Giorgio Dellarole: early music for a modern instrument – 5

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The meaning of the term “articulation” is quite controversial. It could be intended as a technical device allowing to divide notes via an imperceptible separation between them, getting those notes that some pianists define as “note sciolte”.

It is a peculiar feature of rapidity, that highlights each single note, which will not be tied to the previous one, but won’t be untied either.

In literature, the articulation is represented by consonants that stop the continuity of the vowels; it is pretty much the same thing for keyboard instruments, where “articulate” could simply mean “introduce the consonants”, inserting those that Dom Bedos[1] defines as “silences d’articulation”.

In this article I will give a broader sense to the concept of “articulation”: it will be intended as the manner of separating the notes or the groups of notes in any way possible and in any context.

The accordion has the chance to tie the sounds up to superimpose or separate them sharply and precisely and it is important to understand the criteria that run these variables in order to fully exploit the possibilities of our instrument in a repertoire that has made of diversity its stylistic feature.

In previous articles, we have already extensively discussed about the scarcity of information that characterizes the musical writing of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and about the consequent difficulties for current interpreters and so I will try to address the issue from a practical point of view, of course, without claiming to exhaust the topic or to provide a categorical guidance.

Ultimately, it should be the music itself to suggest the most appropriate choices to the performers and it is important to know that there is almost always a plurality of equally acceptable solutions if based on stylistic knowledge and on the instinct of the good musician. I insist by saying: do not start from the instrument, which must remain a “tool”, a link between the performer and the audience, but from the suggestions offered by the language.

Let’s scan some fragment taken from “Inventions and Sinfonias” (commonly defined as “Two- and Three-Part Inventions”) by J.S. Bach that are part of most keyboard players knowledge. The first interpretative suggestions are easily accessible and are quite interesting, since the words that introduce one out of two autograph[2] manuscripts are those of the composer himself.

Bach writes: “Honest method, by which the amateurs of the keyboard – especially, however, those desirous of learning – are shown a clear way not only to learn to play cleanly in two parts, but also, after further progress, to handle three obligate parts correctly and well; and along with this not only to obtain good inventions but to develop the same well; above all, however, to achieve a “cantabile” style in playing and at the same time acquire a strong foretaste of composition.”

None of the 15 Inventions and 15 Sinfonias contain a tempo indication and there are very few hints of the composer on the articulations to be observed, but if Bach is concerned to inform us that his compositions are useful to “achieve a cantabile style in playing”, we can deduce that in general it is necessary to look for a soft, almost tied touch that allows to run the phrases and to highlight the lyricism in a proper way.

On a practical level and synthesizing the concepts, we can say that there are two important parameters for the articulation selection: the character of the piece and the distance between the notes[3].

In a composition of “cantabile” nature, normally, we tend to tie the sounds up; in a piece of brilliant nature, the touch will be stronger and loose. Often the conjunct motion progress indicates a “cantabile” character, while the trend marked by leaps may suggest a lively movement or a dance.

If the conjunct motion is a chromaticism and especially if this one is a descendant chromaticism, it will be possible to adopt an even softer and tied touch.

Of course, there are many other variables involved, but I will introduce them starting from some examples.

The first one concerns the Invention n.2 in C minor BWV773

Musica antica per uno strumento moderno - lezione 5 - esempio 1









The composition does not show any tempo indication.

We can observe how conjunct motion prevails, while the leaps, which are also present, almost all have a major expressive value and do not seem to suggest an overly brilliant trend. The tonality of C minor indicates a sad and whiny character[4]. It is therefore likely that we have four quarter beats in a bar.

I suggest to use quite obvious ligatures, grouping the steps and to well breath in order to highlight the expressive value of the three leaps (E flat-G, F-F, but especially the diminished seventh B-A flat).

It is one of the many possibilities, and to reiterate the concept I offer two versions (not the only) of the second bar. In the first one, marked with the letter “A”, I consider that the ornament begins (from E flat, top note) on D (dotted eight note) under the indication “tr” and then I group two by two the previous four sixteenth notes and I separate the ornament itself from what precedes it (as normally done); in the second one, marked by the letter “B”, I consider the beamed sixteenth note C-D-C-D as a preparation for the trill and therefore I group them under the same ligature that circumscribes the trill and its resolution[5].

Musica antica per uno strumento moderno - lezione 5 - esempio 2






The second example concerns the Invention n.8 in F major BWV779.

In this case we have a ternary beat and the numerous leaps seem to indicate a brilliant trend, confirmed by the tonality of F major which is often used to express fury and impetus. The page is very interesting and is an emblematic example of implied polyphonic writing, which Bach systematically adopted with great skill. It is about spacing the notes and let see a polyphonic texture in a melodic line.

In the first beat the upper line is the one that goes from A to C and to F that opens the second beat and the lower line is represented by the three F on the first space on the staff. The pattern repeats itself in the second beat (lower staff), in the third (top), in the fourth (lower) and throughout the rest of the piece.

At the fourth beat, in the upper staff we can glimpse again two parts: one represented by the A that opens each quadruplet and the other by groups of three notes (C-B flat-C) which move stepwise and are spaced by a third from the A. Of course, this pattern is used throughout the whole composition.

Musica antica per uno strumento moderno - lezione 5 - esempio 3








I would use a clear “staccato” on “even” eight notes and a slightly more “appoggiato” touch on “odd” eight notes in order to highlight its different “weight” and its belonging to different lines (even if part of a single horizontal line)[6].

I would group the sixteenth notes as indicated, with a slight two trend (imagining the effect of the articulation of a violin).

From the fourth beat I would separate the notes at a distance of third, lingering on the first sixteenth note of the quadruplet and grouping the other three, that should “slip” to catch the small delay caused by the stop on the first note[7].

Musica antica per uno strumento moderno - lezione 5 - esempio 4











With these two examples I conclude my article. I think it is essential to stress that what I express in these articles should not be taken as the only and peremptory truth.

There is almost always a plurality of solutions; the important thing is that they are based on language knowledge and writing analysis.

I will soon deal again with articulation starting with practical examples, that will offer us some useful ideas to tackle the various issues of interpretation.

(Translated by Marta Cogotti)



[1] François Lamathe Bédos de Celles de Salelles, better known as Dom Bédos de Celles (1709-1779), was a benedictine monk with many skills: organ builder, mathematician, surveyor and sundial expert. His monumental treaty "L'art de facteur d'orgue", published from 1776 to 1778 is still present by the organ manufacturers

[2] This is the 1723 manuscript kept in the German state library of Berlin. A second autograph manuscript, undated, comes perhaps from Köthen. The first source that reports the Inventions is however the "Clavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach" in which is written: "started in Köthen on January 22, 1720", in which the Inventions are called "Preambula und Fantasiae"

[3] Leopold Mozart in his "Violinschule", which I have already mentioned in previous articles, writes: "... when the notes in a bowing have to be tied and when they have to be separated? Both answers depend on the lyricism of the piece and on the good musical taste and, anyway, on a correct judgment of the performer... However it is possible to follow the rule that the notes close to each other [in height] will be tied to each other, while the farthest will be run loose..." (Sec. IV, § 29) 

[4] The correlation between the tonalities and their characters is very narrow in the baroque repertoire and it is of great help in determining the character of the pieces. It derives from the Greek musical theory which attributed to the different modes tangible influences on the human soul (think of the Orpheus myth who, with his lyre, charmed the fairs and animated the natural elements). There are many classifications of the characters of the different tonalities. We mention, among many, the one by Marc-Antoine Charpentier in "Règles de composition" - 1682 ?, the one by Johann Mattheson in "Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre" - in 1713 and the one by Jean-Philippe Rameau in "Traité de l'harmonie réduite à ses principes naturels"- 1722
[5] The ornaments are not only the mordents, the trills and the turns we have learned during our music theory class, but they are represented by a multitude of symbols that vary, depending on the periods and on the composers. They are often written in full and must be identified and properly performed. The subject is immense and I will deal with it deeplier in the next articles. For now, I will only say that ornament should always be considered in the context in which it is inserted
[6] It may be interesting, at this point, to read again my previous article on the accentuation. Recognition, within pieces, of the different pads of “battere” and “levare” often helps to understand which notes can be tied and which ones should be separated. In this regard, it is very important to consider the accentual meaning of ligature that divides the groups of notes: the first note of the slur has a tonic accent, not present on the next tied notes

[7] Emilia Fadini and Antonietta Cancellaro, in their book "L’accentuazione in musica", already widely mentioned and from which I took the informations on the treaties by Mozart and Quantz, write that "... in the exacteness of the beats of the measure, the first note of regular groups of beamed notes, internal to single movements, should be slightly stretched compared to the others"
They made this "shocking" statement, compared to the mechanical regularity of certain modern performances, basing their thoughts on the writings of Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773), Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), Leopold Mozart (1719-1787), Bartolomeo Campagnoli (1751-1827), Carl Czerny (1791-1857) and Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870), who prove that the concept of "rhythmic compensation", based on the regularity of the beat and led by "good taste and sensitivity" has spanned the centuries up to the twentieth century

Autore: Giorgio Dellarole

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