Generally, portamento was not advised in orchestral playing unless indicated specifically by a fingering. Such instances can be seen in the 1833 treatise and the opening of the 5th symphony of Spohr, the 1844 writings of Ferdinand Simon Gassner (1798-1851), and the orchestral scores of Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864).70
Discussion and Conclusions
The documentation I have examined shows both “necessary” and expressive portamenti. Both Potter (2006) and Milsom (2003) have noted that both singers and violinists can express portamento either out of “necessity” or out of taste. The stylistic applications of portamento can be seen throughout the vocal and violin treatises of the 18th and 19th centuries but “necessary” portamenti may not have been explicitly documented as they might have gone unnoticed to the 19th-century listener, much in the way that continuous vibrato in “modern” performing is a “necessary” aspect of good singing and playing.71 As Milsom states:
A singer may effect a portamento for two reasons: because the structure of the
phrase compels it, or because a singer desires it on aesthetic grounds. In this way, singing technique provides a parallel situation to that of the string player, who, in a similar way, may slide either through necessity, or through choice. Given that the writers have been describing technique in stylistic terms so far in this discussion, one might reasonably assume that ‘stylistic’ rather than ‘necessary’ portamenti are alluded to in respect of singers. This statement remains inconclusive, since the aim to create a ‘natural’ vocal style in violin playing does not provide any sure indication of what terms of reference are being used.72
Necessary portamenti seem to be a by-product of the violin shifting techniques of the turn of the 19th century, as sliding to intermediary notes with the initial (guide) finger, and therefore connecting the intervallic leaps, was an essential aspect of shifting techniques of the period. Period fingerings also show single-finger shifts were encouraged, especially over the interval of a third. These shifting techniques and the fingerings shown in early editions of Schubert’s music show that there was frequent connection between intervals, both out of technical necessity and for expressive reasons. Similarly, good singing technique and style stemmed from legato singing, where each note was connected with continuous air pressure and anticipation exercises were used to encourage smooth sliding between intervals. From this technical necessity, more obvious ornamental expressive portamenti grew but were encouraged to be used in moderation. However, it is hard to interpret what exact frequency of use would have been tasteful for each performer in their respective contexts. It can be seen clearly from the written documentation that there were varying suggestions of appropriate locations to add portamenti, and thus tastes of appropriate portamento use must have varied, perhaps greatly, from performer to performer. While there was discrepancy as to whether or not beginnings of phrases were appropriate locations, it seemed common to slide to strong beats in a tasteful context. Other expressive locations included falling intervals after accented notes, sighing falling thirds, to emphasise a minor second or expressive interval, and to ornament a fermata. The unanimous consensus, however, was twofold: 1) that the nature of the portamenti chosen should always be appropriate to the character of the music, and 2) that the slower the music, the more portamenti should be implemented.