Pizzicato is one of the most creative, challenging, and innovative technique of violin literature. This technique is generally mentioned as ‘pizz’ or ‘+’ in the score which are exponents of two pizzicato technique: ‘Pizz’ should be played by right hand, but ‘+’ should be played by left-hand.
Interestingly; the first appearance technique was to be described as shields used by soldiers in battle: Heinrich Biber probably wanted to imitate the sound of clashing shield. (Pizzicato) This was also called as ‘Testudine: ohne Bogen’ in the string accompaniment to the ‘Nightwatchman’s Call’ written by Heinrich Biber.
“Another early indication in found Monteverdi’s Combattimenti di Tancredi e Clorinda (1624), in which the players are asked to put the bow aside and ‘pluck the string with two fingers”. (Pizzicato)
Other early examples which can also be seen by orchestral accompaniment of the variations under the title of Venezia Carnavale by Niccolo Paganini. –Soloist plays the virtuosic variations and orchestra accompanies to the soloist with same motivic triplets- This example requires that, the violin should be put under the right arm and plucked like a guitar. (Pizzicato)
However, the first written source was possibly written by Leopold Mozart in ‘Versuch einer Gründlichen Violinschule, 1756. Leopold Mozart intented to explain how to play staccato, “…and wrote that ‘the string are plucked with index-finger or with the thumb of the right hand’, but also the thumb should be used only when ‘whole chords are to be taken in one”. (Monosoff)
One other important note was that, in orchestral music, pizzicato was not popular before Classical era: Of course, pizzicato was (firstly) drammatically demonstrated by Beethoven; especially in his 5th symphony’s third and fourth or concluding pages of 7th symphony’s Allegretto (2nd movement).
The usage of pizzicato was wildly modified in order to depict the posture of mood. For example; in 20th century the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok used very hard (wild) pizzicato which defines that the string should be snapped on to the fingerboard.
On the other hand, Paganini was assumably the first composer, who made extensive use of the left-hand pizzicato (indicated by a ‘+’). Especially in caprice no. 24, he asked for it should simultaneously be played with bow and left hand pizzicato (+).
According to Leopold Auer’s opinion all suggestions and informations given above, are totally true. However he makes some useful advises in terms of pizzicato technique. For example, he says; the right hand pizzicato is produced by the first finger of the right hand, also adds that; the thumb is supporting itself on the corner of the fingerboard, and the first finger is plucking or ‘pinching’ the string with the flesh of the finger-tip and not with the nail. (Auer) Because we all (professionals) know that, if one uses the nail while producing pizzicato, the string is inevitably jarred and it loses the quality of sound. In order to play the pizzicato with high quality, Auer makes another prominent suggestions and says “…let the string sound out fully and freely by attacking it in the direction of G to the E string, without effort, yet with the work breadth of the finger-tip and only with its fleshly cushion. If this be done the resulting tone will have the quality of tone given forth by a hard-string when plucked by the finger of an experienced artist.” (Auer)
Furthermore; rapid pizzicato which is produced by left hand, is not only used by Paganini but also by Ernst and Bazzini. In other words, Paganini’s inspiration in left hand pizzicato (+) affected many of composers to use it in virtuosic passages. Moreover, I would like to share some important tips, beyond all suggestions of experienced and legendary masters, that one plays the (+) pizzicato, s/he should consider three things: The capability of left hand, bow speed and springing height and his or her mood while playing it. Especially third one is very important, because when you enjoy what you do by the time you are playing this technique, everything will succesfully be achieved by your side.
Lastly, I would like to discuss another interesting pizzicato which can be seen in Maurice Ravel’s Tzigane (in accompanimental part). This pizzicato should presumably be produced by both left and right hand. The 16 notes are played by both index-finger and left-hand pizzicato. To sum up, this is the combination of two different technique related to this technique…
- Auer, Leopold, ‘Violin Playing as I Teach it’, Frederick A. Stokes Company, 2009 http://petrucci.mus.auth.gr/imglnks/usimg/7/7d/IMSLP29626-PMLP66515-Auer_Violin_Playng.pdf, 30.10.2012
- Sonya Monosoff. “Pizzicato.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. .