The neurological sound response research explored by Leech-Wilkinson shows that portamento is not an “historically or culturally dependent phenomena” but an innate connection “between sound response.”1 Leech-Wilkinson compares Schubert’s Schlaflied (Lullaby) with universal lullaby characteristics and when sung with portamento this piece enhances the calming rocking effect as if a mother were singing to her baby. While this musical character is obviously more suited to the lilting qualities of portamento, Leech-Wilkinson also argues that portamento can enhance any character if it taps into innate emotional responses, such as fast active slides in a playful piece. However, when using “mismatched” expressive devices, such as the wrong type of portamento in the wrong context or even one slightly misjudged aspect of a particular type of portamento, one can evoke emotions different to those intended by the performer.2 Therefore, when using portamento in one’s own playing, I think it is important to think critically about the intended character or affect of a piece or phrase in order to be clear about the role of each portamento in it. This will make judgement, choice and execution of different types of portamento more expressively effective.
Similarly, Potter argues that portamento “helped give the illusion of language, re-creating the contour (as opposed to the sound) of speech in exaggerated form.” We know that rhetoric has been the basis of effective and moving singing throughout documented history and with portamento, singers can “incorporate elements of speech-like declamation while still exploiting the legato line.”3 This further demonstrates that portamento can be an important tool in creating meaningful and engaging musical expression, as music is based on rhetoric and the desire to communicate emotions. When executed thoughtfully and naturally, portamento can tap into the fundamental human responses developed at infant age, and thus be one of the most powerful aspects of musical expression.
Theoretical knowledge of historical performance practices is useful only if one then thinks critically and creatively about how to put the theories into practice. The insights provided by scholars regarding our emotional responses to music, and my personal reflections on these insights, as outlined above, provide a firm basis for testing ideas about how we might incorporate portamenti back into present-day musical language. To this end, I conducted experiments with my own playing and in collaboration with others to explore how different executions of portamento can create different characters in music and evoke different emotions in the listener. Through my own artistic experimentation with leading 19th-century HIP practitioners, I was able to explore some of the different types of portamento found in historical written and recorded sources and find ways in which to make this expressive device relevant and moving to today’s audience. I collaborated artistically with singer David Greco to record interpretations of historically documented vocal portamento exercises and sought advice on historical violin shifting technique from Shunske Sato and Kati Debretzeni and recorded excerpts of David’s shifting exercises. I then used this fundamental technical knowledge to record various interpretations of a Spohr violin duet exercise filled with implied portamenti with Clive Brown, Shunske Sato, Rachael Beesley, and Kati Debretzeni. I also surveyed these musicians, along with David Milsom (violin), Leila Schayegh (violin), Emlyn Stam (viola), and Koenraad Van Stade (voice) to gain a greater understanding of their approaches to portamento in 19th-century HIP performance. Finally, I experimented with my own use of portamento in Schubert’s music by recording an excerpt of his Violin Sonata in D Major, Op. 137, No.1: Andante. Through this artistic experimentation I was struck by the depth of exploration and time and energy needed to fully embrace this different playing style and the importance of understanding how portamento works from a singer’s perspective before being able to experiment with it in string playing.
Chapter 5: Understanding portamenti and how to implement them in one’s own playing
Thus far in this thesis, I have examined the historical written and recorded documentation of the influences of vocal style and technique on violin playing. I have documented the different types of vocal and violin portamenti present in 18th- and 19th-century treatises and compared these findings to the expressive uses of portamenti in early-recorded singers and violinists. From here I will delve deeper into the curious question as to why portamento went from one being of the most important expressive tools of the 19th century to being shunned as the 20th century progressed and, indeed, is now seen as irrelevant and out-dated. To do this one must understand the reasons behind changes in style during the 20th century. With this understanding, the psychology behind the ways in which different types of portamento effect our emotional response to sound can be explored. This will lead to a better understanding of how to use portamenti in ways that are relevant and expressive for today’s performers and audiences.
In this chapter, therefore, I analyse some of the factors involved in musical style change over time and some of the psychological aspects related to our innate emotional response to sound and music. I explore the possible emotional reactions that listeners may have when hearing different types of portamento, such as the association of portamento with our earliest memories through the adult-infant language, Motherese.4 I also undertake my own artistic experimentation with some of the leading practitioners of 19th-century performance practices and survey them for further ideas about the ways in which we can execute portamento, and effect ways to help bring this expressive device back into our current musical language.
Style and fashion changes in performance practice
Why was portamento lost? Academics have proposed many plausible reasons, but the fact is that there was a huge change in style over the 20th century. Style of performance is a complex topic to discuss but the best definition I have found is in Daniel Leech-Wilkinson’s The Changing Style of Music: Approaches to Studying Recorded Musical Performances. He argues that performance style is generated by what performers habitually do with the notation to make a musical performance and what determines a common style is “that the options performers choose for being expressive are relatively consistent within a performance, within the work of a performer, within a geographical locale … and within a period of time” (Fig. 5.1).5
Figure 5.1: Daniel Leech-Wilkinson on style changes. This model shows that a performer’s style can be defined by a number of factors, including the development of their physical and emotional relationship with their instrument, period preferences for sound productions, and personal taste. These factors influence the conscious choice of performers’ “physical ability, … period taste and personal taste.”6
Common styles are determined by habitual commonalities between performers. In early recordings we see this clearly, as, although there is a wide variety of use of expressive devices, such as portamento, each performer shares a common language or style of expression.
As Leech-Wilkinson states, “recordings show us that musicianship has changed over the past hundred years more than we could ever have imagined.”7 Katz argues that portamenti disappeared due to the development of recording equipment in the early-20th century, as listeners did not want to hear the same intrinsic expressive swoops over and over when listening to a recording.8 Katz also explores Milsom’s theory that fashions “burn” themselves out, then result in extremes of the opposite kind, and that of Elias Dunn, who argues that the rising popularity of steel strings during the 20th century added to the decline in use of portamento, as portamenti executed on gut strings sound far less obtrusive than on steel.9 Leech-Wilkinson’s analyses of early recorded singers show an increase in a sense of detachment in interpretation of vocal works during the 20th century.10 I also find that the earliest recorded singers have more rhetorical freedom and spontaneity in their performances, as compared with vocal recordings from later in the 20th century. Leech-Wilkinson also explores Milsom’s theory when arguing that neophilia drives the altering of ritualistic behaviours, i.e. styles and fashions, in order to attract the desired sex.11 Potter discusses changes in vocal techniques of the 20th century and suggests that, due to portamento’s association with messa di voce, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the lack of teaching of this swelling technique in the 20th century may have also contributed to the decrease in tasteful portamento use into the 20th century.12 All of these theories are plausible and each of these aspects probably influenced the decline in portamento use over the last 100 years, but the difficult issue is how to make this device sound relevant again.
Interestingly, and rather ironically, the HIP movement of the 1970s onwards was so successful because the performance style was actually “modern,” so it was easily accepted by modern audiences. Potter argues that the early music agenda was to “strip away the vulgarity, excess, and perceived incompetence associated with bizarre vocal quirks such as portamento and vibrato.”13 This stripping back and cleaning up of sound fits perfectly in a fast-developing mechanical computerised world, and the easy access to new recordings of this style made the style change much faster than it would have been in previous centuries. This is one of the challenges that 19th-century HIP practitioners face today, as we essentially have to fight against our own musical colleagues in order to convince people of the worth of a new style that may not fit within general, modern aesthetics. However, Leech-Wilkinson notes that while the frequency of portamento use decreased during the 20th century (Fig. 5.2) and that general stylistic aspects of performance have changed, we do see the same points in music being emphasised and remaining the focal points of expression, such as phrase-ends, highest notes, metrically strongest beats, harmonic cruxes, and new sections.14 I believe that using these intrinsic expressive moments as a starting point for introducing portamento may help us reignite this expressive device in modern-day performance, whether it be HIP or otherwise, which I explore further in this chapter through my own artistic experimentation.
Figure 5.2: Daniel Leech-Wilkinson’s analysis of the decline in number of portamenti found in recordings of Beethoven and Brahms extracts by birth year of player during the late-19th and 20th centuries.15 The points on the graph indicate the number of portamenti in each recording (purple = Brahms, yellow = Beethoven), and declining diagonal lines indicate the change in numbers of portamenti present in recordings over time of some 50% (purple = Brahms, yellow = Beethoven).
Leech-Wilkinson argues that stylistic mannerisms in playing are developed in the musician’s first two decades of playing (less for prodigies) and tend not to vary in an extreme capacity thereafter. Therefore, I believe that, even though adults can definitely adapt to style changes, if we want to comprehensively reintroduce portamento and 19th-century performance practices we need to start with the children of today in order to normalise this expressive language again.
Psychology of response to sound
Although there is no one single explanation for the decline of portamento in the 20th century, we can explore the psychological emotional response to sound and in doing so, the meaning of portamento. Leech-Wilkinson argues that in order “to understand music, we need to know how it is constructed in the mind (mind being what the brain does) and how the mind allows music to be so variable and yet apparently to move humans now just as profoundly as it has in other times.”16 Research has shown that music is referential and the effectiveness of different expressive devices is determined by what they remind the listener of.17 So what does portamento reference or remind us of?
There has been some scientific research into the emotional responses to sound but it is a complex topic and more research needs to be done before we can fully understand the way musical sounds affect us.18 However, Leech-Wilkinson has explored this topic and concluded that “portamento is affecting” and gets us to “feel more deeply moved” by “draw[ing] on innate emotional responses to human sound, as well as our earliest memories of secure, loving communication.”19 He argues that portamenti imitate the characteristics of the adult-infant language, Motherese, with its “smooth, simple and highly modulated intonation contours.”20 Motherese is simple, direct, and creates a context in which trust is absolute, and portamento too has these qualities: engagement, “sincerity … depth of feeling and … a context where it is safe to express these feelings.” It is also the most effective language for holding an infant’s attention and I certainly find that early recordings with frequent portamento hold my attention more than modern “clean” recordings, indicating that this type of language is relevant for both infants and adults.21
Vocal portamento exercises and their relation to violin shifting exercises
Corri and Vaccai vocal exercises
As I have discussed in chapter 3, Corri’s and Vaccai’s notation of portamento in their exercises, using either dotted figures or grace notes to anticipate the next note, can be interpreted in a number of different ways.22 Vaccai made it clear that voice should not be dragged “through all the intermediate grades between one tone and another,” rather “it is the perfect connecting of two notes.”23 However, this can also be variously interpreted, either by assuming that portamenti should be quick and subtle, or that each note should be obviously connected together with smooth glides but without intervening chromatic steps made obvious.
Greco recorded Corri’s graces, noting the dynamic indications for each example: releasing breath pressure and dynamic during the superior grace, increasing breath pressure and dynamic during the inferior grace, increasing breath pressure and dynamic during the leaping graces, and releasing then increasing breath pressure and dynamic during the anticipation graces (Fig. 5.3).24
Figure 5.3: Corri Graces, as explained in previous chapters.25
Sarah Potter recorded two versions each of Vaccai’s two portamento exercises in her 2014 thesis (Fig. 5.4): one with “neutral” larynx height and another with “transitional” larynx height. Singing with a neutral larynx height uses less air pressure but more air flow and in theory the larynx does not move during pitch changes, whereas singing with a transitional larynx height generally uses higher air pressure and less air flow and in theory the larynx moves slightly in accordance with pitch changes. Both of these techniques differ from the standard “modern” singing technique, which encourages low larynx height, high air pressure and low air flow. Potter found that neutral larynx height singing had a “charm and vulnerability” to it. This singing technique does not have a “bright” tuning quality, which can give the feeling of approaching notes from below.26 Examples of this type of singing technique and the use of anticipation portamenti to approach notes from below can be heard in many early vocal recordings examined in chapter 4, especially those of Patti, Albani and Galli-Curci. While my study does not aim to make conclusions about the accuracy of historical vocal techniques, it is interesting to note the changes in tone colour and effect on portamento in Potter’s recordings (see recordings below). Regardless of larynx height, Potter evenly connects each note that is marked with an anticipatory dotted figure. In contrast, David Greco in his recording makes the anticipatory grace note marked by Vaccai into an obvious dotted figure with deliberate articulation, which could be more in keeping with Corri’s anticipation graces.
Potter sings two variations on Vaccai's two portamento exercises:27
Figure 5.4: opening figure of Vaccai’s 13th lesson on the portamento, page 27.28
Compared with Potter’s recordings, Greco uses basically continuous vibrato with a low larynx and high soft pallet (so-called “modern” singing technique), creating a full dark tone colour. In my opinion, both Potter and Greco show agreeable examples of different ways in which to interpret the historical sources, where Potter’s flow and connection of notes create a calm pure atmosphere and where Greco’s Corri-esque style of portamento works well for his darker, more mature-sounding vocal tone. Both of these approaches could be used to great effect when used in the right context or character of a piece, which will be discussed in more detail later in the chapter.
Novello vocal portamento exercise
Greco also recorded both the plain and portamento versions of Novello’s portamento exercise (Fig. 5.5). In this exercise, the portamenti are notated with separate notes so they could be interpreted in different ways. Greco chose to use obvious drawn out portamenti for this exercise.
Figure 5.5: Novello portamento exercise, page 23.29
Franz Joseph Fröhlich portamento exercises
A link can be drawn between Franz Joseph Fröhlich’s Zwischentönen (in-between note) vocal and instrumental portamento exercises and Spohr’s and David’s respective guide-finger violin shifting exercises, as each exercise encourages the singer or violinist to use intermediary notes to guide and connect interval jumps. I find that these ways of thinking about connecting notes in singing and shifting in violin playing are integral to understanding how portamenti work and how to make the expressive device as effective as possible. Greco recorded excerpts of three Fröhlich exercises to show how they might be interpreted in singing, and in these examples Greco smoothly connects each note but varies speed of slide for each example: in the anticipatory note exercise he uses a fast slide and deliberately re-articulates the destination note, and in the two Zwischentönen exercises he slowly slides between the intervals and stops briefly on the guide tone, but does not deliberately re-articulate the destination note. These exercises (Fig. 5.6, 5.7 and 5.8) are useful for practicing varying slide speeds and breath pressure and flow when singing different types of portamento.
Figure 5.6: Fröhlich’s anticipation note exercise, page 36.30
Figure 5.7: Fröhlich’s Zwischentönen with anticipatory note exercise (small interval), page 33.31
Figure 5.8: Fröhlich’s Zwischentönen with anticipatory note exercise (larger interval), page 34.32
Ferdinand David violin shifting exercises
In my own playing, I drew inspiration from written explanations and Greco’s artistic interpretation of vocal portamento execution in order to interpret and explore Ferdinand David’s violin shifting exercises (Fig. 5.9).
Figure 5.9: excerpts of David’s shifting exercises for unisons, fourths and octaves.33
During my violin lessons with both Shunske Sato and Kati Debretzeni we found two contrasting but complimentary approaches to 19th-century shifting techniques. David advises not to “lift” the finger when shifting but this could be interpreted as either 1) not “lifting” the finger into the air away from the string, and instead releasing the finger from the fingerboard to slide along the top of the string at the height of where we would place our finger for a harmonic, or 2) not “lifting” the finger at all, i.e. keeping the finger pressed on both the string and fingerboard and only releasing the left-hand pressure just enough to move it to the new note.34
Although David’s explanation of his shifting exercises is ambiguous, both interpretations are important to explore in order to have a range of movement when shifting, thereby creating a variety of portamenti. From these lessons I concluded that it was necessary to practice these exercises in two main ways with two versions of each:
1. One version releasing the left-hand finger to the harmonic position on the string when shifting to reduce left- hand and finger tension and to encourage ease of movement around the neck of the violin (first a slow deliberate version, as indicated by David, and then a faster seamless version that is closer to practical application of the technique in order to have a variety of speeds of shifts for different occasions)
2. Another version keeping the left-hand finger staying pressed down on the string during the shift and only releasing it just enough to be able to move the finger, creating an audible slide (first a slow deliberate version of the audible shift, as indicated by David, and then a faster seamless version that is closer to a practical application of the technique in order to have a variety of speeds of shifts for different occasions)
Discussion of results of artistic experimentation of David’s shifting exercises
My theory is that if you practice the “fully” releasing shift first, the “partially releasing” audible shift will be easier and smoother, encouraging less tension in the left-hand finger and hand, while still having connection to the string for audible shifts. I found it easier to lighten my left-hand finger when descending and therefore had to take extra care to control the releasing of my left-hand when doing ascending shifts in order to develop the muscle-memory of light smooth shifting. I noticed that each shift got faster when I initially started practising these exercises, so I had to remind myself to keep each shift slow in the first version of each shift. I also tried to keep a steady bow speed when executing the slow version of each shift in order to hear all guide tones in order to control the nature of the shift, and then tried to vary bow pressure and speed a little when executing the shift in a more seamless way. I believe that consciously experimenting with and changing these aspects of violin technique when practising the shifts helps widen one’s range of expressive use of portamento in various characters of music.
Experimenting with same-finger shifts in marked editions of late-18th-century music
Figure 5.10: Score and recording for Haydn’s String quartet, Op. 33, No. 2, second movement (1781-2).
This playful movement (Fig. 5.10) uses same-finger shifts under slurs to great effect. Sato and I found that using bow attack to vary the same-finger shifts can help enhance the jovial character. Sato advises that it is generally useful to release the bow during the same-finger shift in this setting so they avoid getting tiresome, and this allows for special use of exaggerated and increased bow pressure and speed into some of the shifts for comical effect. We also interpreted the “sull’istessa corda” (on the same string) and glissando markings as indicating obvious guide-finger shifts before the bow change on the E string.
Figure 5.11: Score and recording for Lolli’s Six Sonates pour violons in C, Op. 9 No. 4, sixth variation (c1785).
When playing through this excerpt of Lolli (Fig. 5.11), Sato suggested questioning what happens between the slurs. As in the Haydn excerpt, it is useful to release the bow and left-hand finger together during the slide and to slow the bow just before sliding to create a little space and articulation between the slurs in this character. We noticed that bow use was difficult to manage when executing audible same-finger shifts, as this type of shift is more obvious than other shifting techniques. These Lolli and Haydn excerpts show jovial and comical examples of same-finger shifting, so the releasing of bow pressure and speed seems most appropriate, whereas same-finger shifting in more dramatic or sombre pieces could invite consistent or even increased bow speed and pressure, depending on the context.
Artistic experimentation of Spohr’s portamento and bow technique exercise
After practising these shifting techniques, I then recorded Spohr’s extremely useful and informative violin shifting and bow technique duet exercise with Clive Brown, Shunske Sato, Rachael Beesley, and Kati Debretzeni (Fig. 5.12).35
Figure 5.12: Spohr’s shifting and bow technique exercise.36
This exercise helps develop bow control, due to the messa di voce (or hairpin) indications on many long notes and shifts,37 and it is an important exercise for shifting and portamento practice due to the specific fingering indications and explanations of how to execute the particular guide-finger shifts throughout this section of Spohr’s treatise.38 Brown, Sato, Beesley, Debretzeni and I all found it easier to play the exercise expressively when we were flexible with tempo and rhythmic figures, especially when executing portamenti. Sato and I found that portamenti can be both a by-product of tempo flexibility and help determine different types of rubato, and a spontaneous and expressive performance can be enhanced when one experiments with these nuances. Beesley and I found that using harmonic development as a guide for rubato choice helped inform us of the effectiveness of types of portamento for each section but also found it equally as useful to use portamento to guide rubato. We also noted that it is difficult for us as 21st-century musicians to control increasing tempo when using rubato because this often just makes the whole piece speed up, so it is important to have a balance of pushing and pulling of tempo and to use portamento to slow down again at transitional points if one has sped up in a passionate moment (see the final video of Rachael and I playing the whole duet, taking note of bars 31-37). This is consistent with Croker’s advice for using portamento to connect phrases in his 1895 treatise, as discussed in chapter 3 and 4 (Fig. 5.13).
Figure 5.13: Croker’s annotation of a slur, indicating portamento use, to bind two phrases together, even though there is a rest and the exclamation mark indicated in the original notation.39
Brown and I experimented with the lower part leading the rubato in bar 9-16, as it has the moving part, and only using guide-finger shifts before bow changes, as indicated by Spohr (see video across).40
I also explored this idea with both Beesley and Debretzeni (see videos across) and found that when I was playing the upper part it was easier to have a variety of types of portamento when I had rhythmic freedom.41
Brown and I also experimented with the higher part leading the rubato in bar 19-26, due to the prominence of portamenti marked with hairpins, and again used only guide-finger shifts except when sliding to the harmonics in bars 19, 20 and 22, which were with the destination finger, as indicated by Spohr (see video across).
Beesley and I explored the effect of both parts having complete rhythmic freedom from each other, which was quite a difficult exercise, but was useful in encouraging each part to use various shifting and bow techniques freely without feeling controlled by the other part (see video across).
At first, I struggled with controlling the speed and pressure of my left-hand finger, as well as bow pressure and speed, when shifting to harmonics (as can be heard in the recordings with Brown) but after working on them with Sato I found it easier to control the speed of slide when using steady bow speed and pressure and light left-hand pressure (see video example of bar 19).42 This type of execution of portamento can also be heard in Greco’s recordings of Froehlich’s exercises, in which he uses steady air pressure and speed of slide (Figs 5.6, 5.7 and 5.8, above).
I realised that with my “early music” training it was particularly difficult to get out of the habit of swelling in the middle of each bow stroke, which also initially made my portamenti sound rather brash and obvious, regardless of my emotional and musical intention. Sato and I explored being conscious of bow speed and pressure, especially when sliding to harmonics, and also found that “overshooting” and using the fleshy part of the left-hand finger pad for harmonics helps with resonance of sound, which is a benefit of shifting to a harmonic with the destination finger. I also took inspiration from historical singing treatises and Greco’s recordings of portamento exercises, where he uses consistent (but not fast increasing) air pressure for more obvious portamenti and releasing air pressure for subtle portamenti, while always connecting the sound between each note in order to carry the sound through each phrase. I found that if I used constant bow pressure and speed for obvious or dramatic portamenti, rather than fast increasing bow pressure and speed, then I was able to create portamenti that were obvious but not out of place, and for subtler portamenti I tried to release bow pressure and speed during the slide so as to create a more intimate expressive moment.
Furthermore, Sato and I noted that it is important to “disconnect” our limbs from each other in order to have freedom of bow control regardless of left-hand movement and pressure. This made playing bar 38-39 much easier when working on bow control in higher registers and therefore helped shifting, as we felt less stiff in our left-hands if our right-hand felt stable and in-control (see video across).
Spohr interestingly includes a fouette bow stroke in bar 41 over a large interval with guide-finger shift and both Sato and Debretzeni had useful ideas for emphasising this dramatic effect (see 2 videos and 2 audio recordings across). Sato suggested using a light fast shift as if you hit the body of the violin with the left hand), practising the guide finger shift first and then playing the whole gesture with smooth bow transition across the A and E strings, and Debretzeni suggested practicing the guide-finger shift slowly first then practising the gesture with a fast shift and slapping bow stroke for emphasis.43
Finally, the morendo section at the end of the exercise is a great opportunity for expressive portamenti and Sato and I explored different speeds of slide and bow pressure and speed to vary each slurred sighing figure. To create this lilting character, Sato suggested initially pressing the bow but releasing bow pressure and speed throughout the shift, with the first two as faster shifts and the third being quite languid with a drawn-out guide finger shift to signify the end of the piece (see video across).
In general, Beesley and I found that when we played in an overly stylised “Romantic” way we had more freedom to express our portamenti, vibrato and tempo flexibility by letting our creative intuition take over. This is similar to Sato’s view that we need to internalise the historical sources and then forget about them in order to create unique and spontaneous performances that are authentic to ourselves as musicians.44
From my own research and artistic experimentation, my view is that the main problematic issue to note when comparing vocal and violin technique in relation to execution of portamento is that the voice can create subtle slides and anticipations much more easily than a violin can, due to string crossings and difficulty of bow control. However, I believe that with practice and awareness, violinists can come very close to many of the vocal techniques explored in this study.
Survey responses from leading 19th-century HIP players and researchers
In order to gain a deeper understanding of both the variety and commonalities within the wider interpretation and understanding of current historically-informed execution of portamento in singing and string playing, I surveyed seven violinists and two singers who are leading practitioners in 19th-century performance practices, both as researchers and performers. I asked questions relating to:
The extent to which historical sources influence their interpretation of music of the period,
How and when they use different types of portamento,
Whether they have preferences for particular types of portamento for different characters of music, and
What general comments they have about execution and interpretation of portamento and 19th-century expressive devices.
I also asked the singers whether 19th-century gender roles or anatomical aspects influenced their portamento use and asked the string players to annotate an excerpt of a Schubert violin sonata with expressive fingerings indicating portamento use. I summarise the findings below but please see Appendix 5.1-5.5 for full responses to the survey questions from each musician. It is important to note that responses to this survey should not be taken as prescriptive rules for execution and placement of portamenti, as the variety in responses shows that the interpretation and execution of different portamenti are very personal issues and are ultimately determined by the expressive intent of each performer. However, these responses do give us an indication of some current trends in popularity of particular types of portamento and give us further insight into character appropriateness of different portamenti.
Question 1: Influence of historical sources on playing
All musicians surveyed find that historical documentation, whether it be written, recorded or both, influences the musical decisions they make. They regard the research as “transformative” and “enriching” to their playing and help them take risks and move away from “score-based” performance. As Sato states:
For me, historical sources contextualise, clarify, enrich and enliven music making. Yet, all while being source-hungry, I find it to be of utmost importance that the sources become so fully absorbed and embodied that one ‘forgets’ them, and the performance no longer noticeably conforms to the sources, but rather the content of the work in question and very importantly – the temperament of performer stand in the foreground. As the proverb goes: ‘art lies in concealing art.’45
While they are all heavily influenced by historical sources, they all generally regard individual musical integrity as the most important aspect of any performance, whether it be “historically informed” or otherwise.46
Question 1.1 (vocal): Anatomical and 19th-century gender roles influence on portamento and use in male vs female singers
As discussed in chapter 4, Garcia advises more portamento use in higher registers and Heinrich’s research shows that this may be because of the ease of vocal fold oscillation in higher registers.x David Greco also does not believe that the thickness of vocal chords would heavily influence the use of portamento in male vs female singers, although it may be a slight factor in the prominence of portamento in early recorded female singers, as opposed to less in male singers. On one hand, Koenraad Van Stade does not feel that gender plays a role in portamento use, but rather it is dependent on the singer’s overall technique, and he uses portamento where necessary, regardless of tessitura. On the other hand, Greco does in fact believe that gender roles in the 19th century played a part in the expressive nature of singing and that more research needs to be done on this issue.47
Question 2: Preferences for executions of different portamenti
Consistent with both the written 18th- and 19th-century sources and early-recorded singers and violinists, all string players surveyed find guide-finger shifting to be more desirable than destination-finger shifting, and most rarely shift after a bow change. In regard to bow speed and pressure, each musician uses a variety of bow techniques depending on the shift used, but the two that are least used are increasing bow speed during portamento and decreased bow pressure during portamento. Greco uses portamento most when sliding under the same syllable, to anticipate the start of a phrase, and tends to use a mixture of steady and increased breath pressure and speed. These types of portamento can be heard throughout the early-recorded singers examined in chapter 4. The vocal and string musicians surveyed generally find it easier to execute portamento when using rubato and tempo flexibility, and vice versa. This complements my conclusions from my own artistic experimentation and analysis of historical written and recorded sources.
Question 3: Expressivity of portamento
Both written and recorded historical sources evidence portamento use at “passionate” places, and almost everyone surveyed said that portamento was always useful in marking or emphasising dramatic or expressive moments in pieces.
Question 4: Types of portamento used for different characters
Stam has the view that “evoking emotions in a listener presumes a certain ingrained sound-response mechanism,” where listeners can interpret sounds in different ways, and he prefers to discuss the evoking of characters in music. I do not see the need to make this distinction, as it creates the same problems of listeners interpreting characters in varying ways, but nonetheless, there is scientific evidence of music evoking emotions (or characters) in people so I think it is important to consider how we can manipulate these responses in our playing or singing.
Question 4.1: Character appropriateness of different types of portamento
Both Garcia and Bériot discussed the character appropriateness of portamento. Garcia stated that portamento “must always be in accord with the spirit of the music,” best used in the language of drama, and suggested to use it “with moderation” in the “language of sorrow and mournfulness,” and more frequently in “passion” and “despair.”48 Bériot warns against “arbitrary” use of portamento and instead encourages basing portamento use on “the laws of prosody,” where the “abuse of portamento is impossible in all melody in which the prosody is good.”49 Brown notes that Bériot includes examples of “lively” portamento (Fig. 5.14) for “notes thrown with grace or hurled with energy,” “soft” portamento (Fig. 5.15) for notes “in tender expression,” and “drawn-out” portamento (Fig. 5.16) for “plaintive or sorrowful expression.”50 Bériot unfortunately does not explain the execution of each type of portamento in detail, except for slightly different lines connecting notes between which there should be portamenti, which most likely indicate speed and not necessarily bow speed or pressure.
Furthermore, as Albert B. Bach (1883) states:
Portamento has its place chiefly in pieces in which tender sentiment is to be expressed; yet in the representation of violent passions, and in the delineation of gloom, not less than of the serene, and even in the recitativo, it may not always be dispensed with. The artist’s taste has in most cases to decide where portamento may be employed. Expressiveness is both the object and the effect of the portamento, no matter whether love, grief, or joy be the emotions to be characterised. Still, as observed above, tender sentiment can least do without it.51
I asked musicians if they felt that portamento was a relevant expressive device for various characters in music, and if so, which type of portamento might be most appropriate for each character. I summarise the results below:
Some musicians said they would use a fast slide speed, some said to use a slow drawn-out slide with rubato, and many said to use lots of or increasing bow pressure or air flow during the slide.
Some associated this character with the perceived late-19th-century Franco-Belgian style of playing and therefore would use destination-finger shifts, generally with less but steady bow speed and air flow but a variety of bow pressure, and sometimes with a slide that has a faster beginning with slowing at the end.
Many found that this character had similarities to “sentimental,” and indicated a slow to moderate slide speed, maybe with a subtler slide (i.e. lighter life-hand finger pressure during the slide), with decreased bow speed and pressure during the slide (or flautando effect). Slides on descending 4ths or 6ths could also be appropriate to create a sighing effect in this character.
Some think that portamento is not very appropriate in faster or joyful music but others had definite answers for portamenti in this character, such as rapid and light slides, sometimes increasing the speed of slide during the portamento, quick bow speed and possibly light bow pressure. Increased bow pressure and slow bow speed with a drawn-out slide can also be useful for particularly comical or farcical moments. The Corri leaping grace also seems quite appropriate in singing joyful and playful music.
It seems that portamento are thought of as generally not very appropriate in solemn music, but if used, one could use discreet slow slides with steady bow speed and pressure. Unlike the majority of those surveyed, Stam suggested “languid” and “drawn-out” slides, that may not be so discreet in contrast to other views.
Brown described the possibility of using intense and sometimes increasing or decreasing bow pressure with vibrato for a passionate character. All musicians surveyed generally found rubato integral to executing portamento, although maybe not in solemn passages, while Stam believes that “you can use portamento in any context.”
Question 5: Expressive fingering choices for the opening of Schubert’s Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 162
Figure 5.17: excerpt of Schubert’s Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 162: Allegro moderato, opening 25 bars, without annotations from surveyed string players.52
I asked each string player to annotate this excerpt of Schubert’s Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 162 (Fig. 5.17) in order to indicate expressive fingerings (portamento).53 Most musicians chose to slide up to a harmonic for the A5 in bar 10 and chose same-finger slides under slurs for chromatic movements. Only Beesley and Milsom gave some indication of the types of slides they envisaged, with Beesley using only shifts with guide- or same-finger under a slur or before bow change, and with Milsom indicating a variety of slide shift speeds and bow speed and pressure markings for each shift. Four of the seven musicians chose to stay on the A string at the end of the excerpt with historically-appropriate una corda fingerings. Stam, Debretzeni and Schayegh all had one instance of changing fingers on a repeated note into the G5 in bar 11 but used different fingerings for this change; Brown had one instance, but it was into the E5 in bar 12 instead; and Milsom changed fingers into bar 12 as well but indicated that there was to be no audible slide when changing fingers. This comparison of fingering choices shows that each of these leading historically-informed 19th-century performance practitioners have a common stylistic language and view fingering as an expressive device, but that they all have slightly different ways of thinking about what is appropriately expressive for this context. This further strengthens my argument that we need to internalise the 19th-century expressive language and then make it our own unique way of communicating.
Question 6: General comments from the survey
Beesley stated that “singers and string playing in early recordings” show “nuanced rhythmic alterations, tempo rubato and portamento,” and “give the modern performer a wealth of choices.” This style of performance becomes “ingrained when this type of shifting is the basis of one’s left hand technique” and “creates the possibilities of freedom in performance.” Stam views portamento as “closely connected with historical approaches to singing” and thinks that it can help “colour” our approach to performance, and that portamento “offers numerous possibilities for variation” which can be “widely used in solo, chamber music and orchestral playing resulting in a very pleasant effect.” Milsom believes that we need to think more about the “direction of slides” and that use of portamento is dependent on instrumentation and string choice, as he believes that modern strings make sliding less obvious, “which means … that a deliberate use of them for stylistic effect needs to stress them more,” while gut strings naturally make portamento more conspicuous. However, it always “depends upon context,” not only between modern and HIP orchestras, but also depending on temperature and humidity of the hall and their effect on strings. Generally, Milsom tries to have freedom “up to a point” in musical choices when performing and does not like to lay down rules. He uses the device with “circumspection” due to scholarly performance often being “wooden” but also encourages the use of portamento with enthusiasm. Schayegh tries to have “regular bow pressure during the execution of a portamento in order NOT to hide the shift.”
From a technical point of view, Brown finds that the position of the left-hand thumb and moving it before shifting “makes a considerable difference.” Sato notes that gut strings are extremely reactive and this “tactile quality can be very useful where the left-hand fingers and portamento are concerned,” and it is useful to experiment with different left- and right- hand pressure and speed when exploring which portamento you would like to use in your playing. He finds the tactile element just as important, if not more, than the “emotional, musical or theoretical aspects of any given portamento.” Both Van Stade and Debretzeni believe that the use of different types of portamento is “heavily depended on individual cases,” and that there are “no hard rules.” Similarly, Greco believes that there is “no ‘set portamento’ for any ‘set emotion’ … it is always up to the will of the performer.” Additionally, Sato tries not to let recording sessions affect the spontaneity and frequency/audibility of his portamento.
In conclusion, however, I find that Sato’s words ring very true for my argument that portamento is a fundamental communicative and expressive tool that can move the listener:
It’s a good thing to remind ourselves that the reason why we’re trying to ‘revive’ portamento, tempo rubato and other such expressive devices is because it brings us closer to natural human expression. Irregularity, fluctuation, lack of consistency, approximate, these are endearingly (or frustratingly) human attributes. Portamento belongs to a broad family of expression and can seldom be considered on its own.54
My own artistic experimentation with Schubert’s music
In the previous sections we discussed vocal and violin portamento techniques and the similarities and differences in the interpretation of portamento use by leading 19th-century HIP vocal and string practitioners. Now I will discuss my own artistic experimentation with portamento in Schubert’s music, using Sonic Visualiser audio analysis software to analyse my findings.
Schubert Violin Sonata in D Major, No. 1, Op. 137: Andante (composed 1816, published 1836)
Sections B, C and D played by Emma Williams and Henriette Wirth
Figure 5.18: annotated score of my interpretation of sections B, C and D of Schubert’s Violin Sonata in D Major, No. 1, Op. 137: Andante.55
This calm and charming movement (Fig. 5.18) is extremely beautiful, and the repeated sections give an opportunity to experiment with different expressive fingerings. In addition to expressive fingering choices, I used varying bow pressure and speed to highlight different types of portamento. I found that if I sang the melody before playing it, I was able to execute the portamenti and rubato in a more effective way.56
The character of this section is marked “espressivo” and is simple and naïve, but with some sense of longing (due to the change in harmony from A major to A minor). Due to the historical written and recorded evidence of portamento use in “espressivo” sections, I felt that portamento use in this section was appropriate. To create variety in the repeated section, I kept the first statement quite simple with subtle slides and then in the repeat I used a fast linear same-finger portamento to the harmonic D5 in bar 3 with increased bow pressure and speed and a basically linear rate of pitch change (Fig. 5.19), a same-finger slide from C5 to E5 in bar 7 with constant bow pressure and speed and linear/constant rate of change of pitch, and obvious finger changes on the repeated D5 in bar 7-8 with a releasing of the bow in between notes to re-articulate them (Fig. 5.20).
Figure 5.19: spectrogram image of my fast linear same-finger portamento to the harmonic D5 in bar 3 with increased bow pressure and speed and a basically linear rate of pitch change (See Appendix 4.2 for mathematical shape descriptions).
Figure 5.20: spectrogram image of my obvious finger changes on the repeated D5 in bar 7-8 with releasing bow pressure in between notes to re-articulate them.
The character of this section is more dramatic and intensifying, with some foreshadowing of the next section. Again, I used simple fingering the first time, with a subtle slide down to the open A4 in bar 2 and a same-finger slide under a slur to the harmonic in bar 9. The repeat had similar fingerings but were executed in different ways to emphasise the dramatic character of the repeated section: the slide to open A4 was more obvious and slower than the first time (Fig. 5.21), with decreasing bow speed and pressure and a basically linear rate of pitch change, and the final two bars were all 3rd finger same-finger shifts with varying bow pressure and speed either under a slur or before a bow change (Fig. 5.22), which is consistent with historical written and recorded evidence of the desired types of portamento execution.
Figure 5.21: spectrogram image of my obvious slow slide to open A4 (linear rate of pitch change), with decreasing bow speed and pressure.
Figure 5.22: spectrogram image of my same-finger (3rd-finger) shifts with varying bow pressure and speed either under a slur or before a bow change.
The character of this section is crying out, sighing, and builds to the climax in bar 11 and 12 of the section. The tension from sections B and C that the audience hoped would be resolved are still left hanging in the air due to the final dominant chord of the section, but this leads back into the A major theme the following bar and finally releases the tension. For this section, I chose to slide fast with a same-finger portamento under a slur to both harmonics, with increased bow speed but releasing pressure, and used rubato (in bar 6 and 10). In bar 10 I used an ascending negative exponential decay portamento slide (y=-e-x) when sliding to the A5 harmonic, i.e. the ascending slide got faster as it approached the destination note. In bar 11-12 I changed fingers on each repeated note with constant bow pressure and speed to further emphasise the rallentando and eventual release of tension built up during these 3 sections (Fig. 5.23).
Figure 5.23: spectrogram images of my changing of fingers on each repeated note, played with constant bow pressure and speed
Artistic experimentation with Schubert’s instrumental music based on his Lieder
Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” (“Der Tod und das Mädchen”) String Quartet in D minor, No. 14: Andante con moto, D. 810 (1824)
Lied sung by David Greco
String quartet played by ZeeheldenQuartet on period instruments (Sophie Wedell; violin 1, Emma Williams: violin 2, Takuto Takagishi: viola, Yotam Haran: cello)
The theme of the second movement of Schubert’s “Der Tod und das Mädchen” String Quartet is based on The Death (“Der Tod”) theme of the Lied of the same name, D. 531, Op. 7, No. 3, (1817) (Fig. 5.24).
Figure 5.24: Lied score for “Der Tod” section of Der Tod und das Mädchen.57
For my artistic experimentation, I first recorded Greco singing the excerpt of Schubert’s Lied and then when playing the instrumental version, my quartet and I used this recording as inspiration for expression. We found that in general we made use of subtle vocal portamenti for the solemn character (Fig. 5.25). This movement could work very effectively if played completely straight (without portamento or tempo rubato) but I feel that our use of portamento and rubato was suitably expressive and emphasised key notes and painful moments in the phrases. We recorded two versions of the excerpt. First, we tried some obvious guide-finger before-bow-change portamento types of varying lengths as well as some destination-finger portamento after the bow change (Fig. 5.26). I think this version is still beautiful and solemn but the portamenti types may have been too obvious for some tastes. Second, we recorded a version that was more static and our use of portamento was subtler (Fig. 5.27). We only used guide-finger shifts before the bow change and made the speeds and shapes of slides faster and used less bow pressure for each slide, as compared with the first version. This subtler version could be more acceptable to modern ears and, in my opinion, captures the solemn character. In both versions we interpreted dynamic markings as indications for both dynamic and tempo change, pushing during crescendi and slowing during decrescendi, and we found that often the use of portamenti helped us slow down naturally (such as in bar 13, 14-15, 23-24). Yotam Haran used the final Corri grace in Greco’s recording as inspiration for his final portamento by dotting the last note with an equivalent leaping grace (slow guide-finger slide before the bow change with clear rearticulation of the destination note), and I took inspiration from Greco’s rhythmic freedom and dotted the D4 and E4 in bar 15 in the same manner that Greco altered some rhythms in the Lied. This experimentation was extremely interesting and useful for our ensemble playing. However, more research should be undertaken in expressive portamento use in chamber music.
Figure 5.26: Annotated score of artistic experimentation of “Der Tod und das Mädchen” String Quartet: Andante con moto (first version). Note that red markings indicate guide-finger slides before the bow change, purple indicate destination-finger slides after the bow change, and black indicate dynamic and tempo markings.58
Figure 5.27: Annotated score of artistic experimentation of “Der Tod und das Mädchen” String Quartet: Andante con moto (second version). Note that red markings indicate guide-finger slides before the bow change, purple indicate destination-finger slides after the bow change, and black indicate dynamic and tempo markings.59
Schubert’s “Trout” Piano Quintet in A Major, D. 667: Tema con variazione. Andantino (1819)
Lied sung by David Greco
Piano quintet played on period instruments by Emma Williams: violin, Takuto Takagishi: viola, Yotam Haran: cello, Jesse Feves: double bass, Henriette Wirth: piano
The fourth movement of Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet is a set of variations on Schubert’s Lied, Die Forelle (The Trout), D. 550 (1816) (Fig. 5.28). This playful song describes a “darting” and “happy” trout swimming in a brook (Fig. 5.29). David Greco’s recording captures this character very effectively with his use of lively portamenti, using a variety of speeds and shapes of slides and using both before and after destination syllable slides throughout. After recording and listening to Greco’s performance of the Lied, my piano quintet and I tried to take inspiration from the voice and use simple and playful portamenti in the opening theme of the fourth movement of the “Trout” Quintet. Our portamento use can be heard in the recording and annotated score in Fig. 5.30. In the limited time we had it was difficult to find a convincing way to imitate the subtle and playful vocal portamenti in our string playing. It is interesting to note these difficulties so that further study can be done in the execution of playful portamenti in this context, as I feel we did not achieve a convincing result.
Figure 5.28: Lied score for Die Forelle.60
Figure 5.30: Annotated score of artistic experimentation of Schubert’s “Trout” Piano Quintet in A Major: Tema con variazione. Andantino. Note that red markings indicate guide-finger slides either under a slur or before the bow change, orange indicate same-finger slides under a slur, and black indicate dynamic and tempo markings. Also note that the first repeat of the opening theme had no portamenti, so the markings are indicated for the second repeat only.61
Discussion and Conclusions
Music is one of the closest art forms to natural, vocal human communication and singing can easily use aspects of natural speech patterns and rhetoric to enhance expressivity of performance. We now have a better understanding of the late-18th- to early-20th-century written and recorded sources of both vocal and violin playing styles, as well as their relationship to each other and to the possible performance practices of Schubert’s time. It is important to explore and understand how and why this expressive language, in which portamento is integral, is so important in evoking emotions in the listener and why it was lost, in order to make portamento relevant again in a modern context. In this chapter I analysed the factors that could have contributed to the major aesthetic style change of the 20th century, including recording technology and distribution encouraging the need to clean up performances so that they are repeatable, fashions naturally burning themselves out over time, steel strings making portamenti more obtrusive, and neophilia—the obsession with what is new or novel. Whatever the reason, musical styles changed drastically during the 20th century. However, the expressive points of music have basically not changed in the last 100 years at least, and these musical moments might be a good starting point for the reintroduction of portamento use in a way that is the least shocking and obtrusive.
I also found it important to understand the emotional responses to and associations with different types of portamento. Through my research I re-affirmed that music is referential, and it is important to understand to what we are referring when we execute different expressive types of portamento in order to evoke emotional responses in our listeners. Portamento helps give the illusion of language through imitation of the contours of speech in exaggerated form and so it is integral to meaningful and engaging musical performance. Portamento also shares characteristics with the calm, direct, trusting adult-infant language of Motherese and holds the attention of listeners more than any other form of communication. This association can be tapped into especially when using portamenti in contexts common to Motherese, including lullabies and playful music, but also in any character if the execution of portamento is considered within the expressive intent. However, this can sometimes be difficult, as a “mismatch” of expressive devices in combination with portamento can result in unintentional expressive effects that sound unconvincing. This is why I felt the need to experiment with different portamento use in my own playing and seek advice from other leading 19th-century HIP practitioners in order to understand the range of effects different portamento can have on musical expression.
Through my own artistic experimentation, and through collaborating with leading 19th-century HIP vocal and string practitioners, I solidified the link between early vocal exercises and 19th-century violin shifting techniques and found that practising variations on two main types of shifting techniques helped me expand the variety of portamento use in my playing. I also explored different portamento uses in Spohr’s duet, finding that freedom in my use of other 19th-century expressive devices, especially rubato and different bow pressure and speed, helped make the execution of different types of portamento more effective. In my own experimentation with Schubert’s Violin Sonata in D Major, No. 1: Andante I found that a variety of portamento types were necessary to emphasise my expressive intentions. When interpreting the "Trout" Piano Quintet after listening to the Lied on which it was based, I found it difficult to imitate the playful vocal portamenti in Greco’s singing when playing the melody on violin, as the voice can execute such portamenti much more easily than the violin. In contrast, when interpretting the “Death and a Maiden” String Quartet after listening to the Lied, we were able to create quite effective subtle and expressively appropriate portamenti that enhanced the sombre character of the phrases.
My survey of important 19th-century HIP researchers and performers resulted in a better understanding of the range in interpretation of portamento in current playing styles. The consensus of desired portamento types was consistent with 19th-cenutry written and recorded documentation. All surveyed musicians found that character appropriateness of portamento was far more important than following any “rules” of execution, which I also found important to remember in my own playing. Most commented on the importance of understanding early vocal style in order to better interpret 19th-century string music; all were convinced of the importance of understanding and internalising the historical sources to the extent that one can then “forget” them and just focus on the musical intention when in the moment of performing, so that the expressive devices are executed as naturally as possible. It is also important to understand and remember the reasons why we are trying to reignite this historical expressive language - it brings us closer to natural human expression and communication and as such portamento cannot be considered on its own, because it belongs to this wider family of expression.
David octaves shift exercise: type 1 releasing methodical practice version (note that the sliding sound of the released finger during the shift should be quite distorted, as the left-hand finger releases to the harmonic position on the string, rather than a stopped "real" note)
David unison shift exercise: type 1 releasing methodical practice version (note that the sliding sound of the released finger during the shift should be quite distorted, as the left-hand finger releases to the harmonic position on the string, rather than a stopped "real" note)
David fourths shift exercise: type 1 releasing methodical practice version (note that the sliding sound of the released finger during the shift should be quite distorted, as the left-hand finger releases to the harmonic position on the string, rather than a stopped "real" note)
ZeeheldenQuartet play excerpt from Schubert's “Der Tod und das Mädchen” String Quartet: Andante con moto (first version).
ZeeheldenQuartet play excerpt from Schubert's “Der Tod und das Mädchen” String Quartet: Andante con moto (second version).
Slow motion video of Type 1: releasing the left-hand finger to the harmonic position when sliding, but staying in contact with the string (use full screen view to see differences in left-hand finger pressure for each video)
Slow motion video of Type 2: keeping the left-hand finger pressed on the string so that it is still in contact with the fingerboard during the shift (use full screen view to see differences in left-hand finger pressure for each video)
Zeehelden Piano Quintet play excerpt from Schubert’s “Trout” Piano Quintet in A Major: Tema con variazione. Andantino (second version - with portamenti).
Zeehelden Piano Quintet play excerpt from Schubert’s “Trout” Piano Quintet in A Major: Tema con variazione. Andantino (first version - plain without portamenti).
Rachael and I play full Spohr duet with varied portamento and rubato use