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Thread: Pizzicato on bowed string instruments

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    Default Pizzicato on bowed string instruments

    I thoroughly hate the use of pizzicato, and was wondering what others thought of the technique. I prefer beautiful, flowing music; pizzicato always manages to negatively impact that beauty and flow. It comes off many times as extraneous, as if it's almost noise that doesn't otherwise belong in the composition. Obviously many if not all great composers and arrangers thought that it added something positive, I just don't see it. I can be losing myself in the beauty of a piece, then out of nowhere... bloomp... bloomp... bloomp, bloomp, bloomp.

    Take Bruckner, who used pizzicato quite often. He composed beautiful slow movements that in my opinion had their beauty and flow interrupted by the inclusion of pizzicato. He would include the harp as part of the instrumentation, which produce a variety of beautiful sounds. Within the same piece, where he could have used additional harp plucking to further develop a heavenly sound, he opted for pizzicato instead, which produces a seemingly limited array of dull sounds.

    Am I the only one who finds pizzicato intolerable? Do listeners generally feel that pizzicato makes a composition better or more complete?

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    Senior Member aleazk's Avatar
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    I love pizzicato. But I agree that when is badly used can be particularly annoying, and specifically in music from the romantic period.

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    Senior Member Hausmusik's Avatar
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    I find it odd for anybody to "thoroughly hate" pizzicato. Can you give an example of "intolerable" pizz. beyond Bruckner? Do you listen to string quartets much? The genre would be quite impoverished if composers never explored possibilities beyond bowed strings.
    Last edited by Hausmusik; Oct-24-2012 at 01:32.

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    Senior Member Chrythes's Avatar
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    I love pizzicato. It's very rhythmic and suitable when you need to hold a harmonious background very subtly. I can't imagine Bartok String Quartets without the pizzicato, nor Mahler's Symphony 7 Scherzo part, Brahms 4 Symphony II movement, Ravel String Quartet and many other string quartets.
    Last edited by Chrythes; Oct-24-2012 at 01:34.

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    Can you give an example of "intolerable" pizz. beyond Bruckner?
    I pretty much find all pizzicato to be intolerable, exception being with double bass used in the background. It's not just a matter of context within a composition, it's the mere sound of pizzicato that I find off-putting. I can literally name hundereds of pieces that I personally would have preferred composed or arranged sans pizzicato. The adagio ma non troppo movement from Faure's 2nd Piano Quartet has a section with pizzicato about 1/3 of the way in, it sounds so out of place to me.


    I love pizzicato. It's very rhythmic and suitable when you need to hold a harmonious background very subtly. I can't imagine Bartok String Quartets without the pizzicato, nor Mahler's Symphony 7 Scherzo part, Brahms 4 Symphony II movement, Ravel String Quartet and many other string quartets.
    I guess it's just one of those personal preferences, that I wouldn't be able to get past despite any amount of rationalization.

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    Senior Member drpraetorus's Avatar
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    piz. is very usefull but very dangerous in performance.

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    I like pizzicato, it's a wonderful device to add some variety to the string instrument sound. I could, however, do without the type of super hard pizzicato (Mahler's invention?) where the strings hit the fingerboard.

    As far as Bruckner and pizzicato is concerned, I'll have to say that the opening of the scherzo of his Ninth uses pizzicati that are so eerie and creepy that they make me really uncomfortable. It's not that I think it sounds bad, it just gets under my skin. I attribute this to Bruckner's genius.
    "What's intended in this end section of course is a sort of, how shall I say, exhilirating immersion in total negation - which itself produces a sort of sublimity." - Brian Ferneyhough

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    Senior Member Hausmusik's Avatar
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    Andreas, that "super hard pizzicato " is known as the Bartok Pizzicato.

    I think disliking pizzicato is a bit like disliking compositions in the key of E-flat....it is just too eccentric, categorical, and sweeping a taboo for me to grasp, and given how many great compositions employ pizzicato I feel pity for anyone cut off from all that great music.
    Last edited by Hausmusik; Oct-26-2012 at 22:27.

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    Senior Member ahammel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adagietto View Post
    I prefer beautiful, flowing music; pizzicato always manages to negatively impact that beauty and flow.
    Can't say as I undestand your position at all. I suppose used badly it would be irritating, but that's true of any technique.

    But then I don't mind col legno, so what do I know?

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