August 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM · Hi,

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?

Replies (11)

August 7, 2008 at 01:48 AM · In short whenever you want to....Of course the extent to which Taste is required, is inversely proportional to how famous you are ;>)

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

August 7, 2008 at 03:03 AM · Learning to do expressively effective portamenti is surely a very important skill. I believe that the acquisition of this skill comes primarily from listening to great performances, and from tireless experimentation, rather than from studying the changing fashions of portamenti, trying to find rules about it, or reading books about it.

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.

August 7, 2008 at 04:21 AM · Oliver,

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.



August 7, 2008 at 06:48 AM · Generally, one does a portamento not when one *thinks* it should be done, but rather when one *feels* it should be done. One cultivates this feeling by listening to the finest examples. Every time your emotions are touched by hearing a great portamento, your own ability to do it is enhanced. So get out the Heifetz, Milstein, Kreisler, Seidel and Elman recordings. After hours of enjoying profoundly moving listening, you will also be further along in the cultivation of beautiful portamento.

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.)

August 7, 2008 at 03:31 PM · Great posts Oliver -

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.

August 7, 2008 at 03:41 PM · There's an interesting book called Performing Music in the Age of Recording by Robert Philip which talks about portamento - there's fifty or so references in the index to it. It talks about the use of portamento in solo, chamber and orchestral music from a historical perspective with some score examples (transcriptions of recordings) showing where portamenti were used by some of the quartets that were active in the first half of last century.

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.

August 7, 2008 at 03:58 PM · Thanks, everyone.

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!

August 7, 2008 at 08:18 PM · Oliver,

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.


August 7, 2008 at 09:15 PM · Terry -

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.

August 7, 2008 at 10:23 PM · Kevin,

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.


August 7, 2008 at 10:53 PM · I agree that most shouldnt be portato. There are some triplets in the development where portato can be used.

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