Two mordent signs in Corrette

I’ve been looking at the facsimile of Corrette’s Premier Livre de Pièces pour le Clavecin, available at ‎IMSLP. There are two mordent signs. One, with the slash going from lower left to upper right, matches ‎what is shown in Corrette’s table of ornaments. The other has the slash from upper left to lower right. ‎Usually only one sign is used in a given piece, but there are a couple that have both (see the attached ‎screen shot, 4e Double from “La Dégourdie”.)

When I play the pieces, interpreting the ‘backwards’ sign as a regular mordent seems musically ‎appropriate, most of the time anyway. But still I wonder why two signs, particularly in the same ‎piece. Any insights from the group?‎

Hi David,
Thank you for this interesting observation. Not an insight but a question, just to be extra sure and incidentally reveal my shakiness around ‘regular’ mordents. In the extract you quote, are the examples in the lower stave the regular mordants and to be played dcd and cbc respectively?

In that case,I could imagine the first note, approached from below, played as efef rather than fef.

I am looking at this out of context as I can’t seem to access the IMSLP facsimile at the moment.


A possibility is that it is not of any significance. If it were, would it not be shown in the table? Sometimes engravers or printers were loose and set or engraved something roughly right. It’s a very distinction to depend on reading the exact slope of a slash while playing. I’d say they just both mean a mordent and personally I would not read too much into it. If this is engraved on copper the engraver may have had a couple of mordent punches and just picked up whatever came to hand.

But looking at the IMSLP score, they do look intentional don’t they?

Looking at the example, these are engraved mordents, no punches, but that doesn’t change Andrew’s general suggestion that it’s likely a purely technical engraver’s inconsistency.
How many of the red-ring mordents are there, and where on the plate do they appear? For a right-handed engraver, an imagined usual way could look like the red ones; the strokes are [mirrored!] cut from right to left [edit: impossible to see where the start is, but logical would be from below right to top left]. Likely, the other (green) way was like the manuscript looked (handwritten, the green way is easier - again assuming a right-handed person), and the engraved red ones might have been mere occasional laziness.
I am not aware of any significance of the direction of a mordent’s stroke for its performance (I’ve seen fairly many examples and analyzed a whole old pile of trill tables…).

Just as a general remark: it is romantic embellishment lore that has introduced the idea that the approach (from below, from above, or from the same note) is somehow significant for the starting note of a trill (or trill-like embellishment). The silly thing is that this came up in connection with 19th-c. J.S. Bach editions and thus was applied in a retrospective way from the get-go (and cast in concrete for the next umpteen generations).
I have however not seen any 18th-century support for this idea, and certainly not for mordents, which are basically main-note – lower auxiliary – main note shapes, or prolongations of the same.

Thanks, everyone.‎

To answer Michael’s question, the green circles (lower staff) are ‘regular’ ones; the sign matches what’s in ‎Corrette’s table, shown as main note-lower auxiliary-main note.‎

I first thought that this was just an engraver’s thing (as Andrew said) and not an issue, since the pieces ‎seemed to have one shape or the other. As I went on through the pieces, I found a few spots that have ‎both, which made me think it might be significant. But then it would be shown in the table, one would ‎expect.‎

Re Tilman’s question: I’d say that the green (regular) mordents account for about 2/3 of the total, and the ‎red (reversed) mordents about 1/3. (I have not counted exactly, lazy me!) So the reversed ones are not ‎rare. As I recall, they occur in many different spots on the plate – not just always the top or edge. And ‎most pieces use one style or other; maybe a half-dozen or less mix the two.‎

Corrette is a composer worthy of more attention than he gets.

Re what Tilman said about engraving, the mordents and ornaments still could very well be punches. When you are in a hurry to get it out the door, grab the nearest punch!

So the question arises, I reflect - is this botanical species of mordent found in any other French music? Answering that question may go some way to help us understand.

Here is Bach’s ornament table from Clavier-Büchlein vor Wilhelm Friedemann Bach.


Observe the mordents and so on have right leaning slashes, and there are no left leaning ones. I think that is a matter or right handedness. While Bach’s ornaments may have not a lot of connection with French ones, he was aware of various French ornament tables and there is some influence. Bach being so keen on precision, you would think if there was an alternate type of mordent he would have a symbol for that also. Anyway, these tables are descriptive and I do not believe they are supposed to be 100% exactly prescriptive. And Bach is not Corrette.

So coming back to Corrette,my overall feeling is that there is only one type of mordent. And you know, the engraving may have been done by two people of different handedness who engraved different parts, e,g, master and apprentice, with the understanding that it’s just a mordent. That’s an entirely possible scenario.

People could criticise this conversation and dismiss it as nerdy or worse, but I think the understanding of the intent of ornaments goes to the heart of 18c interpretation.

I have spent a lot of time identifying the writing of professional musical copyists and the work of any one of them is very consistent. Even more than copying on manuscript paper, engraving is a specialist activity. I agree with Andrew that two people were probably involved.

Let us assume that the green mordents were done by the engraver – because there are more of them and because that is how they normallly look when printed. Whether he was right- or left-handed matters little: he could make forward or backward sloping lines equally easily, but he would have done it consistently. Let us also remind ourselves that engraving is done mirror-style.

Now, what if the composer or someone else were proofing the plates and discovered that the red mordents were missing strokes through them. He would surely find it easier to inscribe these strokes himself, rather than sending the plate back to the engraver; but not being a professional engraver, and without thinking of the demands of mirror writing, he made the strokes from lower left to top right, which is what he was used to seeing in handwritten or printed music.

Thus I also consider it most likely that no difference in execution is implied by the different slopes of the lines.


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This is a brilliant hypothesis. Reminds me of certain paleographical studies on ancient literature manuscripts where this subject is everyday matter.

I agree that there is likely no difference in interpretation of the two signs. But I would take issue with anyone who says this is too nerdy a question – the signs are obviously different, and we need understand them if we want to play the music right!

Next time I look at the facsimile, I will keep an eye out for any differences that would point to two engravers (aside from the mordents). I did notice that three- and four-note chords are sometimes given separate stems for each note, even if the previous measure isn’t written in separate voices, and sometimes share a single stem. The former is typical of what I have seen in most sources, so I noticed it when some chords in Corrette are handled differently, perhaps a sign of a second engraver.

When it comes to different scribes, the common give away signs in musical script are the clefs and the accidentals. Though, of course, if one is the apprentice of the other such differences may be very subtle.


In Les Pièces de Clavessin, Livre Premier by Chambonnieres we have the following:

The mordent is slashed to the right. This is strictly adhered to in the whole book with no exception. I am beginning to think the left slashed mordent is an oddity or a mistake.

This can be found on IMSLP:èces_de_clavecin%2C_Livre_1_(Chambonnières%2C_Jacques_Champion_de)

It’s beautiful engraving, so fresh and relaxed.