col legno or col legno battuto meaning : strike (the string) with the wood (of the bow) is commonly found in 20th century chamber music. But I have heard it might have been used earlier (at least 18th century).

I am curious about which early composers used this technique in his works.

Perhaps is there a first one?

3 Answers 3


Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704): La Battalia Sinfonia (1673)

From program notes:

La Battalia was written very much in the style of the day, but even these centuries later sounds rather modern, especially because of Biber’s use of percussive effects in the string writing. The work, which is in short movements, was written in 1673 in the fading shadows of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). As the title indicates, Biber wanted to portray sounds of battle. Yet, as you hear, he chose a more playful manner of portrayal. He called for col legno (striking the strings with the back of the bow), snapping the strings to sound like gunfire, and imitating drum sounds by slipping a piece of paper between the strings before striking them.

Not sure if the musicological field has this placed at first or not, but I think I've got Berlioz beat by a century and a half. :-)

  • Very nice find. And the Oak Ridge Orchestra seems to be a very interesting institution. Their program is varied and well written.
    – ogerard
    Commented May 4, 2011 at 10:04
  • Good find, though I am slightly dubious. I think it's more likely that an Italian composer first used it.
    – Noldorin
    Commented May 9, 2011 at 15:32

The last movement of Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique (1827) has a part where the violins play col legno. (Berlioz was also one of the first composers to write for saxophone.)

I once saw a student string quartet play a Mozart piece entirely col legno. They used pencil-sized sticks instead of their bows. I don't know how Mozart notated it.

  • Using special sticks is a good idea if you don't want to dent or deteriorate your bow by hitting so many times the strings.
    – ogerard
    Commented May 2, 2011 at 12:42
  • I doubt if Mozart even wanted a col legno effect! It sounds like a student experiment.
    – Peter
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 10:23

Mozart's Violin Concerto in A major, last movement in the "Turkish" sections for cellos. Also, Rossini's "Il signor Bruschino" overture for the violins.

  • I read somewhere that the Rossini indication was to hit the music stand (which would have been wooden) with the back of the bow, not the violin strings. But the score simply says 'col legno' with diamond-headed notes.
    – Peter
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 10:08

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