Annata N.5 (2012)

Loukia Drosopoulou
Articulation Markings in Manuscript Sources of
Luigi Boccherini's String Quintets


Unlike many eighteenth-century virtuoso violoncellists, Luigi Boccherini did not write a string treatise. His influence and contribution to historical performance practice is widely known today through his solo works, his violoncello sonatas and concertos, which best reflect his virtuosic techniques and overall use of the instrument.1 Yet, his chamber works present a remarkable detail and variety in the notation of dynamic, articulation and special-effect markings, constituting them an equally important source for the study of performance practice in his works, and arguably also of eighteenth-century repertoire in general.
The present paper focuses on articulation markings in Boccherini's string quintets, citing examples from autograph as well as manuscript copies of these works. Markings that are discussed include terms and signs used to denote a detached execution, different types of portato articulation, as well as certain aspects concerning the use of slurs in these works. Terms that are addressed include rare ones, often not discussed in contemporary string treatises, as well as common ones, and their distinct meaning and use from today.

Terms Signifying a Detached Execution

Stracinato and sciolto

Boccherini's vocabulary and notations for a detached execution include terms such as the common staccato as well as dots and strokes, but also more rare terms such as stracinato and sciolto. The term stracinato in particular is not discussed in contemporary treatises, and so the string quintets become an important resource for the understanding of this term.
Stracinato (from the verb strascinare and in modern Italian 'trascinare'), i.e. 'to drag, to sweep', is used in Boccherini's works to indicate a particular, detached, bowing technique. We find this term usually used for quaver notes in a moderate tempo, although the term is also found for semiquaver passages, likewise not in a very fast tempo. It seems that this term required a less audible separation of notes, a broader detached stroke, and was used for an emphatic performance; this explains perhaps its use towards cadential passages, as observed by Ellen Amsterdam.2 In early string treatises, the only known one in which this term is discussed is Pierre Baillot's L'art du violon of 1835, which cites examples though from Boccherini's string quintets for the explanation of this term.3 Baillot includes the term under the section: 'The Sustained Détaché, or Détaché with Pressure', further indicating the use of a broader stroke for this articulation.
Its emphatic use is perhaps also the reason that it is not found in rapid passagework, for the use of a sustained stroke for such figuration would have a rather prominent and heavy effect. It should be noted though that its use as an indication of a sustained bow stroke does not necessarily imply the use of additional bow pressure, especially since we mostly find stracinato used in combination with soft dynamics such as piano and dolce. The term is also combined with the special-effect terms flautato and sul ponticello, further indicating that this was an articulation specifying the length of the bow stroke rather than the point of contact of the bow on the string.
In the example below stracinato is used in the first violin and first and second violoncello parts for emphasis towards the unexpected cadence in the last bar. A broader bow stroke seems appropriate for the stracinato instruction, together with additional weight, signified also by the use of rinforzando in conjunction with stracinato.


Example 1. String Quintet Op. 31 No. 3 in B flat major of 1780 (G 327). i. Andante Lento, bars 64-67. Source: D-B KHM 503, p. 9.


1 Recent studies that discuss aspects of technique and performance practice in Boccherini's solo works include Christian Speck's article, Luigi Boccherini as Cellist and his Music for Cello, «Early Music», 33/2, 2005, pp. 191-210, and Elisabeth Le Guin's monograph Boccherini's Body: an essay in carnal musicology, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 2006.

2 ELLEN IRIS AMSTERDAM, The String Quintets of Luigi Boccherini, PhD diss., University of California, 1968, p. 68.

3 PIERRE MARIE FRANÇOIS DE SALES BAILLOT, L'art du violon: nouvelle méthode, Paris, Au Dépôt Central de la Musique, 1835; trans. and ed. LOUISE GOLDBERG as The Art of the Violin, Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1991, pp. 188-189.