From Andrew Holland
Posted August 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM
I know this a rather broad question, and also a rather subjective one, but does anyone know of good literature that discusses what types of portamento to use / when to use them?
There are lots of books on period violin technique...
-Leopold Mozart's gives a feel for taste and norms that were acceptable at his time.
-Stowell's Violin Technique and Performance Practice in the 18th and 19th Centuries
-Brown's Classical and Romantic Performance Practice
-Boyden's History of Violin Playong from it's Origins to 1761
It has very much to do with the cultivation of taste, but taste comes from experiencing good and bad often enough that one develops finer and finer discrimination. Cultivating the art of portamento is more like learning to kiss than it is like learning about world history.
Thank you for your post - I always find them incredibly thought-provoking. Do you have any specific examples of when you think is appropriate use of portamento?
The reason I ask is because I've been really emphasizing legato playing with most of what I do and trying to eliminate portamento.
Portamento to me has always seemed like the final piece to good use of the bow - sort of like applying vibrato after one has determined how to draw a good sound and play in tune.
On a related topic, occasionally, one of my students will be very good about his lesson preparation, but not up on his listening. ("Jascha Who??", he says!!).....I tell him that before you can be an author you must be an avid reader, and before you can be a musician you must be an avid music lover!
Portamento should not be confused with portato. A portamento (the subject of this discussion) is an expressive slide. A portato is a diminuendo, of sorts, between two or more notes in a slur--more or less something half way between a legato and a staccato. Both words come from the Italian verb: portare--to carry. In portamento, it is the pitch that is "carried" from one note to another (a slide). In portato, it is the tone that is carried (rather than being completely stopped in between two notes, which would be staccato.)
I'm not sure if there is actual literature about the portamento, but there is a way to learn where to place them without a book. I know Henry Roth briefly speaks about them in his Great Violinists book. Just sing the passage you are playing and you will be surprised that you will probably sing a portamento without thinking. The portamento is an expressive device just like an opera singer.
I feel that now many students overuse the portamento or do not use it correctly. I feel that one should save them for special moments for the optimal effect.
Also I feel that a portamento feels a little better when changing to an upbow from a downbow.
The book examines how, In the context of a string quartet, portamento was used to highlight voice-leading, and even argues that by using it in different places on the same theme repeated by various instruments, it was used to contribute to the interest of the piece. Taste has clearly changed as to the amount of portamento considered appropriate. I agree with Kevin, great effects should be carefully reserved for optimal impact.
Kevin, the 'violin master class' article (a regular feature) in October 2007 issue of The Strad recommended singing too, and I do find it very helpful! There are times, though, when players have added portamento very tastefully, and I then sung the passage myself, and noticed that I was not adding one...what great taste they had!
Thank you for expanding on the subject. It makes a little more sense to me. And yes, I was mistaking portamento for portato.
The natural followon question: Is there tasteful use of portato? It seems to me that that would fall under the same category of tasteful use of portamento.
There are many parts in the Beethoven concerto (triplet obbligato sections in the first mvt.)where there are multiple triplets slurred together (depending on your bowing, of course) that a portato stroke can be used.
After further thought, interesting point and I agree.
Overall, most of those parts of the Beethoven concerto should not have portato. They should be as legato as possible. But the last few triplets in a group of triplet figures in the Beethoven does sound good with a little portato.
Violinist.com Editor Laurie Niles is in New York to cover the biennial event at The Juilliard School, including classes by Brian Lewis and Sarah Chang.
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