
William continued saying that even though the patterns are similar to the ones you
find in Ganassi or Dalla Casa, you can still hear it is Rumanian ethnic music they play,
because they use specific musical language of their culture. In much the same way, the
brassband players have all grown up within their culture with its specific musical
language that they learned from childhood and throughout their lives. For musicians
in the Renaissance, improvising was the normal way to make music amongst
professional musicians, just like it is for jazz musicians as well as in most folk-cultures,
and learning how to improvise should be approached as if it was a normal thing as

well. According to the informants improvisation has, even in the smallest way, become
a very novel thing in modern music-making and both Peter and William mention the
danger with this. It has in some way led to, especially in early music where
improvisation again is becoming more and more important, that it is used merely to
show off. Ensembles include in their performances weird improvisations without
context or correspondence to the music and the style. However, William also says that
you should not worry too much about leaving the style when you learn how to
improvise, instead of restrictions you should focus on exprementation, in order to get
variation that evolves from the creativity from the performers, as the International Folk
music Council 1955 formulated it.


One subject, that I wanted to know more about through my interview with Peter, was
if there is any pedagogical method or approach to be found in the diminution-manuals
from the Renaissance. In the interview I learned many interesting aspects about the
different treatises, things like their origin, the connection they had with the musical
practise at the time, the connection and the divergence they had between each other
and also how they were used. The general layout for the manuals was this:

Step 1. Description of instruments or voice, how they work and their specific qualities.
Sometimes this chapter is developed into a section on articulation and/or some
rules of how to play/make diminutions. In one treatise, the one by Virgiliano,
this section is put at the end of the publication, with pictures and descriptions
(uncompleted) over instruments, as well as descriptions of how to transpose
any piece so that it fits the range of the instrument (see appendix 4).
Step 2. Some first basic patterns, to go from one note to the other or to embellish a
specific interval. In all the manuals the examples are arranged according to
increasing difficulty (see appendix 4).
Step 3. Shorter musical phrases and cadential formulas. In the case with Dalla Casa,
this section is left out; he goes straight on how to ornament short musical
sections from a piece, in that way he includes both musical phrases and
cadence formulas in the same chapter.
Step 4. Complete pieces with diminutions. In some treatises, this section is left out or
saved to another publication. In yet other treatises, this section also includes
diminutions over more than one part, for instance Bassano.

In short, what the manuals does is first to make the student acquainted with the
instrument and then to start to learn short phrases (some for ascending, some for
descending, and some for staying on the same pitch); they are then combined and
developed into longer sentences, completed with cadential formulas to make nice
endings. Finally, they provide us with complete pieces in order for us to learn their
musical language in this specific style, to give us an aural image of the style, and
perhaps not to be performed as a concert piece. This may be a provocation to some, but
I agree with William on this point, that the complete diminution pieces perhaps were
not meant to be used as a concert piece but rather that it was an example of how it
could be done, as an inspiration for the student to try to create something similar.
When you first have learned the glossary and grammatics you are supposed to try to
In general, the treatises were written for the typical amateur instruments, such as the
viola da gamba, lute and/or voice; and in addition also for instruments from the
typical professional musicians like the players of the cornetto, trombone and violin.
This is probably due to the fact that it was the amateurs that the treatises were directed
towards (that is the nobility, who wanted to learn to play an instrument without the
necessity to make a living from performing); therefore, the treatises were written for

both amateur and professional players, but they were written by professional
How pedagogical were these manuals meant to be? Peter says that what some of the
treatises were trying to accomplish was to record in writing the improvised music of
that time, comparable to written notations of today’s jazz solos, and in some cases the
authors wanted to brag about what they could do. A treatise did not necessarily have
to be a pedagogical handbook, in some cases it was probably also used as PR for the
author. Also, as usual, the treatises were dedicated to important wealthy nobility
which could then have led to economic benefits for the author. Still, the clear
pedagogical approach that you find in most of the treatises indicates that most likely
they were meant for practical and pedagogical use. Peter even adds that they actually
started to influence other professional players.
As mentioned earlier, it is easy to assume that these treatises were written for the
amateur players in the nobility. It was for the amateur players that the first music was
ever printed at the turn of the 15th century. It was these amateurs that the musical
middle class consisted of, between the theorists and the doers, between the Scienza and
Arte; that wanted to learn how to play polyphonic music on aesthetic instruments and
learn how to embellish the polyphonic music with diminutions. Possibly they were just
as amazed by the professional musicians and their way to play and improvise music as
we are of the Rumanian brassbands and other improvising musicians; quite possibly
then they also wanted to learn this art as well. The nobility amateur players were
wealthy and wanted to learn from the best players, therefore the printing of the
diminution treatises evolved. If we look at Ganassi for instance, he published his
diminution manual for the recorder and also a manual of how to play polyphonic
music on the viola da gamba, two typical amateur-instruments. By doing so, he made
himself known as a extraordinary musician (he was already a well-known musician
from the Basilica di San Marco in Venice); through his extremely complex diminution-
patterns, he must also have become known as a very trendy music pedagogue
amongst the noblesse in Venice. Finally, he dedicated his treatises to important
persons, one of them to the Doge Andrea Gritti, and Ganassi probably received a lot of
appreciation from him. Not bad for a music teacher!

Another important aspect for the sake of performance practise that Peter mentions is
also what we can learn about the different regional styles, or even individual styles, of
the different treatises. The difference between Venice and Milano, between patterns or
formulas meant for cornetto, violin or voice, even between Dalla Casa and Bassano
(Dalla Casa was the teacher of Bassano and also predecessor as the principal wind
player at the Basilica di San Marco before Bassano). It is possible to recognise these
different styles since there are hundreds of patterns to embellish intervals preserved in
the treatises and a lot of examples of complete embellished pieces, which we can study
and learn to use. But, talking from own experience, this may prove to be quite hard
since there are so many examples and it is impossible to remember them all. This leads
us to look a bit closer to the method of William, since it is exactly that problem that
made him start working towards a solution. On the way he created his own way to
explore, experiment and renew ancient music with the principles from an, now lost,
oral tradition.


In order to compare and evaluate, I will now sum up the general aspects and basic
ideas around Williams’s pedagogical idea. William explained that his method has

developed under a long period, almost as long as he has been working with early
First, it was just a way for him to practise technique. His opinion is that the book of
Dalla Casa is an exercise book, a book with etudes, to improve your technique, and to
play the cornetto is the same as improvise, or making diminutions. He compares it to a
modern book of jazz etudes or play-along exercises.
The cornetto has always, today and in the 16th century, been known for its technical
difficulty and requires a lot of practise. According to William, this could be the reason
why the treatises are very much alike method books for instrumental practises, why
the first section in many of the manuals is dedicated to how to play or how to
articulate. The technical difficulties, which requires lots of daily practise is partly what
led to why Peter did not continue to study the instrument in depth and this also led to
why William started working on developing his method. As a cornetto player you
obviously need to find stimulating exercises. William also pointed out several times
that improvising was a common practise amongst professional musicians; it was a part
of their musical language just as it is for jazz musicians today. Therefore, to be able to
understand the routine practises of the musicians of the 16th century, you need to
acquaint yourself to these kinds of exercises which work in the direction towards
improvisation. It is not uncommon for musicians in the early-music field to practise
diminutions, but the new method William started to develop is what he calls the
building-blocks. Williams problem, a problem which I am familiar with as well from my
own practise, was the hard time he had remembering all these hundreds of patterns in
the diminution manuals, most of them pretty similar, but still somewhat different to
each other. It was then that he realised that from using the simplest ones, consisting of
two to four or five notes, you could create more complex ones. Actually, when you
study any of the treatises, as I also have done, it is clear that from the longer and more
complex examples you can derive the simpler ones. The rules of how to make a good
diminution from the treatise of Ortiz put William onto this track and from the treatise
of Ganassi he picked the most simple patterns on how to embellish a specific interval22
and used them as building-blocks to create his own patterns. In this way, just from
knowing a few, simple patterns that you can use in a general way, you can build your
own embellishments. William compares this idea to playing with LEGO: You have little
pieces, several, and you want to build some house, some plane, oh – you do it!
In short, you can say that the method is mainly this, the rest that William puts forth
during the courses, are only different pedagogical devices to pass on this idea to the


On page 10 in this study I have described how William taught diminutions in practise
during one course that I attended. If we compare his teaching-procedure to the
pedagogical principles from the diminution-manuals it is easy to find many
similarities. If we condensed the approaches in the diminution-treatises into practical
teaching, it would probably be something like this:

A teacher (professional musician) that introduces phrases or musical sentences in

different contexts (formulas) for the ”students” (noble amateur musicians) who try to
imitate these patterns and learn them by heart to create a collection of possibilities for
future use.

22Actually, when comparing the different treatises, the simplest patterns in all manuals are
almost the same.

Except that the students no longer are ”noble amateur musicians”, this is more or less
exaclty the way William teaches diminutions at his courses.
If we compare this method to the suggestions for aural training made by Lilliestam
(1995) on page 21 we can also find many parallels. It is also more or less the same
approach described by Polk on page 16 used by the medieval professional musicians
as well as the other pedagogical methods mentioned earlier. Take for instance the
practical-empirical method. Here the resemblence is so obvious that I would like to
suggest that the pedagogical approach found in the diminution treatises is the
predecessor of the practical-empirical method.
The suggestions of Lilliestam are made from the viewpoint of jazz, pop and rockmusic,
which are chord-based music, while the diminution technique originated from a
musical style based more on melodic lines. Thus, some of these suggestions has to be
transmuted from chord-music to a line-based musical style. To talk about formulas in
the case of jazz, pop and rock one probably means something other than the formulas
mentioned in William’s method; however, formulas and patterns are often used in a
similar manner as with chorded-formulas, both in the original diminution treatises as
well as in William’s method, which is why this idea can be applied. Otherwise, the
basic ideas are quite alike and this is also so when you discuss the role of the teacher.
The teacher works as a catalyst or as a guide, to demonstrate some possibilities to
assist the process without influencing it too much.
Interestingly William talks about musical language when discussing different styles just
like Suzuki who compares the ways to learn to play and imitate, or play without
written music, to the ways you learn to speak a language. Suzuki wants students to be
able to play and imitate music as naturally as they speak as does William about
playing and improvising using his pedagogical ideas. William adds that he uses his
method with his cornetto students when they are beginners to teach them to combine
technical progress with playing musical phrases and improvising.


Within his ideas, William has managed to combine a series of important pedagogical
devices as a method to learn how to play and improvise music on almost any kind of
instrument. His ambition was to develop a method to try to work in the same frame of
reference as usicians during the Renaissance and at the same time to develop his
playing technique. The most important aspect of his ideas are:

• It can be used for music students at almost any level.

William says he uses his method with music teachers as well as with beginners. Since
you only have to concentrate on the horizontal aspects of the music, or your own part,
you do not need to involve almost any other music theory in order to start making
improvisations. When you have understood the principle, anyone can use it and adapt
it to his or her own technical ability without learning a lot of theory in advance.
Marleen mentions that she uses this method with her students and that the result is
very positive; the students become freer in their music making and also in their ability
to express themselves in music. She also says it is an important part in teaching her
blind students – a very interesting example of how to use improvisation in music
pedagogy or music therapy.

• The use of “building-blocks” is similar to exercises in technical methods for

playing instruments.

You train your technical abilities at the same time as you are creating your own
melodies. William says that his goal is to have his students develop a good technique,
independent of written music. He says he has met many good players that can only
play technically advanced music when they read from notes, and part of his goal is to
help students to develop a good technique without the necessity of written music.
Peter also adds to this subject: he says that not all musicians have the ability to become
good improvisers. He has noticed, during courses, that the roles of the participants can
change dramatically. The “best” musicians, when playing from notation, are not
always the best improvisers and in that case, he thinks, you should not necessarily try
too hard to become an improviser if one does not have the basic qualifications for this.
But then again, to practise improvisation does not mean you have to become an
improviser, but while doing so you can develop many useful skills for other musical

• A minimum of written material is used or even needed.

Most of the music learning is done through imitation and playing by ear. This does,
though, put more emphasis to the teacher’s knowledge and ability. Still, if you know
about William’s improvisation method, it requires little preparation. Since most of the
spontaneous, experimental and improvisational aspects gets lost in the same moment
as you try to formulate it in writing, William has been reluctant to make a written
version of the method. This is also the weak spot in the method. It has lead to that
beginners, who are not so well oriented in the Renaissance style, have a hard time
understanding in which direction to work, which Marleen has experienced in her
teaching. She mentions the problem for her students to understand the method and
also to take the initiative and start working with it themselves. She says that she really
has to point out to them that they are about to start working with improvisation, as a
kind of project, in order to convince them to invest time on it. William mentions a
similar difficulty, that music students already have so many things to focus on at the
music institutions that there is simply not enough time to practise improvisation on
their own. He says that often it becomes “more information than formation” during his

• It can be used in almost any context

In the process of developing his pedagogical ideas, William has come to the conclusion
that there are actually not so many different ways to go from one note to another, via
others, but the patterns are generally the same in all kinds of music. For instance, as
mentioned in the previous section concerning the Rumanian brassband, it is possible
that you can find a Ganassi-figure in the melodies performed by the musicians in the
brassband even though the origins of their traditions are different. The musical
languages are different from one style to another, the individual notes may vary, but
the patterns and the basic principles are the same. This means that the basic ideas
embedded in this method could also be used in other musical styles or genres. Also,
Williams’s opinion is that when you are dealing with pedagogy you must leave the
question of style behind. You need to try and experiment with your instrument to see
where the boundaries of the music and your own technical abilities are before you start
to restrict yourself. Just like a child, when it is learning to talk, experiments with its
voice, a student learning to improvise needs more freedom than restrictions. If this
method were used in any other circumstance than in Renaissance music, then the
stylistic aspect would not be so important.

If we do discuss the use of this method within the Renaissance style, Peter criticises it
because it does not take the aspect of style and the boundaries for it into account. Peter
says that if this were the only way to practise playing diminutions, he would think it is
not enough: it needs additional mental images, perhaps more written out examples or
other examples from the same style.
Peter is generally critical of the kind of improvisation performances that are so weird
that they completely fall outside the designated style, at least where these
improvisations are presented as authentic Renaissance diminutions. This is an opinion
that both Marleen and William shares with him. Marleen says that sometimes William
goes a bit too far in mixing the styles of diminution and using rare intervals, but she
also adds that he is aware of this himself. William also says that in his own concerts, as
an encore, he includes an improvised piece where he consciously leaves the
Renaissance style and just improvises. Similar to this idea is the way he uses his
improvisation approach in the contemporary improvisation ensemble that he
mentioned in the interviews. The ensemble consists of himself, a harpsichordplayer, a
jazz-saxophonist and a double bassplayer; they meet together and make improvised
music. Since they do not play in a specific style, the stylistic issue is never brought up,
but William says that there are never any problems with intonation, tempo or phrasing
since there are no standards to follow (even if the harpsichord uses a late-Baroque
temperament). To work in music pedagogy towards a similar result would be, in my
opinion, most interesting. In the example of that ensemble, the music they produce is
outside any stylistic context. Peter comments on this and says that when William, in so
doing, using the principles and techniques from the Renaissance to develop and
explore music-making in the contemporary genre, he has in fact created a completely
new tradition.

• It works in the direction towards improvisation – to leave the written material

All in all, it is what the whole idea is about, to start with a simple melody and aim to
move away from the written material, gradually, to produce your own individual
interpretation of the written music. This aspect is probably the most important. From
Couperin we learned that starting with written music to teach beginners how to play
an instrument could even be dangerous for the technical development. Starting
without written material has also been suggested by other music pedagogues, but very
often this principle does not seem to work perfectly in today’s society. The reasons for
this is difficult to know, but probably it has to do with the “ever increasing adhesion to
notation”, as Erig puts it, a subject I will return to later. Music education today has
been notation-based for so long now that working without it is, in many cases, not an
option. Also the musical environment today does not consist of only one single style,
but an incredible amount of styles and genres to choose from. If you do not want to
restrict yourself too much, then the only way to try different music genres is to be able
to read music. Also, if you want to become a musician in most genres today, then good
sight-reading abilities are an obvious condition. Also William works mostly with
written material and seldom plays by heart. The aim is not to abandon written music
but rather to train those important musical aspects that you gain in playing by ear. Or,
as William puts it, to practise improvisation without the necessity of becoming an


Another way of using the diminution principles was suggested by Peter. He talked
about one of his students that suddenly became very interested in the music by
Landini and acquired additional knowledge about how to embellish the music of that

time. Peter said that this student suddenly made tremendous advances in playing as
well as musical expression. In this discussion, Peter emphasised the great importance
of encouraging a students own ideas and goals. He thinks that to learn something, you
have to be like a child that is trying to learn how to walk: the child sees the adults do it,
tries, falls many times, but eventually manages to stand and walk. If it were supposed
to be aware of, and try to control, every single muscle and mechanism it needs to walk,
it might never manage to stand up; but since the child has the clear image, the mental
image, of others walking around, it also manages to accomplish this. In the same way,
Peter says, it is to learn to play music. You must have a clear mental image of what you
want to accomplish and aim for that image and your body will do whatever it takes to
reproduce it.

However, Peter also thinks it would be possible to use an acquired ability from one
style, to use in another, that the Landini-student can use the acquired abilities also in
music by Corelli, for instance. Also, William discusses this subject. As mentioned in the
previous section, the basic ideas for embellishing an interval are the same in different
styles and genres but the musical languages are different. You should be able to adapt
the method to almost any preferred music. This would mean that if you combine
Williams idea to use building-blocks in order to embellish music and Peters idea to
create “mental” or “aural” images of the music you want to perform, you will have a
new approach to embellishing music that takes the musical language into account to a
greater extent. The only one who, in practise, actually has done this is Marleen. Her
opinion regarding this combination of Williams and Peters ideas that is if you can have
both, of course it is the best. She comments on Peters method in this way: “You are like in
a bath of this time and this period (…) it was really as if we go in a machine (…) 300 or
400 years back, and then we were like days in this kind of atmosphere.” With his
method, Peter tries to use all the information available from a certain area and time in
order to give himself a picture, in the widest sense of the word, of the music.
Williams’s approach is different and he tries to use the practical devices and attitudes
of the musicians in the Renaissance (in this case), to come closer to the era. After all,
the two methods, so different in their approach, aim towards the same goal: One uses
the imagination as the most important tool, feeding it with pictures, poems and
sounds, the other uses the concrete sources as a base, to experiment and try different
ways towards the goal.


In the discussion about formulating a written method on an unwritten practise, which
is supposed to be based on imitation and aural/oral transmission, many of the
important elements are lost. As I mentioned, this is also the reason why William has
tried to avoid doing so. However, this is exactly what has been done during a period of
time in the area of jazz-education, which is specially mentioned by Marleen. Instead of
getting further away from notation, educators increasingly turn more towards it and
this shows that jazz education has also become more “institutionalised”. The students
learn to copy and play perfectly with the loss of spontaneity as a result; this is a trend
mentioned both by Erig (page 7) as well as by Rostwall&West (page 22), which is
clearly noticed in music academies. Both Marleen and William agree that it is a general
trend in music education, that the emphasis in pedagogy is more and more focused on
notation; and, William even adds that some students in French conservatories cannot
use their technical abilities if they do not have written music to read from.
Marleen says that she was also one of those students in the conservatories that simply
reproduced the written music but, she continues, after starting to study diminutions

and playing with Wim Becu and others, these studies gave way to a much more free
approach towards written music.
Both Marleen and William have used William’s method in their teaching, and
Marleen’s experience is that the students become “more free” in their playing, and
more free of their written music. William says that, for him, working with
improvisation has lead to other ideas about tempi and phrasing than other musicians
in his field; but he also thinks that people who are used to improvising can adapt more
easily to new situations. For instance, if you have played a piece in a certain way for
some time and then you need to change some parameter, like the tempo, then William
thinks people used to improvising and playing by heart, or by ear, for them it is a lot
easier to do so. He thinks these people “open their ears” more and are much more
flexible to experimenting with their music, that they also communicate better with the
other musicians. The reason for this, according to William, is that you use more of your
“live-memory” (he compares this to computers) when reading music compared to
when you play by ear or by heart. Reading or reproducing music and also interpreting
what the music tells you to do uses a lot more of this “live memory” than just playing
by ear; this then removes the focus from listening to the others in the ensemble. He
says that written music is a system that keeps you restricted and that there are
different channels in the brain you use when you read and different ones when you
improvise, these “improvisation channels” need to be stimulated if you have not used
them very much before. To learn improvisation, as well as playing by heart or by
imitation, requires a lot of time, just like Lilliestam mentions in his suggestions for
aural training (page 22). This is probably because you need to stimulate the channels in
your brain that work more with listening and imitating than reading and reproducing.
How can these improvisation channels be trained then? William says that his way of
helping students to do this is to play canons with them. When doing so, you train
exactly those reflexes also needed for improvisation: You have to listen to what the
other musician is playing and also what comes next at the same time as you try to
figure out and play what the other musician just did.
Still, he emphasise that even if one player does have these improvising reflexes, and
the other one has not, to the concert audience it could sound the same when these two
musicians are playing. A performer with the playing-by-ear abilities does not
necessarily have to be better than the one without this ability.

In order to formulate a conclusion and answer to the research question, I would like to
say: “Yes”.
From what we have learned through the interviews, I think it is possible to use ideas
and principles from ancient music in modern music education. Not only do these
principles work in the music they have evolved from, but I also think they can be of
great help in modern teaching.
For instance, the fact that the diminution-technique only takes the horizontal aspect
into account, at least the most common kind of diminution, makes it simple enough to
use without too much theoretical knowledge. Therefore, anyone that can produce a
few notes on an instrument can use this method. With the help of the diminution
patterns or formulas, that William calls “building blocks,” one can easily start
embellishing almost any kind of music. If you combine this method with Peter’s ideas
of creating one’s own mental image of what one wants to accomplish, this approach
could be possible to use in most musical styles or genres. The musical expressive
together with the technical ability one gains in one style could then theoretically also
be used in another.One starts with a simple written out melody and works with the

same important aspects one finds in music based on oral transmission. One starts with
notation and works in the direction towards improvisation and thus bridges the gap
between written and unwritten traditions in music.

Thus, theoretically, I would answer “yes” to the research question: Can methods of
improvisation, inspired by principles and approaches from ancient music, be used as a mean to
bridge the gap between written and unwritten practices in modern music pedagogy?
If we then look at the possible practical performance of this, I think that it is a question
that could be taken up for future research.


To me, a natural continuation of this research would be to use this method in a
pedagogical situation during a music course and record observations together with
evaluations of the participants in order to point out any pedagogical advantages or
disadvantages this method might have for modern music education. It would be
interesting to observe how this method works in Renaissance improvisation (which
William is already doing) and also to observe if the method actually could be used
practically as an improvisation approach for other kinds of music as well, following
what William thinks could be done. In order to do this, and also in order to use
William’s method in another context than Renaissance music, one would probably
need to slightly re-design the method.
Another interesting subject is the use of this method when working with blind
students, as mentioned by Marleen (page 62). It could be an interesting addition to
music therapy.


Much of the information I received during the interviews was of course directed
towards early music. This might have been possible to avoid, to broaden the music’s
pedagogical aspect of the interviews. However, as I wrote in the preface, my hope is
that both the people especially interested in early music as well as the people
especially interested in music pedagogy will read this study. In any case, much of the
work with the interviews has been to read a bit inbetween the lines to specifically
gather pedagogical information, but a great deal of the interviews is also focused in the
direction of pedagogy as well.


Bassano, G. (Venedig, 1585/1591) Ricercare, Passaggi et Cadentie/Motetti, madrigali et canzoni


Becu, W. (Personal conversations, January, 2000).

Bona, V. (Milano, 1596) Essempi delli passaggi consonanze et dissonanze.

Bovicelli, G.B. (Venice, 1594) Regole, passaggi di musica, madrigali e motetti passegiati.

Brown, H M. (1976) Embellishing sixteenth-century music, Oxford.

Brunelli, A. (Florence, 1614) Varii esercitii.

Bjørkvold, J-R (1996) Det musiske menneske. 5th edition. Freidig Forlag, Oslo.

Conforto, G. L. (Rom, 1593) Breve et facile maniera d’essercitarsi (…) a far passaggi.

Couperin, F. (1717) L’art de toucher Clavecin. Paris. Modern edition by Linde, A. (1933).
Breitkopf & Härtel, Wiesbaden.

Dalla Casa, G. (Venedig, 1584) Il vero modo di diminuir.

Dickey, B. (1978) Untersuchungen zur historichen Auffassung des Vibratos auf Blasinstrumenten
(article) Basler Jahrbuch für historiche Musikpraxis. Amadeus Verlag – Bernhard Päuler –

Dickey, B. (1997) Ornamentation in Early-Seventeenth-Century Italian Music (article) A

performer’s guide to seventeenth-century music/ed. Carter, S. – Schirmer Books – New York.

Dickey, B. (Personal conversations, January, 2000).

Erig, R.(1979), Gutmann, V. (collaborator) Italian Diminutions. The pieces with more than one
diminution from 1553 to 1638. Amadeus Verlag – Bernhard Päuler – Zürich/Schweiz.

Gullberg, A-K (2002) Skolvägen eller garagevägen. Studier av musikalisk socialisation. Avdelningen
för musikpedagogik, Musikhögskolan i Piteå.

Ganassi, S. (Venedig, 1535) Opera intitulata Fontegara.

Hultberg, C. (2000): The Printed Score as a Mediator of Musical Meaning – Approaches to Music
Notation in Western Tradition. Lund: Malmö Academy of Music.

Johansson, K-G (2002) Can you hear what they’re playing? Avdelningen för musikpedagogik,
Musikhögskolan i Piteå.

Krebs, C (1892) Girolamo Diruta’s Transilvano. Ein Betrag zur Geschichte des Orgel- und
Klavierspiels in 16. Jahrhundert. Vierteljahrschrift für Musikwissenschaft 8

Lilliestam, L (1993) Om begreppen folkmusik, konstmusik och populärmusik. I Musiklivet år 2002.

Rapport nr 4. Svenska Musikaliska Akademien, Stockholm.

Lilliestam, L (1995) Gehörsmusik. Blues, rock och muntlig tradering. Akademiförlaget

Ortiz, D. (Rom, 1553) Tratado de glosas sobre clausulas… English translation by Gammie, I. (1976)
Corda Music Publications, Great Britain.

Paumann, K. (Nürnberg, ca. 1450) Konrad Paumann, Fundamentum… från „das Buxheimer

Polk, K. (1992) German instrumental music of the late Middle Ages – Players, patrons and
performance practice. Cambridge University press.

Rogniono, R. (Venedig, 1592) Passaggi per potersi essercitare nel diminuire.

Rognoni, F. (Milano, 1620) Selva de varii passaggi.

Rostwall, A-L., & West, T. (2001) En kritisk diskursanalys av institutionen

instrumentalundervisning (article) nordisk musikpedagogisk årsbok 5: NMH-publikasjoner

Rostwall, A-L., & West, T. (2001) Interaktion och kunskapsutveckling. En studie av frivillig
musikundervisning.(Diss.). Centrum för musikpedagogisk forskning.Stockholm: KMH Förlaget

Severi, F. (Rom, 1615) Psalmi Passaggiati.

Sherwin, D. (Personal conversations, January, 2000).

Spadi, G.B. (Venedig, 1609) Libro de passaggi ascendenti et descendenti .

Stighäll, D. (2000) Cornetto and Sackbut –The Jurassic Park of Windinstruments? A research
concerning the performance of the instruments Cornetto and Sackbut. Avdelningen för
musikpedagogik, Musikhögskolan i Piteå.

Ternhag, G., Lundberg, D. (1996) Folkmusik i Sverige. Gidlunds förlag

Tinctoris, J (1477) Liber de arte contrapuncti, modern edition by Seay, A (1961) The art of
counterpoint. American institute of musicology.

Toet, C. (Personal conversations, January, 2000).

Virgiliano, A. (manuscript, north Italy, ca 1590-1600) Il dolcimelo.

Vygotskij, L. (1971): The psychology of Art. Massachusetts: The MIT Press.



• Describe your musical background, artistically and pedagogically, during your studies and after (Where and what you studied,
where, when and with whom you played, what you learned at a certain time and place, etc.)
• How/When did you first encounter diminutions/improvisations? What was your reaction?

Concerning diminutions/improvisations

• What importance does diminutions/improvisations have in the music you mainly perform?
• In what way do you use diminutions/improvisations in your profession? (That is, both in teaching and/or performance)
• Do you notice any difference in the level of ensembleplaying of musicians used to improvisational music compared to
musicians without improvisational experience? (Better/worse in ensembleplaying if they are used to improvisation or not)
• Do you think your capability of playing diminutions/improvisations has helped you in other ways in your profession? Positive/
Negative (Does it help, or not, to know how to improvise?)
• Do you think it is important (for others) to know how to improvise? Why? Why not?

Pedagogical matters

• Where do you teach/have you taught?

• In what subjects/instruments?
• Do you use diminution-related material in your teaching?
• In what way? How do you teach diminutions/improvisations?
• Has the interest for diminutions changed during your musical career? If so, how? Why do you think it has changed?
• In what ways does it occur today? Different genres?
• Do you think it is important to teach diminutions/improvisations? Why? Why not?

Improvisation method

• Describe the method

• Describe the development of the method – sources of information/inspiration – other sources (Where did you get the idea and
how did it evolve)
• Has the method or the structure of the method changed? Any other changes?
• Describe the practical performance and use of the method in the courses
• What musical material do you use (together) with the method? (What kind of music or musical patterns?)
• Does participants in the course, that has not encountered this kind of music before, have any problems understanding what to
do? Do they receive the method differently? How do you explain to them what to do? (Beginners, musicians from other genres
• In what ways can the method be used? How do you use it yourself? How can other use it? Can it be used in other genres?
• Is there a difference in understanding the method between people used to improvisational music compared to people not used
to improvisational music? Is it easier if you have improvised before? Is it harder if you are more tied to notation?
• What is the general result for the participants of the course? Does the students understand the method?
• Has participants in the course given any spontaneous reactions/comments on how they experienced the method?
• Do you know other teachers that have become inspired to use the method in their own teaching? How is their results? What
does their students think of it?
• Advantages/Disadvantages?
• Further opinions?


• Describe your musical background, artistically and pedagogically, during your studies and after (Where and what you studied,
where, when and with whom you played, what you learned at a certain time and place, etc.)
• How/When did you first encounter diminutions/improvisations? What was your reaction?

Concerning diminutions/improvisations

• What importance does diminutions/improvisations have in the music you mainly perform?
• In what way do you use diminutions/improvisations in your profession? (That is, both in teaching and/or performance)
• Do you notice any difference in the level of ensembleplaying of musicians used to improvisational music compared to
musicians without improvisational experience? (Better/worse in ensembleplaying if they are used to improvisation or not)
• Do you think your capability of playing diminutions/improvisations has helped you in other ways in your profession? Positive/
Negative (Does it help, or not, to know how to improvise?)
• Do you think it is important (for others) to know how to improvise? Why? Why not?
• Have you tried William Dongois´ method of learning improvisation?
• Have you, in your own teaching, used William Dongois´ method?
• Do you have an opinion/comment/reaction/reflection about the method? Positive/Negative
• In what ways can the method be used ? If you use it, how do you use it yourself? How can other use it? Can it be used in other

Pedagogical matters

• Where do you teach/have you taught?

• In what subjects/instruments?
• Do you use diminution-related material in your teaching?
• In what way? How do you teach diminutions/improvisations?
• Has the interest for diminutions changed during your musical career? If so, how? Why do you think it has changed?
• In what ways does it occur today? Different genres?
• Do you think it is important to teach diminutions/improvisations? Why? Why not?

A historical overview of diminutions

• How did diminutions evolve?

• Why did they evolve?
• Who performed diminutions/improvisations? (What people performed diminutions where and when?)
• How did the art and knowledge pass on to others/new generations? Is it possible to recognise any pedagogical methods?
• How does it exist today? Where, in what ways and what genres?

Comments to some of the sources:

(How were these treatises used? Pedagogical methods? For whom were they written? Who used them? Further
comments to the individual treatises?)
1. Konrad Paumann, from the “Buxheimer orgelbuch” ca 1450 (this one could be left out)
2. Silvestro Ganassi, “Opera intitulata Fontegara” Venice 1535
3. Diego Ortiz, “Tratado de glosas sobre clausulas”, Rome 1553
4. Girolamo Dalla Casa, “Il vero modo di diminuir”, Venice 1584
5. Giovanni Bassano, “Ricercare, Passaggi et Cadentie”/“Motetti, madrigali et canzoni francese”,, Venice
6. Ricardo Rognioni, Passaggi per potersi essercitare nel diminuire”, Venice 1592
7. Giovanni Luca Conforto, “Breve et facile maniera d’essercitarsi (…) a far passaggi” Rome 1593
8. Giovanni Battista Bovicelli, “Regole, passaggi di musica, madrigali e motetti passegiati”, Venice 1594
9. Valerio Bona, “Essempi delli passaggi consonanze et dissonanze”, Milan 1596
10. Aurelio Virgiliano, “Il dolcimelo”, ca 1600
11. Giovanni Battista Spadi, “Libro de passaggi ascendenti et descendenti”, Venice 1609
12. Antonio Brunelli, “Varii esercitii”, Florence 1614
13. Francesco Rognioni, “Selva de varii passaggi”, Milan 1620

• Other sources or examples you find important?

• Further modern literature or scientific material on diminutions?
• Further modern literature or scientific material on pedagogical methods/matters from the renaissance?
• Further questions?



• Describe your musical background, artistically and pedagogically, during your studies and after (Where and what you studied,
where, when and with whom you played, what you learned at a certain time and place, etc.)
• How/When did you first encounter diminutions/improvisations? What was your reaction?

Concerning diminutions/improvisations

• What importance does diminutions/improvisations have in the music you mainly perform?
• In what way do you use diminutions/improvisations in your profession? (That is, both in teaching and/or performance)
• Do you notice any difference in the level of ensembleplaying of musicians used to improvisational music compared to
musicians without improvisational experience? (Better/worse in ensembleplaying if they are used to improvisation or not)
• Do you think your capability of playing diminutions/improvisations has helped you in other ways in your profession? Positive/
Negative (Does it help, or not, to know how to improvise?)
• Do you think it is important (for others) to know how to improvise? Why? Why not?
• Have you tried William Dongois´ method of learning improvisation?
• Have you, in your own teaching, used William Dongois´ method?
• Do you have an opinion/comment/reaction/reflection about the method? Positive/Negative
• In what ways can the method be used ? If you use it, how do you use it yourself? How can other use it? Can it be used in other

Pedagogical matters

• Where do you teach/have you taught?

• In what subjects/instruments?
• Do you use diminution-related material in your teaching?
• In what way? How do you teach diminutions/improvisations?
• Has the interest for diminutions changed during your musical career? If so, how? Why do you think it has changed?
• In what ways does it occur today? Different genres?
• Do you think it is important to teach diminutions/improvisations? Why? Why not?

About methods to teach diminutions; a comparison

• How would you compare the methods to teach diminutions used by your former teachers Peter van Heyghen and William
Dongois (and/or others)?
• What advantages or disadvantages are there in their ways of teaching diminutions?
• How would you like to compare their methods to others?
• Which of the methods do you prefer/would you prefer to use in your own teaching? Why?
• Which method has been most rewarding to you?


Below is a page from das Buxheimer orgelbuch from ca 1450 by Konrad Paumann. The
diminutions are written out with ordinary notes and the accompaniment in organ

Below is one of the first pages of Il vero modo di diminuir from 1584 by Girolamo Dalla
Casa. On this page he gives exercises on tonguing and articulation combined with
some basic examples of how to embellish some of the most common intervals, but also
more unusual intervals like the seventh.

Here is another example from the treatise by Dalla Casa of his diminutions on the
madrigal Vergine by Cipriano de Rore. The complete piece is included but in between
the phrases he shows how to make different diminutions on the previous phrase. In
this way he includes diminutions on a complete phrase and cadential formulas at the
same time, as well as putting the exercise into a musical context.

Here is an example of a complete piece with diminutions, in this case the very famous
madrigal Ancor che col partire by Cipriano de Rore, in Dalla Casas embellished version.
Here he also gives the text together with the music, which indicates that it also could
be sung. Also, observe that he groups the 8th and 16th notes into groups of four,
something quite new for that time.

Below is one page from Silvestro Ganassis treatise La Fontegara from 1535. Here he
gives a few examples of how to embellish a simple melody-line, with increasing

Here is another example from La Fontegara showing one of Ganassis Regola pages, with
patterns or examples of how to embellish different intervals. On the left side is the
original interval followed by the simplest example and the more complex ones to the

Below is a page from Diego Ortiz treatise Tratado de glosas… from 1553 where he gives
examples of how to embellish cadences. In the same way as Ganassi he gives the
original, un-ornamented phrase first (at the top to the left) and then, in numbered
ordered, the different alternatives.

Diego Ortiz also gives examples of how to embellish a cantus firmus, a simple melody-
line, in his ”Recercadas”. The cantus firmus in this case is the old La Spagna melody.

Here follows two examples from Giovanni Luca Confortos treatise Breve et facile
maniera d’essecitarsi… from 1593. Just like some of the other manuals he gives the
original interval at the top of the page but then he gives a number of alternatives at the
same time, starting with quarter-notes, then eight-notes and so on. Also, note the many
different clefs he gives in the beginning of the first line, which indicates that you
should consider these formulas as patterns to use in any range and mode. Also note
that he gives a little text to each formula, in this case ”Salve”, in order to get the right

Here are two pages from the undated and
uncompleted manuscript of Aurelio Virgiliano, called
Il Dolcimelo. The pages are from the fourth and final
part of Virgiliano’s treatise where he intended to
publish pictures of all the common instruments and
their fingerings. To the right is the fingering chart of
the cornetto, which shows all the fingerings needed
for playing the cornetto. There are also instructions of
how to play some important semitones.

Below is a fingering-chart and slide position table of

how to play the cornetto and the trombone, which he
considers to be in the same family, or consort, of
instruments. He also shows how to transpose these
fingerings or positions to other tones, un tuon piu alto
(= one tone higher), in tuono (= untransposed), un
tuon piu basso (= one tone lower), alla terza (= “a third”
[lower]) and so on to alla settima (= seven tones
lower). The table is also organised in two different
ordine, which refers to the two different systems of
clefs where the ordine primo stands for the ordinary
clef system (also called chiave naturale) and ususally
did not mean any need for transposition) and the ordine secondo stands for the ”small”
clefs (also called chiavette) and usually meant a downward transposition.

This final page shows the ten rules Virgiliano gives in the beginning of his first part of
the treatise Il Dolcimelo. Dickey (1997) translates these rules in his article:

1. The diminutions should move by

step as much as possible
2. The notes of the division will be
alternately good and bad notes.
3. All the division notes which leap
must be good (i.e., consonant).
4. The original note must be sounded
at the beginning, in the middle, and
at the end of the measure and if it is
not convenient to return to the
original note in the middle, then at
least a consonance and never a
dissonance (except for the upper
fourth) must be sounded.
5. When the subject goes up, the last
note of the division must also go up;
the contrary is also true.
6. It makes a nice effect to run to the
octave either above or below, when it
is convenient.
7. When you leap an octave, it must
be upwards and not downwards, in
order not to clash with the other
8. The division must never move
away from the subject by more than a
fifth below or above.
9. Only on the two G¹s in the middle
(g¹¹) may the division move away
from the subject seven degrees above
and seven below, but this is conceded only in a fury of sixteenth notes.
10. When you find two thirds going upwards (g-b-d) you may use the fourth below
[the first note] because it will be the octave of the final note. The same is true of
descending thirds.

The audio tracks, which the interviews are saved on, are formatted into mp3-files.
Therefore, all the interviews are saved on a single compact disc. The previously seven
discs are saved as folders, each of them named as follows:

• WD 1: Interview with William Dongois, first part.

• WD 2: Interview with William Dongois, second part, tracks 1-69.
In this folder I have also included some examples of diminutions and
improvisations from Williams CD “La Barca d’amore – Balli, canzoni, motetti
diminuiti e sonate per il cornetto solo” from 1998.
Track no: 70: Pavane “El Bisson”, Anonymous –
Gaillarde “La Barca d’amore”, Gorzanis (ca 1525-1575)
71: Susanne ung jour, Di Lasso, O.
diminutions by Bassano, G. (16th c.)
72: Pavane – Saltarello, Anonymous
73: Anchor che col partire, De Rore, C.
diminutions by Rognioni, F. (16th c.)
74: Pavane – Gaillarde, Attaignant, P. (?-1552)
75: Io son ferito, Palestrina, G.P.
diminutions by Bovicelli, G.B. (16th c.)

William Dongois – cornetto, cornetto muto

Anne-Catherine Bucher – organ
Carsten Lohff - harpsichord

The tracks from “La Barca d’amore” are reproduced with kind permission of the
producer Thomas Görne and the record company CARPE DIEM.

• PvH 1: Interview with Peter van Heyghen, first part.

• PvH 2: Interview with Peter van Heyghen, second part.
• PvH 3: Interview with Peter van Heyghen, third part.
• PvH 4: Interview with Peter van Heyghen, fourth part.
• ML: Interview with Marleen Leicher