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Phrasing and articulation

Making space and punctuation

Many baroque composers and theorists talk about music in terms of words and sentences, where a complete musical 'sentence' (concluded by a cadence) may be seen as made up of smaller phrases (sub clauses or even individual words). Just as a speaker would breathe at commas and full stops, so a piece of music needs its own punctuation. Where composers from later periods often indicate breathing space with a rest or a comma, baroque composers tended to leave it to the intuition of the performer. The fact that there are no rests in a piece doesn't mean we don't make any breaks!

Our music makes more sense if we include punctuation points, but, we don't want to interrupt the flow by introducing a lot of 'stopping and starting'. In order to introduce some punctuation into your performance, you may find it better not to play every note to its full length. For example, it may be advisable slightly to shorten a long note at the end of a phrase in order to make some space before beginning the new phrase; thus allowing the music to breathe without interrupting the underlying pulse. This, of course, is what a singer or wind instrumentalist has to do in order to keep going!

In this clip, Nick explains how we should consider the way we speak when phrasing Telemann's Largo.


Sometimes we can hear 'questions' inflected in the music. On some occasions, the viola asks and answers its own questions, on others it is in 'conversation' with the orchestra:


Here, Nick looks at how a player can imitate the spoken voice by introducing 'punctuation' or 'air' between the notes. He explains how, making a gap before the second beat of the bar highlights the characteristic yearning sarabande rhythm, which leans towards the second beat of the bar.

Here, Nick explores making space between the bow strokes in the Allegro:


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