How can I play more interesting appoggiaturas?

Edited: February 12, 2019, 10:29 AM · I am frustrated by the conventional wisdom about grace notes and looking for more interesting approaches.

Everyone I know teaches that appoggiatura-style grace notes in Haydn and Mozart are played on the beat and are exactly half of the value of the note they're attached to.

A good example is the opening of Haydn Op 76-2 ("Fifths") quartet. In measure 8, the violins are ascending a minor scale with a series of appoggiaturas attached to quarter notes.

It's a beautiful little bit of pathos, but it just seems dull to play those appogiaturas as simple square eighth notes. Surely if Haydn intended us to play two sets of four eighth notes, he would have written eighth notes.

Why did he write grace notes? It didn't save him any time -- it wasn't for convenience. I suspect Haydn is trying to get something more out of the passage but I don't know what it is.

We see this in Mozart and Beethoven as well. An appoggiatura followed by an eighth note followed by two sixteenths -- and we are told to play it as if it's a set of four sixteenths. But they didn't WRITE four sixteenths, so how are we so sure that is what they wanted?

The half-value rule is easy to understand and follow, but is it really the best we can do with this music?

I also think about how ornamentation, in the baroque and early classical world, was considered the purview of the performer much more than it is today.

The great composers beginning with Bach gradually reeled that in and increasingly controlled the ornamentation by notating it, and writing grace notes is part of that. But at the same time, written music is just an approximation of what the composer wanted to hear.

How do we play appogiaturas beautifully, interestingly, expressively? How do we shape them? Surely there has to be something more to this than what I have been taught.

Replies (6)

February 12, 2019, 10:34 AM · Who said they all have to be exactly the same? Phrase endings aren't. Just play with the timing in subtle ways. There's not hard and fast rule on how to vary the timing--it's up to you. It really depends on the individual phrase.

Appoggiaturas, by definition, are about dissonance. So lean on it, give it a little more vibrato, and of course always back off on the resolution.

February 12, 2019, 8:06 PM · I am afraid this was a notation rule at the time. The composition teachers taught their students to write those 4 sixteenths as grace note, 8th, 16th, 16th (sol long as the first note was not part of the chord). Just read how it is described in Leopold Mozart's "Violinschule" (available on IMSLP). So no, it means nothing in particular, it is just the way they wrote it down at the time. Obviously this should not keep you from playing it the way you feel it. It occurs most often in fast movements though in my experience, so your possibilities are limited.

BTW I think you mixed something up with your example: op. 76/2 does not begin with any scale, not any of the movements. Actually I do not remember a Haydn quartet opening the way you describe.

February 13, 2019, 3:12 AM · I understand the bar Thomas refers to. Not a scale but a rising sequence, in the Dover score the first and third beats of bar 8 are notated as equal quavers but they might equally well be written as appoggiaturas, as in the edition by Maurizio Tomasi on IMSLP. However, the pattern of bar 7 differs only in so far as the first beat starts with an acciaccatura to the appoggiatura! As to what Haydn expected to hear, your guess is as good as mine.
February 13, 2019, 8:50 AM · Thank you Scott, Albrecht, Steve for helpful and interesting responses. It's true, even if the composer's intention is half value, the performer has the ability to stretch it and lean on it and make it interesting. Yes, that acciaccatura-to-appoggiatura is so very Haydn and very beautiful.
Edited: February 14, 2019, 7:48 PM · CPE Bach put out a few rules, or possibilities. For slower appoggiaturas, you could do half of the main note value, two-thirds (if with a dotted note), or even 100%, if followed by a rest. His father’s Menuet from the E Major Partita (E Major) has an opportunity near the first double bar.

Another interesting specific example is Mozart K 575. The published score has a conventional notation with an appoggiatura over a long main note. Grammatically correct. But if you go to his thematic catalogue, you will see that he writes it all out with big notes, to reproduce how the tune would have sounded. Not the way most people play it today.

Edited: February 14, 2019, 10:10 PM · If you want guidance on appoggiaturas and other ornaments, get any book of Bach piano (keyboard) pieces edited by Hans Bischoff.* For example the Inventions or the Goldberg Variations or the French Suites. There will be 3-4 pages at the front of the book describing how variously notated ornaments might be played, and yet more notations throughout the volume, often in footnotes. Show me a teenager who can sight-read classical slow movements (e.g., Mozart 3), and I'll show you a kid who has learned Bach on the piano, because anyone who has had to deal with all that ornamentation can read the complicated curlicue rhythms straight off -- they're just the same ornaments but spelled out.

* Other editors may do this too, but I'm most familiar with Bischoff.

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