As Many Different Articulations As There Are Consonants & Elisions

We pianists are taught articulation primarily as a binary concept; it’s either long or short, legato or staccato. There are gradations; a dot over a dash implies short, but not too short. But even within one staccato dot there is ambiguity, possibility. If I saw a staccato 8th note in a piece by Stravinsky or Prokofiev, I’d ask How Short Do You Want It? and seek to execute atom-smashing brevity. If my friend & longtime principal flutist of the Berlin Philharmonic, Sir James Galway saw a staccato 8th note, he would respond from the traditional definition, that a staccato dot denotes half-length: a staccato-dotted 8th note is a 16th note long; a staccato quarter-note quite a languid 8th note as opposed to our instinctual quark-length punctuation. Between those two views of the same notation, there is, if not a capacious range, certainly a discernible range of possibility.

Bach used staccato notation very rarely through clearly & prescriptively. Mozart, with his occasional pairs or even strings of staccato notes, become ever more expressively pliant when we apply our tiny range of possible execution a gradually differentiated quartet of 16ths perhaps beginning quark-short and growing longer & more lyrical in preparation for an ensuing longer melody note. This practice brings melody alive in a truly operatic fashion; not Morse Code short or long, dot or dash, but truly creating a singing sound from the acknowledgement of Mozart (& Bach, Schubert, maybe even Brahms) being primarily a composer of vocal music. When we begin to wield these subtle gradations & possibilities, melody is literally infused with character & life. The short but essential leap we make: that there are as many possible articulations as there are consonants in German, Italian, any sung language. As well, there are as many types of connections between notes as a range of elisions, soft releases, ephemeral but palpable connection to definitive glottal stop.

Subscribe

Never miss out on Christopher’s events or special notices.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.

Leave a Comment

Send this to a friend