Mozart #3: dots and daggers

March 13, 2021, 3:53 PM · In the first movement of the Barenreiter urtext version of Mozart #3, there are both dots and daggers on notes to be played by the soloist (as well as in the tutti parts). Just looking at the solo part for now, the first dots appear in bar 40 while the first dagger appears in bar 41. There are many more dots and daggers throughout the movement. In looking at the Schirmer edition, I don’t see daggers but instead see staccato-like lines instead and I also see dots, but the dots and lines don’t necessarily match up to where the dots and daggers appear in the Barenreiter version, so I am focussing on the Barenreiter urtext version for this discussion. My question is how did Mozart intend the notes with dots and daggers to be played. I recently heard a teacher in an online webinar say that in Mozart violin concertos the dots are not spiccato marks but rather mean don’t play legato, while the daggers mean play spiccato, but I am wondering if the teacher’s comments are viewed by others in the know (I confess that I am not in the know ) as being correct. I look forward to finding out how one should play Mozart’s dots and daggers!

Replies (16)

Edited: March 14, 2021, 5:51 AM · In the 18th Century there is no difference between the dot and the dagger. Staccatissmo came in the 19th Century.

A possible theory to the origin of the dagger shape in the 18th Century - if you try using an 18th Century pen (not necessarily a quill but along those lines) and write a short sharp dot, the ink will naturally run from the pen. By slightly elongating the dot into a dagger shape you avoid a potential ink blot.

March 13, 2021, 4:22 PM · If you talked about Martele stroke to Mozart, he probably would have no idea what you were talking about (along with Detache). This is the technique of the French Revolution School at the turn of the 19th Century (Kreutzer, Rode, Baillot etc).
Edited: March 13, 2021, 4:32 PM · OP 'I recently heard a teacher in an online webinar say that in Mozart violin concertos the dots are not spiccato marks but rather mean don’t play legato, while the daggers mean play spiccato, but I am wondering if the teacher’s comments are viewed by others in the know (I confess that I am not in the know ) as being correct'.

I completely agree with the first half. That's how I describe the definition of staccato - 'not legato'. This can be short, fairly long, long with a minute separation or very short and off the string, with infinite possibilities in between. All spiccato is staccato but not all staccato is spiccato.
Part two of the statement, as the above comment I disagree with his interpretation of the meaning of a dagger in 18th Century music.

March 13, 2021, 8:42 PM · Rosand talks about about mozart 5 concerto and the markings in this YouTube video
March 13, 2021, 8:54 PM · My kids were taught (Vamos school of playing) that the dots are as mentioned above, not legato. What you call daggers and we call wedges or strokes have almost a slight accent to them, perhaps call it an emphasis, often followed by a separation with a lifting feeling.

There has actually been quite a lot written about this in the musicology literature going back probably 100 years. The Neumann article is one of the more comprehensive, albeit a bit old.

The wedges are all over Mozart's original scores, particularly in violin parts. I have seen editions remove them, which is truly unfortunate, because they should have a very different character from a regular staccato dot.

March 13, 2021, 11:04 PM · Agree with James W. One would need to look at the calligraphy style in the original manuscript. The goose quill pen or the italic point metal pen does not make a fine dot, only a dash mark the width of the pen point. It makes thin or thick lines and beautiful flags on the eighth notes. It the 19th cent. most people switched to the flexible fine point copperplate style pen. For ur-text editions of older music I consider the dashes as the same as dots.
Edited: March 14, 2021, 11:18 AM · It is true that there has been an awful lot of literature (mostly by HIP people) on this wedge / dot question. There is however a temptation to overthink these things. As James pointed out the difference may be unintended by the composer (or the copyist) and just be a consequence of writing with a pen (maybe in a hurry--Mozart often was in a hurry).

I'd look at the pattern. If you can see a musical reason* to use two different articulations then go for it and find a way to distinguish them--following the literature or doing it your own way.

* some consistency about where dots are placed and where wedges. I have looked at quite a few manuscripts lately (thanks to scanning and IMSLP!) and I find more often than not that there is no such pattern.

March 14, 2021, 12:18 PM · I am with Albrecht on this. The version I have of Mozart #3, edited by my teacher, Rene Benedetti, has some dots, but they are clearly staccato markings. My view is that you should do what makes the piece work for you musically. Playing Mozart #3, or any other piece, is not like putting on a Beckett play where if you deviate the slightest bit from the script, the Beckett estate comes and shuts you down. So, play the piece in a way that you enjoy and makes the music meaningful to you.
March 14, 2021, 2:56 PM · If you want an example of where it seems very obviously intentional, take a look at Symphony #25. My daughter was given the first two mvmts of this in orchestra, in an edition that was edited to make it a bit more accessible for young players. The edition replaced all the wedges with dots throughout. We compared it with the Urtext and the dots and wedges really have obviously different meanings. Compare mm. 59-73, which have dots in the urtext, to mm. 109-114, which have wedges. Those are very different articulations, and if you don't understand about the wedge and just play them short, you don't get the same effect.

This is even more obvious in the second movement, which uses wedges throughout (except for the 16th notes, which have dots). Mozart clearly wants the feeling of an emphasized upbeat with a lifting feeling that goes to each downbeat. The same is not conveyed by a simple dot.

March 14, 2021, 4:03 PM · An excellent starting point besides Susan's useful recommendation of Neumann's article is Clive Brown's red book:

Brown, Clive. “The Notation of Articulation and Phrasing.” In Classical and Romantic Performing Practice 1750-1900, 200–258. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

March 14, 2021, 8:01 PM · This discussion reminds me of an unfortunate event that happened near where I live some years ago:

March 14, 2021, 9:52 PM · You are right, Susan. What I meant with consistency though is that the same music, when it is repeated, has the same articulation markings. I checked for this symphony and the markings are indeed exactly identical when your first passage re-occurs in the reprise. In fact I noticed a detail I had never before observed (I too played the piece once): The bass line in quarter notes has dots in the first four measures and no dots in the second four and so on through the entire passage and the repetition at the end. Apparently a contrast between those 4-measure sections is intended though that is not obvious from the melody. I don't think I ever heard such a contrast in performances. (It would still be interesting though to look at the autograph to see how clearly distinct the signs actually are there and how much the editor's idea of the music influenced his interpretation of the markings. You might suspect that the pattern is almost too consistent).

BTW this particular music is usually played quite fast which puts limits to how many audibly different executions are possible.

March 18, 2021, 11:14 AM · Consistency in articulation markings;-- I know from my own experience in doing old-tech manual copying, arranging, that you get tired of writing all the dots in repeated sections, so you just stop, write "simile", expecting musicians to understand that. I am sure that Mozart and many others would write faster than me.
March 26, 2021, 2:28 PM · Thank you all for your informative and interesting responses!
March 26, 2021, 5:17 PM · I suspect that many of the staccato (or wedge) marks under slurs also referred to flying spiccato. Not quite like post-Tourte Mendelssohn, perhaps, but still a flashier effect than some normally associate with Mozart, et al.

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