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Questions and Answers

Helpful Inquiries Answered by a Famous Authority
Professor of Theory at the New England Conservatory

Q. What is the difference between the tremolo and the vibrato in singing? Is there the same difference in violin playing?— iMusicus.

A. In singing, many people would call a vibrato a tremolo, but a distinction should be made. A tremolo in this case would be a regular series of swells and subsidences in volume, while the vibrato would be a regular recurrence of a very slight rise in pitch. This would make the vocal vibrato the same as that of the violin, which is obtained by swaying the left hand regularly while keeping the finger on the string. The violin tremolo is wholly different in principle, if not effect, for it is a series of separate tones made by moving the bow rapidly to and fro. Monteverde introduced this, to picture suspense; and we often hear it in the melodramas of to-day, when the villain is about to kill the hero, or the heroine is dying in a snow-storm. The vibrato of the voice is not much cultivated or cared for in Germany, England or America, but in France and Italy the public craves it, especially in the male voice.

Q. I have read explanations given by several authorities, about the time and accentuation of appogiaturas and double grace notes (two grace notes following each other and preceding a principal note). Their opinions differ widely. Will you please give an opinion about it, and about the following examples in particular.

Example 1, Karganoff, Nocturne, Op. 18, No. 1; measures 10, 13, 16, also


Example 2, Grieg, Danse Caprice, Op. 28, No. 3; measures 1. 2, 9, 10, etc.

Should these double grace notes be played as a mordent, with the accent on the first note?

qa_002.jpgThe Etude makes it a strict rule not to answer questions pertaining to particular pieces except in special cases where a broad principle is involved.

It is very difficult to make hard and fast rules regarding embellishment notes. I can only give you my individual opinion, as follows:

In example 1, play the first double grace note before the bass note, but the others may be played as triplets (quick mordents) accenting the first grace note. In example 2 play the grace notes before the bass notes and do not accent them, give the accent on the principal note.

Example 3, Strelezki, Mazurka, Op. 195, No. 2, measure 16. Which note should be accented, and should the first grace note be played on the beat or should the grace notes be played before the beat in this case?


Example 4, Bendel. By Moonlight, Op. 139, No. 3, measure 19. Should grace notes b, a, preceding g on fifth beat be played as a triplet on fifth beat, or as passing notes between fourth and fifth beats, striking the principal note g on the fifth beat?


In each of the above examples play the grace notes before the beat and accent the principal for following note.

Example 5. Should not these three grace notes be played before the beat, and the first vote of the trill struck with the arpeggio chord in the bass?


Example 6. Which note should have the accent c or b?


M. E. K.

In example 5 you can begin with a quick mordent (or proller) almost a triplet, but the last three grace notes are to be unaccented and played before the beat, the trill beginning the final measure.

In example 6 accent b but sustain the c sharp. The c sharp is to have the effect of a short grace note. Remember also that what you have called “mordent” is by many teachers called a “proller.” I prefer your use of the term “mordent.” See “Mistakes and Disputed Points of Music.”

Q. Is it possible to imitate orchestral instruments on the piano?—L. J. C.

A. Not very effectively. One can imitate the effect of horns, not in their tone-color, but in their progressions, and one might give the snappy shrieks of the piccolo, but the general effects of tone-color cannot be imitated upon the piano. Liszt once challenged this idea by playing the nine symphonies of Beethoven upon the piano, but the composers laughed at the idea of bringing out orchestral tone-colors upon the piano, and Liszt himself did not insist upon this plan, which he probably executed more out of bravado than for any other reason. The orchestral picture may be compared to an oil painting, the best piano transcription to a good etching. The piano suggests orchestral effects just about as much, or as little, as the black and white of an etching suggests actual colors.

Q. Is it possible to enjoy Wagner opera without being able to distinguish the “leitmotivs?”—that is to say without studying them, at home before going to the opera.— E. B. T.

A. Yes. There would be some enjoyment to the musical auditor, although in a far less degree than if he had prepared himself. He would find beautiful melodic touches, rich harmonies, and would be able to understand some of the figures by their fitness and by their position in the music-drama. He might, however, often be in about the same case as an American spectator, entirely innocent of any knowledge of foreign languages, watching a great performance by Eleonora Duse, or a representation by Sarah Bernhardt.


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