Legato

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Connected; the sound of each note of a phrase being sustained until the next is heard.

In singing, a legato passage is vocalized upon a single vowel, on stringed instruments it is played by a single stroke of the bow, and on the pianoforte or organ by keeping each finger upon its key until the exact moment of striking the next.

On wind instruments with holes or keys, a legato passage is played in one breath, the notes being produced by opening or stopping the holes; but a wind instrument on which the different sounds are produced by the action of the lips alone, as the horn, trumpet, etc., is incapable of making a true legato, except in the rare cases in which one of the notes of the phrase is produced by stopping the bell of the instrument with the hand.

The sign of legato is a curved line drawn above or beneath the notes. In music for wind or stringed instruments the curve covers as many notes as are to be played with a single breath, or a single stroke of the bow.

In vocal music the same sign is often used, as in Handel’s chorus, ‘And he shall purify,’ but it is not necessary, since the composer can always ensure a legato by giving a single syllable to the whole passage, and it is in fact frequently omitted, as in the air ‘Every valley.’

In pianoforte music, all passages which are without any mark are played legato, inasmuch as the notes are not detached; the curved line is, therefore, used more for the sake of giving a finished appearance to the passage than from any practical necessity. Nevertheless, passages are sometimes met with in which is appears to have a special significance, and to indicate a particularly smooth manner of playing, the keys being struck less sharply than usual, and with slightly increased pressure.

Instead of the sign, the word legato is sometimes written under the passage. When the word is employed it generally refers to the character of the whole movement rather than to a single passage.

In playing legato passages wholly or partly founded upon broken chords, some masters have taught that the principal notes of the harmony should be sustained a little longer than their written length.

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