9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


Caesura and Early Eighteenth-Century Periodic Style

Kurt Markstrom

Caesura is the basic building block of the early eighteenth-century periodic style, as essential to it as sequence is to the fortspinnung style. According to the eighteenth-century theorist Heinrich Christoph Koch caesura involves "interrupting the continuity of the melody in the strong part of the measure by a tone of an essential triad basic to that key in which the melody is rendered or to which it is turning" and is generally followed by a rest.

The application of caesuras was originally vocal in conception, being tied closely with the verse endings in both recitative and aria texts. Most of the standardized caesura ornaments involve a penultimate stress to accommodate the piano verse endings of Italian poetry. The most common caesura ornament is described by Koch as the Nachschlag, "a striking afterwards [of] other tones contained in the triad at its basis". It accounts for a majority of recitative caesuras and about half the aria caesuras. Other caesura ornaments involve ornamenting the caesura note with either a mordent or appoggiatura, the latter employed almost exclusively in arias.

While caesuras punctuate the verses, cadences are employed to set apart larger sections of text. There are different cadences for arias and recitatives: the inferior, superior, scale and unison cadences for the former and the tonic and broken cadences for the latter. The combination of caesuras and cadences account for much of the actual melodic writing in both aria and recitative and contributes greatly to the symmetry and balance of eighteenth-century classical style.

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Last updated on 22 March 2000 by Yo Tomita