What does the prime symbol above the note mean? I have not seen it before.

This is from Haydn's Variations in F minor (Hob. XVII/6)

Haydn Variations mm. 23–24

3 Answers 3


To add a caveat to Tim's answer: this marking should generally be taken with a grain of salt — or more like a rather large pinch of salt — in music written prior to the 20th century. Most such markings on scores of older music are putting forth a performance opinion of the editor, rather than anything that the composer specified — and some editors are better performers than others. Composers were inconsistent about what markings they used for staccato, although they usually used a dot and always, as far as I know, left the degree of "staccato-ness" up to the interpreter.

For example, in this one, you can have a look at this performance (your two-bar sample is played at 0:55, and can be seen in the last two measures of the third staff line):

You will notice that your two bars in this edition of the music here have a total of four ordinary staccato dots. That suggests that your wedges are an editor's opinion. Listening to Backhaus's performance, I get the idea he doesn't agree with that opinion, for I don't see any special degree of extremeness about the staccatos that he uses.

So, it's probably a good idea to approach any written score with a certain degree of skepticism. Beyond having the right notes, key and time signatures, and the like, finer degrees of detail should not be assumed to come from the composer. Look at different scores of the same music and form your own opinions.

In fact, I suggest that you consider your performances not as a recreation of a composer's ideas, but as a collaboration between you and the composer. So again, form your own opinions, and don't be too concerned with finding the intellectually correct way to play something. If something feels right, then play it that way.

  • Thanks for this answer. I was confused because none of the recordings I listened to play it staccatissimo. Many play it legato
    – user1488
    Jul 14, 2020 at 13:40
  • @user1488 Exactly. You might find it interesting to listen to some recordings from the early 20th century (say 1930s) by the likes of Paderewski, Cortot and Lhevinne. Then compare those with recordings of the same pieces from after 1950. You will notice that the earlier performers are much more willing to take liberties with the score. My point in mentioning this is that performers make those choices for themselves, although there's a sense of what's in current fashion going on as well.
    – BobRodes
    Jul 14, 2020 at 22:25
  • I'd disagree a bit with this. It's impossible to know without having the edition that was the source in the question, but the use of the bracket in the right hand in the question around the stroke tends to indicate that the question's edition is a more "critical edition" version that's explicitly marking editorial additions to the score. Haydn's markings in manuscript were often more like strokes (in my recollection), and I think these "strokes" frequently appear in critical editions of Haydn. In any case, editions that use brackets often have some indication of sources used.
    – Athanasius
    Jul 16, 2020 at 4:42
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    @Athanasius Good point. I haven't seen the Henle edition of this, but from what I know of the faithfulness of Henle's attempts to represent the manuscript as accurately as possible, what you say seems very likely with regard to the use of strokes instead of dots here. That said, I remain skeptical of the idea that Haydn used strokes to indicate a greater degree of staccato than dots, or some sort of staccatissimo idea.
    – BobRodes
    Jul 16, 2020 at 23:09
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    @user1488 Yeah, I recognize the shape of the note heads, now that you mention it. Henle is usually my favorite, partly because of the sharpness and clarity of the notes, and partly because they do their best to remain faithful to the manuscript. So, I'm going to change my position a bit. This isn't an editor deciding that a greater degree of staccato is needed, this is the closest approximation of what Haydn's staccato markings looked like. I still don't think that Haydn used the longer strokes to indicate a greater degree of staccato, since that convention didn't happen for another 200 years.
    – BobRodes
    Jul 16, 2020 at 23:14

It's a form of staccato called staccatissimo.

Normal dot over/under a note means staccato, where the note is shortened by about a quarter of its normal length.

Staccatissimo, is an 'extreme' version, where the note is shortened by about three-quarters of its length. In this piece, those notes are played and let go of immediately, pretty well, the first F actuallly being shorter in duration than the second.

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    In addition from Wikipedia: Accent (music)"... is usually interpreted as shorter than the staccato, but composers up to the time of Mozart used these symbols interchangeably. A staccatissimo crotchet (quarter note) would be correctly played in traditional art music as a lightly articulated semi-quaver (sixteenth note) followed by rests which fill the remainder of the beat." So it has a few meanings.
    – user70304
    Jul 13, 2020 at 12:24

(PhD in music history here). This isn't my period, but I think that it's an mark of emphasis.

On a harpsichord (which was my major instrument in college), you can emphasize a note by making it a little short so that the end of the note is salient. This works pretty well on the clavichord and fairly well on early pianos.

So, it's easy to see that slight accent = slight staccato, on the right instrument.

How to play it on the modern piano? The action on a modern piano is mushy compared with the earlier instruments, and the end of the notes isn't so clear. So, the best thing, I think, would be to think of the notes as emphasized. Maybe best to do that with dynamics.

  • So, there's a lot of information here, but TL;DR is that you don't know for sure. Do I understand correctly?
    – BartoszKP
    Jul 13, 2020 at 21:53
  • So wouldn't it be best marked as such?
    – Tim
    Jul 14, 2020 at 14:58
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    Yes, I'm not sure, but I can't imagine what else it would be. "Staccatissimo" (very short staccato) doesn't make any sense, and the wedge didn't mean that in Haydn's time, in any event. The wedge, the dot, and little lines were all used to mean the same sort of thing in Haydn's time. The exact sign varied from composer to composer, from publisher to publisher, and even from writing implement to writing implement. The standard sign we know come from the middle of the 19th century.
    – DrGecko
    Jul 14, 2020 at 19:26
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    You may be aware of some pedal markings in Beethoven's sonatas that don't translate well to modern pianos, where he pedals through long passages, relying on notes dying away before they clash. In particular, the recitative passage introducing the (somewhat mangled) recapitulation in the first movement of the Op. 31 No. 2 ("Tempest") sonata. To get an effect approximating that on a fortepiano, you have to experiment with partially clearing the pedal, for if you don't, you get a mush.
    – BobRodes
    Jul 14, 2020 at 22:37
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    @BobRobes: Or the first movement of the Moonlight, which is marked "senza sordini" (without dampers), which is just a muddle on modern pianos. True story: Back in my h'chord days, I once sat at a modern piano, not having touched one for 4 or 5 years, and my immediate gut reaction was "What an inexpressive instrument!" Which is silly, of course, but it wouldn't do what I wanted - I couldn't articulate at all. I got used to it again after a while, of course. But the articulation really is much crisper on the older instruments.
    – DrGecko
    Jul 14, 2020 at 23:17

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