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5/5/97: I am a sophomore student in violin performance and conducting. (1) In studying Mozart’s G minor symphony (K. 550), I found his use of staccati intriguing. Dover scores neglect to make any distinction between staccati and wedged accents. After studying other scores, I now understand Mozart intended two different markings. How do you treat these markings in performance of his music?

This question refers to a class of markings. For those who are not familiar with these marks, here is a small illustration.

In my view:

  • The first (“wedged”) is short and percussive.
  • The second (the dot) is staccato or shortened, but you must always remember that the shortening is relative.
  • The third (like a greater-than sign) is “simply” accented, meaning a change in dynamics.
  • The fourth (a horizontal bar) is held.

As suggested, some judgment must be brought to bear in interpreting this notation. Specifically, you have to consider the overall speed and mood of a piece. So staccato means short in fast passages but not as short in slower music. (The note may be bounced or even a short stroke on the string in some cases.) That is, there is a difference between staccato sixteenth notes in a fast, comic passage in Rossini and those in the slow movement of the Eroica. Staccato markings on half-notes, like those we find in O Fortuna from Orff’s Carmina Burana, must be approached in yet another manner.

(2) Also, in the development of the first movement, Mozart meticulously writes staccati for the sixteenth note passages which alternate between lower and upper strings. However, they begin to disappear as the motive is continually developed through repetition. Is this to effect a distinct transition to the next area of development between violins and woodwinds? Was this intended to create “muddiness” for real Sturm und Drang drama in opposition to the typical “transparent” Mozart?

I don’t think Mozart was aiming for a change in articulation. I think that Mozart expected us to continue the same articulation and that his intention was understood in his day.

©1997 by Joseph Rescigno. The text here may be freely reproduced for non-commercial purposes as long as credit is given.

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