The Short Appoggiatura in the 19th century

The ornament called the short appoggiatura has a long history. Throughout the 18th century it was notated simply as a small note of small value (e.g. an eighth or sixteenth note) close to, or slurred, to a normal note (the main note or principal note). It became common to add a diagonal slash or stroke through its stem circa 1830 (before 1800 in France). This was not intended to change its performance, but rather to more clearly distinguish it from the long appoggiatura.

The small-note-with-a-slash notation was not common earlier. For example, my understanding is that Mozart and Beethoven never used it. Appearances of this slashed note in their music (including in the Grove's article available below) are not original; the slashes have arbitrarily been added by copyists or editors.

The short appoggiatura is usually performed in modern music as a very short note inserted before the time of the main note. However, it was expected to be played in the time of the main note (on-beat) throughout the 19th century and into the 20th. It is often heard misinterpreted by performers of 19th century music.

Every rule in music has exceptions, but there is no question that on-beat performance of the small-note-with-a-slash was taught as the rule. It is stated over and over again in 19th century sources. Sometimes the language is not perfectly clear. A writer may say that the short appoggiatura takes "negligible time" or that is so quick that it seems to take no time from the principal note. Often (but not always) the short appoggiatura is said to be unaccented—the stress is to be on the main note—and this makes some (erroneously) believe that pre-beat performance is expected. Below are a few 19th century sources where the instructions for performance of the short appoggiatura are not ambiguous, because the directions are accompanied by illustrations!

Sometimes it may not be clear to a listener whether a short appoggiatura is pre-beat or on-beat, and the ambiguity may be OK. But I suggest that it is important to try to play it on-beat, and in that way one will come closer to the sound a late 18th or 19th century composer had in mind. Though it may be easier to play, a conspicuous anticipation of the beat can, in a good number of cases, sound lethargic and change the mood of what was intended to be lively.

(The short appoggiatura was called, inaccurately, an acciaccatura by a number of 19th century authors. The true acciaccatura is a keyboard ornament only, intended to strongly accent a note. Here is the article on the acciaccatura from the 1880 Grove's Dictionary.)

There were exceptions to the on-beat rule (e.g. Schumann sometimes put the appoggiatura symbol before a bar line and the main note after). To be fair to a minority opinion, one illustration of pre-beat short appoggiaturas will be included at the end of this page.

From F. Devienne's Novelle Méthode...pour la Flute (c.1794). Devienne makes no distinction between long and short appoggiaturas. The addition of a slash through the stem of a small eighth note simply indicates a sixteenth note in his illustrations here.

From Walckiers' Méthode de Flûte (1829). Here the slashed small eighth note has come to indicate an indeterminate but very short note.

From Thomas Lindsay's Elements of Flute Playing (1830). Lindsay, writing at the same time as Walckiers, does not use the stoke through the stem of the short appoggiatura. It is interesting that he singles out the short (on-beat) grace note a semitone below the main note and gives it the name acciacatura [sic], introducing confusion about this word (and its spelling). He says here, among other things, that in this case it "ought to be marked with a little transverse dash", but he doesn't do it. Also, "Its effect in performance is so very transient, that the instant it is struck, the principal Note should immediately follow, 'as if,' says Dr. Burney, 'the finger had touched something red-hot'."

From Charles Nicholson's School for the Flute (1836). Nicholson does not use the slashed small note here or in any of his music. Notice that he complains that appoggiaturas played before the beat give the wrong effect, but admits that this was not infrequently heard.

From Carl Czerny's Complete theoretical and Practical Pianoforte School, Op.500 (1839). Notice the rests; these short appoggiaturas were intended to be lively.

From Winner's Eureka Method for the Flute (2nd half 19C).

From Rudolf Tillmetz's Melodic Etudes for two flutes, Op.47 (c.1900). Translation: The short appoggiatura begins on the beat.

Part I of Rudolf Tillmetz's Melodic Etudes, Op.47, for two flutes is available in PDF format here (5 MB). Tillmetz indicates how all ornaments indicated by symbols or small notes are to be performed at the end of each etude.

From the Langey-Carl Fischer Tutor for Flute (1889). This is one of the (relatively few) sources that gives the rule that short appoggiaturas take 1/4 of the value of the note to which they apply.

From Emil Prill's School for the Boehm Flute (c.1900).

From M. Schwedler's Flöte and Flötenspiel (1897, 1919, 1923). Translation: Just as the long appoggiatura is to begin on the beat, so does the short appoggiatura in almost all cases; the main note should retain as much of its full value as possible.

From Paul de Ville's Universal Method for the Flute (1906).

From the 1880 edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

The complete article on the appoggiatura from the 1880 Grove's Dictionary is available in PDF format here (1.3 MB).

From E. D. Wagner's First Instruction Book for the Pianoforte (1883).

From Lebert and Stark's Theoretical and Practical Piano-School (1899).

From Jean Manns' New Method for the Piano Forte (late 19C).

From Richardson's New Method for the Piano-Forte (1859).

From Aurelio Magnani's Méthode Complète de Clarinette, Système Boehm (1890s?). Notice that Magnani does suggest an accent on the short appoggiatura in some instances.

From Elson's Music Dictionary (Oliver Ditson Co., 1905). Even though the short appoggiatura is said to be unaccented, it is also described as "bright and crisp" as opposed to the "yearning and tender" (and accented) long approggiatura. Perhaps this term "unaccented" is often taken too literally when it was only intended to help distinguish between the short and long appoggiatura.

From A Dictionary of Musical Terms (1895) by Thomas Baker, also the original author of Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. Baker says the short appoggiatura is, generally, accented.

In 1912, the eminent musicologist Hugo Riemann gave the following remarks, in an article How to Execute Mordents, Trills and Appoggiaturas.

       "In order to understand the intention of the composer, three things respecting the short appoggiaturas must be kept in mind, namely:

1. That a short appoggiatura has but the briefest time value.
2. That it must be played directly at the beginning of the beat of the principal note, and
3. That it must he played with a force equal to that of the principal note."

Riemann avoids the ambiguous word "unaccented" and cautions that short appoggiaturas "must not he played too light, nor too weak" and "... false methods of execution are very prevalent [so that] much of the rhythmic value is lost ...". Among other examples, he suggests the execution on the right below for the example (on the left) from the second movement of Beethoven's Sonata Op. 31/1. (I have changed the first note on the right from a sixteenth-note to an eight-note.)

Left: From the 1st edition (1803) of Op. 31/1.  Right: Riemann's interpretation.

A minority opinion:

From Erbach's Prize Piano-Forte Method (1881).

There were other dissenters. For example, in his Allgemeine Musiklehre für Lehrende und Lernende of 1883, Louis Köhler argues that the pre-beat short appoggiatura is intended by "new composers of importance" (without mentioning any of them by name).