I arranged the first movement of K 545 for a string quartet and I have gotten a lot of detailed feedback on everything from the unison between the 2 violins at the beginning measures to my bass line(or lack thereof) to my use of pizzicato. It was even suggested to me to have the first chord of the development be played staccatisimo to keep the sense of a sudden change.

On the one hand, one person said that my use of pizzicato to represent the staccato eighth notes was creative. On the other hand, quite a few people, including string players have said that the change from arco to pizz and vice versa is too quick and that I should have those eighth notes be played arco. One of them even said that arco is more appropriate for Mozart's era.

There are 2 such passages in the sonata, both towards the end of their respective repeats where there are staccato eighth notes which thus far I have represented with pizzicato. Here they are:

enter image description here Staccato in the exposition enter image description here Staccato in the recapitulation

In the edition here from Mozart's Werke, the staccato is unmarked. But in the edition from G Schirmer that I have, the staccato is marked. The staccato passages are circled in blue.

Now here is my reasoning behind using pizzicato to represent those staccato eighth notes. Staccato bowing has quite a sustain. In contrast, pizzicato has more of a bouncy character, like staccato on the piano does. Thus, if the passage in the original piano score is staccato, especially if it is a fast staccato like it is in K 545, then it makes sense to me to have that same passage pizzicato in a string quartet arrangement.

But several people have told me that while technically possible, such a quick change from pizzicato to arco as I have in my arrangement of the sonata right now will be sloppy if an actual string quartet plays it. One of the people who gave me feedback said that back in Mozart's era, there would be no markings on the eighth notes and the players would have understood to use a light "bouncy" bowing, what modern composers would mark as staccato.

So I was wondering, given that the eighth notes are so short anyway(tempo is quarter note = 138 BPM), should I bother marking the eighth notes staccato or should I just leave them unmarked like Mozart would have and trust that the string quartet will play those eighth notes staccato?

By the way, here is a link to my arrangement if you want to hear it:


  • you can trust them that they know how to play it. Members of a String Quartet of this level will know this piece.You can ignore the question of the staccato, you would better mind this point:*I have gotten a lot of detailed feedback on everything from the unison between the 2 violins at the beginning measures* and focus on an accomponiment of the transition by viola and cello. May 4, 2019 at 20:38
  • There are many bow techniques. You should avail yourself of the several options out there which would get you a similar effect without the hassle of switching. I agree with the string players, that simply won’t work logistically. May 5, 2019 at 11:28

2 Answers 2


given that the eighth notes are so short anyway(tempo is quarter note = 138 BPM)

"Staccato" literally means "separated," not "short." A staccato eighth note at 138 BPM will still need to be shorter than a regular eighth note at 138 BPM - what matters is the separation of the notes, not the actual duration of the pitch.

Personally, I would add the staccato markings if you want the notes separated. Good string players will probably interpret them the way you intend, but it is better to be safe and remove all doubt.

  • Yes the literal meaning of staccato is "separated" but the musical meaning is that you play short pointy notes. May 4, 2019 at 21:18
  • @LarsPeterSchultz I think we are actually in agreement. I've update my answer to clarify.
    – Peter
    May 4, 2019 at 21:59
  • I would say that it is the character that matters. In this case articulation. May 4, 2019 at 22:07
  • @LarsPeterSchultz Agreed. The correct articulation is staccato, and staccato notes are generated not putting space between the notes.
    – Peter
    May 4, 2019 at 22:32
  • Actually when articulating staccato that doesn't mean there is no space between the notes. There is space, so it is correct that the notes are separated. The separation is generated because you play short pointy notes. I guess you could compare it to a pecking woodpecker although you could argue that a woodpecker's pecking is more like staccatissimo. May 11, 2019 at 20:43

The tonal difference between bowed staccato and pizzacato is huge to say the least. Us string players can produce extremely short bowed staccato (even before switching to spiccato or ricochet), so don't mark as pizz unless you want that alternate sound.

My guess is you don't :-)

  • No, I wasn't going for that alternate sound. I just wasn't sure if bowed staccato could be played short and fast like the staccato in the piano score so I marked it as pizz. Now that I know that bowed staccato can be played short and fast, I will put staccato markings in the passages that I previously marked pizz.
    – Caters
    May 6, 2019 at 16:48
  • @Caters if you want to hear fast staccato notes played by strings, then listen to Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik, 1st movement. Here is a YouTube link: youtube.com/watch?v=nPbxIT9W1AY Note that there are both lots of eightnotes and lots of sixteenthnotes played staccato. Actually they are played with a bowing technique called spiccato. You can find the score at IMSLP. May 11, 2019 at 21:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.