Type of Articulation to be used in Mozart 5

April 4, 2019, 10:39 AM · Hey guys,

I was just wondering: should the semiquaver passages in the allegro aperto section of Mozart 5 be played with an spiccato stroke or a more detache (on the string) one?

I feel like the recent trend is for violinists to execute spiccato in many running notes sections of the piece (I am talking mainly about the 1st movt). Listening to more contemporary recordings such as those by Anne-Sophie Mutter,Julia Fischer, Vilde Frang and Nikola Znaider,I found that a lively, bouncy bow stroke was often employed. This manner of articulation, my teacher sort of disagrees with, being a wrong interpretation, but yet we see competition winners like Nancy Zhou and Diana Tishchenko in last year's ISIVC doing so. Here are the Youtube links for your reference:



What opinions to you all have on their interpretion of Mozart 5?

thanks in advance!

Replies (12)

Edited: April 4, 2019, 12:45 PM · What's a semiquaver? Oh never mind, I looked it up. He's talking about the 16th notes in the opening exposition of the Allegro Aperto on the first page.

I listened to the first bit of Nancy Zhou -- it's very a crispy stroke. The kind of stroke you might want to hear in a Bach Gigue. Not sure I'd call that a spiccato, but on the other hand I don't know what else to call it! Brushy spiccato maybe?

Maybe this is what's holding me back in my progress, but what I've learned about articulation is: What works for Nancy Zhou might not work for you. I bet it takes a long time to groove that stroke. Not that you shouldn't try, but did Zhou play like that the first time she learned that movement? My suggestion, at least initially, is to get those passages into your hands with a detache stroke, and then once you are super secure with your string changes and your left hand, then you can considering coming off the string. At least this is what my teacher typically advises me.

I remember having a conversation with a top pro who has an impressive collection of fine bows. I asked him what he practices with and he said he never practices with his best bows but only choose one shortly before the performance "because that's also when I'm deciding how much to come off the string." Must be nice to have so much control over your articulation that you don't even need to practice it for specific pieces.

April 4, 2019, 12:25 PM · For early classical, Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven, right now the pendulum is swinging against the more percussive off-string style that was popular 20 or 30 years ago. If you listen to the Perlman/Askenazy Mozart and Beethoven sonatas, Perlman played a lot more percussively than most people would play today.

Part of the problem is, frankly, antiquated Peters editions that date from the late 19th and early 20th century that have never been updated. Those old Peters editions feature a lot of staccato dots over notes that the composers never put there. And even if there are dots, that doesn't mean playing high off the string, it usually means a brush stroke or fairly gentle detache. Or an on the string sautille where the bow hair is articulating but the bow never leaves the string.

Now for soloists playing on a concert hall stage, they tend to articulate in an exaggerated way because it sounds brilliant in 40th row (or the 10th row of the 3rd tier).

But if you really want to hear a Mozart concerto the way Mozart heard it (and maybe played it), the performance is in a room, not an auditorium, the orchestra is 15 to 20 players, the audience is sitting very close to the players so the whole scene is much more intimate.

And if you have that luxury, then you can play Mozart more gently, with more subtlety and more attention to rounded, sweet articulation. Less percussion, tension and volume are needed.

I guess the bottom line should be -- you're the performer. Play Mozart the way it is satisfying to you and the people listening to you. You have a very wide range of acceptable performance styles available to you. You don't have to be bound by period-instrument and period-performance philosophy -- but you should be INFORMED by it.

April 4, 2019, 12:37 PM · And BTW those two performances linked are very nice but I don't think they're really great Mozart. Zhao's sound seems thin to me, not in the string enough, often too high in the bow (some of that could be the recording) and the Tishchenko is someone trying to play Mozart like it's a late 19th century piece with huge lush vibrato. I'm not a period-performance purist at all, but I don't think either of these performances reflects state of the art Mozart.

Here's a performance I like I lot -- Nicolaj Znaider https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNRu47mB8pw -- Note his sweet sound and judicious use of vibrato. The whole performance is a lot more delicate and intimate.

Here's another performance I don't like -- Hilary Hahn playing Mozart the same way Heifetz played Mozart -- like it is a 19th century Russian concerto. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mNJ43S1RIQ To be fair to Hahn this is an old recording and she might play very differently today.

April 4, 2019, 5:02 PM · I didn't like either performance either, and I especially thought that the first one's bow stroke was inappropriate. Bows in this time, especially since Mozart wrote these pieces early in his life, just did not bounce that much. If you Google transitional bows you will see that many still had features closer to a Baroque bow. This website has some nice pictures comparing bows from Baroque through transitional if you are interested: http://www.baroque-violin.info/trad.html

My son is doing a Mozart project right now and someone on here recommended watching Mozart operas (and his teacher recommended the same) to get both the right idea of how Mozart should be "sung" on the violin, as well as the idea of themes being "characters." It's a great idea -- if you think of the runs in Mozart 5 as being "sung" you will likely approach the correct articulation.

April 5, 2019, 1:22 AM · @Paul you have a really good point, about taking time to develop a particular type of off the string stroke that works best for the player. I, for one, have gone through that process, having already learned the concerto for quite a long time. Now I am employing a spiccato stroke similar to those Nancy Zhou and Diana Tishchenko used, but recently I was getting "insecure" about employing off the string articulation in the semiquaver passages. I'm especially curious: what would judges think about this if I performed Mozart 5 this way for a violin competition?
Edited: April 5, 2019, 1:33 PM · Depends on the judges. If they're old Russian School violinists they might want something that sounds like Heifetz or Perlman -- i.e. constant wide, aggressive vibrato, virtuosic stick technique (how about working in some up-bow staccato while you're at it?)

But if they're younger and interested in period performance they might be more impressed by a more horizontal, rounded bow technique, purity of sound and a very sparing use of vibrato. And of course intelligent, subtle shaping of phrases.

You could try to find out who the judges are. But maybe the right approach is to just play the piece as beautifully as you can. Everybody at a competition will have phenomenal technique but not very many of them will be really complete musicians.

Above all don't distort your Mozart to try to show off your cool new sautille. That would not be cool IMHO.

Edited: April 5, 2019, 6:14 PM · I say show off your bow stroke ... but not all the time. Just enough that the judges can see you do it. And while you are doing it, make big eyes at the judges -- like Ray Chen did at the QE. In the reprise of the main theme you may want to exaggerate contrast so it might be good to uncork your sautille there. Always ask yourself: What would Nigel Kennedy do?
April 5, 2019, 7:03 PM · The difficulty with Mozart is two-fold. First, most people don't understand what the articulations are meant. Secondly, the use of the modern bow.

The idea of playing Mozart very off the string is more French than German, and comes for the earlier concept of Mozart as being light.

The biggest articulation thing, if one wants to be authentic, lies in knowing the difference between "carrots" and "dots". The thing is, that if you read Leopold Mozart's treatise he explains it. In modern terms, the "carrots" are actually meant to be the equivalent of a martelé stroke, accented with no lift of the bow after the note (so on the string). Those with "dots" are meant to have the bow lifted after the note.

Now the thing is, with historical bows (transitional ones), this actually works, but with a modern bow, it can sound somewhat heavy. It's more a question of getting the character than just the articulation.

Just something to think about...


April 6, 2019, 7:55 AM · I just say follow your dreams.
April 6, 2019, 10:59 PM · @Thomas in your earlier post, you mentioned the possibility of using an "on the string sautille where the bow hair is articulating but the bow never leaves the string", and it is interesting that my teacher also talked about a "special" stroke used primarily when playing Mozart, where the bow is always on the string, but manages to produce a particular sound giving off the impression of spiccato.
April 6, 2019, 11:00 PM · @Paul: just curious, but why Nigel Kennedy?
Edited: April 7, 2019, 10:43 PM · There is a gradual continuum from plain-vanilla on-the-string detache to the light, very fast, piano, orchestral style spiccato that is first used(?) in Mendelssohn. It is also used by some in the 4th movement of the last Mozart symphony. In the orchestra we frequently use that in-between style labeled "brush-stroke". The only difference between sautille and spiccato that I know is that one word is French and the other Italian. The Mendelssohn style spiccato is not loud enough for concerto solos. Instead, there is a more forceful bounce below the balance point. I don't know the label for that.
"carots vs. dots"-?. One thing to watch out for; if the composer or copiest is using the old goose-quill pen, or the more modern italic-tip music writing pen, it does Not make dots. It's smallest mark is a dash the width of the tip, about 1 mm. I sometimes wonder if the Ur-text editors are aware of that.

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