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In the first bars of the Barcarola et Scherzo by Alfredo Casella the piano part has chords with legato, tenuto and staccato signs all together:

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What is the correct way to play these notes? What could be the intent of the author? It does not seem a portato (when you have several notes with both staccato and legato) like this.

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    Can't see the point in using a staccato sign with a minim. Far clearer to use a shorter note and a rest?
    – Tim
    Oct 23, 2023 at 15:59
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    I started typing a comment and deleted it because it was too speculative, but I don't know that this isn't portato. If there were no slur mark it would be clear enough; slight separation between the two chords. Which leaves us to explain the slur mark; maybe it's simply expressing a phrasal relationship, like the giant three-bar one in the top stave. Note, whatever the answer, it's pretty idiosyncratic, and should be taken as relating to this piece and not universal. Oct 23, 2023 at 16:44
  • Typically this would be portato.
    – Lazy
    Oct 23, 2023 at 19:17
  • In my early piano lessons I was taught that the tenuto mark indicated an accent. This makes some sense as a piano note cannot be prevented from dying away.
    – Peter
    Oct 24, 2023 at 22:16

2 Answers 2

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The combination of a staccato dot with a tenuto marking would normally indicate the that the chords are to be played portato, with a small gap between them. The slurs clearly contradict this.

When faced with contradictory markings in a piece of music the most expedient solution is to simply play whatever makes most musical sense to the performer. I would leave a very small gap (just the time it takes to lift the hand) but still make it clear that each pair of chords are one musical idea. The exact phrasing in the piano is probably not so critical: the piece is a flute solo and that's what everybody will be listening to.

Before someone suggests asking the composer: he died in 1947, but this does have the advantage that he's not going to turn up at your concert and complain that you're not playing the piece properly.

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The notation, to the best of my knowledge, is idiosyncratic, and clearly the score doesn't offer its meaning. Since it appears in both the piano (as shown in the question) and flute (below, m. 17), it clearly needs to have a meaning for both instruments.

Casella Op. 4, m. 17

Listening to a couple of YouTube recordings (Uri Shoham; Mario Caroli), the interpretation is that it represents a weakly accented note. That is, it's an indication to "lean" into the note a bit, but not a full-on accent.

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