ornament, in music, notes added to a melodic line for the purpose of embellishment or decoration, often called graces. Ornamentation was practiced as early as the Middle Ages by the singers of plainsong, and the practice seems to have reached its height in the baroque era. Treatises were written and attempts made to standardize practices. Symbols were adopted as a kind of shorthand for the notation of some ornaments, others were written out in complete notation, and still others were left to the discretion of the solo performer—often the composer himself. Since the baroque era, composers have attempted to indicate their intentions regarding ornaments in precise notation. In the 20th cent. the tendency has been toward a minimum of ornamentation; however, the same period has seen extensive research to make possible the performance of baroque music in the manner of the baroque era.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.