2023 | Inspiration & Improvisation

Salut’s 2023 concert series pays tribute to the art of improvisation and the fascinating phases and fashions of baroque music.

Baroque musicians were like the jazz greats of today expected to improvise and ornament their music spontaneously and with ‘good taste’, appropriate to the style and character of the piece. The art of improvisation was one of the defining features of the Baroque period, with a simple melodic line providing the perfect palette for embellishment. Musicians warmed to this freedom and performing music became a collaborative effort. Pity those needing prompting, with Roger North suggesting that notating ornaments “… is the hardest task that Can be, to pen the Manner of artificial Gracing the upper part. It hath bin attempted … but with Woeful Effect … therefore it is almost Inexcusable to attempt it”. Today we enjoy the best of both worlds, with the benefit of instructions by the composers themselves blending with our own musical improvisation to create wonderfully organic pieces.

Join us in 2023 as we travel across Europe exploring how improvision developed from individual expression to creative collaboration.


Cultural Journeys

Saluting the music of many cultures, Salut! Baroque takes a musical journey inspired by Romani, Moorish and Celtic traditions and the Ottoman Empire. Music was a vital part of these cultures which incorporated singing, dancing, storytelling and poetry, and evoked expressions of love, joy, grief and despair. Traditional folk melodies were passed down aurally through the community and were transformed by distinctive characteristics and embellishments, with improvisations creating flamboyant and virtuosic performances in skilled hands. Some European composers were drawn to the intricate rhythms, the spirited dances, the percussive elements, and the harmonic and modal shifts. Telemann drew inspiration and ideas “to last a lifetime” after hearing “36 Polish pipes and 8 Polish violins” improvising during his employment at the Court in Pless.

Friday 17 February 2023, 7:30 PM – 8:45 PM
Albert Hall, Commonwealth Avenue, Canberra

Sunday 19 February 2023, 3:00 PM – 4:15 PM
Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music


Sweet Melodies & Angry Tempests

Singers of the Baroque period touched directly on the emotions of audiences, transporting them from sweet melodies to angry tempests. Nuance and intuitiveness were key – an inflection of the voice here, a gesture there. Jacopo Peri wrote in 1600 of ornaments as “those charms and elegances, which one cannot write down, and [if] written, one cannot learn them from the notation”. As singers saw opportunities to create performances full of extravagant theatrics, some composers remained sticklers for formality and restraint, with Lully declaring of his recitatives: “No embellishment! … I want it to be absolutely plain”. By the late Baroque period, composers began to regain control of their creative output, no longer leaving ornamentation to the discretion of the performers, with Marc-Antoine Laugier suggesting musicians “restrict themselves scrupulously to the notation before their eyes” (1754).

Friday 21 April 2023 7:30 PM – 8:45 PM
Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia, ACT

Sunday 23 April 2023 3:00 PM – 4:15 PM
Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music


Corelli’s Magic

The 1710 publication of Arcangelo Corelli’s Opus 5 Violin sonatas by the publisher Estienne Roger included the adagio movements in both the original and a version with ornaments “as [Corelli] plays them”. Amongst those who were dubious about this bold claim was Roger North who commented, “Some presumer hath published [ornaments in…] Corelly’s solos. … Upon the bare view of the print any one would wonder how so much vermin could creep into the work of such a master”. Yet even without verification, as a publisher’s marketing pitch, it was gold! The sonatas were republished dozens of times over the following century, and Quantz suggested in 1752 that “…cadenzas first came into use after the time Corelli published his twelve solos for the violin”.

Friday 18 August 2023 7:30 PM – 8:45 PM
Albert Hall, Commonwealth Avenue, Canberra

Sunday 20 August 2023 3:00 PM – 4:15 PM
Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music


The Cosmopolitans

Behind seemingly effortless ornamentation, strict rules had to be observed to establish the character, emotion and aesthetics of the music. JS Bach commented that, “It is… somewhat strange that German musicians are expected to be capable of performing at once and ex tempore all kinds of music, whether it come from Italy or France, English or Poland”. Travelling musicians and composers pollinated new ideas across cultures but it was through the cosmopolitan Georg Muffat’s seminal work published in four languages, Florilegium primum (1695) and secundum (1698), that musicians became fluent in the language of French and Italian music, and “how to use, with judgment, beautiful decorations and appropriate ornaments, which light up the piece… like precious stones”.

Friday 6 October 2023 7:30 PM – 8:45 PM
Albert Hall, Commonwealth Avenue, Canberra

Sunday 8 October 2023 3:00 PM – 4:15 PM
Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music