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Joined: Apr 2021
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Hello,

I was looking through some pieces over at pianosyllabus.com and came across Beethoven piano sonata no. 9 in E major



https://pianosyllabus.com/x-detail.php?ref=52193559

At measure 23 there are slurred staccatos, which seems like an oxymoron to me. I'm curious how this would be played? Judging from the recording it sounds like the pianist gives them their full value, but doesn't exactly slur them? it's hard to tell with the reverb and all

Secondly, I kind of can't believe this piece is only grade 8. It seems more virtuosic to me. Especially when the grade 8 benchmark piece is this mozart sonata:




Which seems significantly easier to me.

Any thoughts?


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That is called leggiero. It means you play the notes lightly, without pressure and usually somewhat softly. They are neither staccato nor legato but somewhere in between.

I haven’t checked the difficulty of the piece but all of Beethoven is difficult to play well.


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Imagine if you have to play the C major scale as legato as possible, but with your index finger only. That's the articulation that is intended with the symbol, which is referred to as portato. The equivalent articulation in string instrument can be achieved by playing a passage in a single bow (which normally would be legato) but with each note slightly accented. In wind/brass instruments it's achieved by articulating the tongue, also within a single breath.


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I learned it when I was choosing my G8 ABRSM pieces, back in the day when you still had to play a complete sonata. I believe that it is one of his easier sonatas. I don't remember it being any more fearsome than the other pieces.
(G8 is the top grade of the standard syllabus of the ABRSM and may correspond to another system's higher grade.)

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The best i sto listen to Fitch explaining what it is. at 4.50 but the whole vid is interesting.


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And, yet, here is Leslie Howard at 1:45 saying to use half-pedal.


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You might find it interesting that in the Andante of Mozart K. 283, most people play the subject as if it were portato (with or without pedal) - even though the notated articulation is staccato. It seems that only Pires plays it staccato, and even then she's not consistent as she disregards the staccato in the fourth beat.

[Linked Image]


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Oops. Looks like I mixed up leggiero and portato. That’s what I get for posting after a long day. Apologies.


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It looks like your initial question was answered. I actually think Beethoven often isn't quite as challenging as it initially seems, at least playing all the notes. Not that the music isn't frightfully difficult in interpretation and musicality, rather the music is very textured and layered which makes it sound grander than something like Mozart, which can prove to be very awkward and difficult because of how scant it is. I also think the Beethoven isn't as difficult as it seems because it's such a joy to play. It is so easy to get lost in practicing a Beethoven sonata and it tends to fit really nicely in the hands. I recommend trying the Op. 14 No. 1. I've played its sister work and it's great as well, similar in difficulty. Both works have movements 1&2 or 2&3 listed as a Grade 10 in RCM selection, which is approx. ABRSM Grade 8.

Edit: difficulty is obviously very subjective, but I think that the two works are in the same ballpark personally

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The articulation is portato. It is all over the scores of Debussy's piano music

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Howard Ferguson, in his edition of Beethoven's Bagatelles, explains that Beethoven always used the "staccato" dot under a slur - which means mezzo-staccato - and the upright wedge to indicate a normal staccato in the Bagatelles. I used to think slurred dots meant portato in the Op 126 Bagatelles until I read Ferguson's notes properly. Not sure if this applies to all Beethoven.

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Originally Posted by sandalholme
Howard Ferguson, in his edition of Beethoven's Bagatelles, explains that Beethoven always used the "staccato" dot under a slur - which means mezzo-staccato - and the upright wedge to indicate a normal staccato in the Bagatelles. I used to think slurred dots meant portato in the Op 126 Bagatelles until I read Ferguson's notes properly. Not sure if this applies to all Beethoven.
What's the difference between mezzo staccato and portato?

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Originally Posted by sandalholme
Howard Ferguson, in his edition of Beethoven's Bagatelles, explains that Beethoven always used the "staccato" dot under a slur - which means mezzo-staccato - and the upright wedge to indicate a normal staccato in the Bagatelles. I used to think slurred dots meant portato in the Op 126 Bagatelles until I read Ferguson's notes properly. Not sure if this applies to all Beethoven.

That is a theory which does not have consensus. In the early compositions of Beethoven, one will find both the dot (unslurred) and the dash. Beethoven was using both, with the dash indicating a somehow more sharper staccato. For example in the opus 33, the first edition published in 1803 does show both dots and dashes, which is confirmed by the autograph. When slurred the dots indicates a portato, but as usual, the exact duration is just a matter of musical appreciation.

There is no doubt that Beethoven made a difference. The problem is that editors were rather casual and Beethoven writing is not always clear. So in many cases editors either aligned all marks on dots or dashes or interpreted them. For many sonatas the autograph is lost and so we cant check. In that case the usual policy of modern urtext is to use either only dots or dashes (when they do use both signs) except for the portato which is always dots. It is then to the pianist to decide of the exact nature of the mark, accentuation and duration.

Later in his career, Beethoven seems to have simplified his writing and unslurred dots appear rarely in the autographs that survived.

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Originally Posted by cygnusdei
You might find it interesting that in the Andante of Mozart K. 283, most people play the subject as if it were portato (with or without pedal) - even though the notated articulation is staccato. It seems that only Pires plays it staccato, and even then she's not consistent as she disregards the staccato in the fourth beat.

[Linked Image]

Pires is using an urtext edition which has a wedge/dash on the 4th beat - stacatto for that note is out of the question regardless, in my opinion.

I would upload the picture I took of my edition to demonstrate, but I guess you can't do that on this forum.

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Originally Posted by cygnusdei
You might find it interesting that in the Andante of Mozart K. 283, most people play the subject as if it were portato (with or without pedal) - even though the notated articulation is staccato. It seems that only Pires plays it staccato, and even then she's not consistent as she disregards the staccato in the fourth beat.

[Linked Image]

Mozart used most frequently the wedge for staccato, though not consistently. He used the dot in certain specific cases, certainly for portato when slurred and also very often for groups of notes in particular repeated notes. It usually stands for a very mild staccato with a light touch, nearly non legato.

Even when notated with a wedge, the exact duration of the staccato is anyway always subject to musical context.


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