Beth Pei-Fen Chen

The Development of Mozart’s Slurring and its Possible Functions in Performance

Beth Pei-Fen Chen
PhD in Musicology, University of Manchester, 2009

This is the first attempt to make an extensive investigation into Mozart’s slurring by examining his autographs. Several issues are covered in this research, including the development of Mozart slurring indication, the possible meaning of his slurs, and the rôle of his slurs in the music. It is hoped that this study could provide first-hand information on how editors can transcribe Mozart’s inconsistent slurs, unusual slurrings, and seemingly random slurring variants, how performers can explain Mozart’s usual and unusual slurs as performing guidance, and how researchers might date some of Mozart’s works according to his slurring patterns.

This thesis investigates approximately 150 of Mozart’s autographs, in order to trace the usage and function of his slurring for string, keyboard, wind instruments, and for voices, from his youth to his final years. Alongside these investigations, several 17th – and 18th– century treatises are probed for clues as to how and why slurs were introduced, used, and indicated. The survey also encompasses a brief search of other composers’ slurring from the end of the 17th century to the 18th century. The importance of Mozart’s musical environment with regard to notational signs at the time is also taken into account.

On the basis of this research so far, it shows that Mozart was mostly very clear with his slurring indications and he intended to indicate instrumental slurs as performing guidance, whereas his vocal slurs were nearly always bound within the traditional usage.

Mozart’s autographs show that his slurring changed greatly from his childhood to his final years. He indicated very few slurs in his early works, but by the middle of the 1770s he tended to mark every slur for string, keyboard and wind instruments. After he moved to Vienna, he suddenly wanted to extend the length of a legato line, and thus he frequently applied his new indication: a series of adjoining ties and slurs in alternation,[1] particularly in 1782 and 1783. He seems to have also created his own notational indications in order to give further performing guidance. In later years, he occasionally still sought new slurring or new usages of slurs for instrumental or vocal music, in order to characterise his music and guide performers more clearly.

[1] This means a series of slur-tie-slur-tie-slur-tie-slur connections.

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