This is a transcription of some notes John made following the publication of the book (in 2016). The text has been tidied up but may still be somewhat cryptic in places.


It has always being difficult to work out what touch harpsichordists might have used in the 17th and 18th century. It is even more difficult to imagine what effect inequality would have had. In 1996 I carried out various experiments on the Michael Johnson I had at the time to try and come to some conclusions. First of all I tried slurring each pair of long and short notes together, as I had been doing for some time. However I felt more and more that this was a mistake.[WHY?]

I began to think that I should be detaching every note, rather as Maria Boxall seems to advise.[i] I tried this approach on certain pieces on Sept 18 and I sensed an improvement. The clearer articulation seemed to improve the rhythm and the general style seemed to conform more with historical evidence  I seemed to be putting down a key and releasing it rather than clinging on to it in modern style. I felt that this detached style might illuminate a notational problem in Bach – that of slurs. If the basic semiquaver style was detached, then it gives more point to Bach’s slurring, especially those slurs in the middle of the second half of a binary movement.  


Slurs in Bach NL10 – Colin Booth

Notes slurred in pairs = SL?

In L’art de toucher Couperin instructs that two slurred quavers with a staccato dot over the second should be played in SL inequality. Howard Ferguson makes a similar claim regarding the instrumental music by Purcell and his contemporaries – he considers that quavers simply slurred in pairs should be interpreted as a Scotch Snap.[ii] This is confirmed by variants in Purcell’s vocal music. In ‘My heart is inditing’[iii] (bars 119 and 121) two slurred quavers in the violin parts appear a s q. in the corresponding voice parts. If there was a real vogue for Scotch snaps in his time, is it possible that Purcell used the.  ♪♩ or       form to emphasize that he wanted a LS rhythm?


Slurs over more than two notes

Possible interpretations

  1. Play legato, implying that normal style was detached – see French suite 6, sarabande.
  2. Play overlegato i.e.hold notes for longer than their written length to produce a chordal effect. NB this only possible on keyboard instruments! – see Organ partita on ‘Christ, der du bist der helle Tag’ (BWV 766). In partita II the left-hand semiquavers are consistently slurred in fours, perhaps implying overlegato. This would create a kind of informal two-part texture.
    Similar passages:
    ‘Ich ruf’ zu dir’ in the Orgelbüchlein; French suite 2, menuetto; Inventions in D and b (bars 16-17) but what about long slurs in the Invention in f and those in the Sarabande in the French suite no 5?
    In the sarabande from French suite. 2 the slurs could mean ‘hang on to the first semquaver’ so that a slower-moving counter-melody is created.  The same could be true of  the slurs at bar 9 of the allemande from the third  French suite.
  3. Play égal. Is Quantz the only authority for this? This relates to the ‘double appoggiatura’ type discussed below but sometimes the slurs involve notes that are not eligible for inequality, as in Partita 2, allemande bar 13, Partita 6, toccata bar 9 etc., Organ sonata 6 i.
    Or maybe Quantz wishes to exempt very short notes from paired inequality, as may apply to the demisemiquavers in the slow movement of Bach’s fifth organ sonata (see bar 3). Yet Quantz states earlier in the same passage that if a number of very quick notes appear the inequality travels to this smaller note value.
  4. Avoid paired inequality (in fast notes) See semiquavers grouped in 4s in the Prelude from Clavierübung III
  5. Sustain the first note of 4 or 2, to produce a countermelody? Possible examples are the Sarabandes from French suite no. 2 and no.3 (bass), and no. 4 sarabande. See also the courante II from the first English suite, double 1 and the alternative minuet from French suite no.4. Compare the C# minor waltz of Chopin, where either Chopin or tradition has produced a counter-melody in the allegro section.Can’t understand this
  6. Play overlegato with paired slurs? As in the B minor flute sonata (first movement) and ‘O Lamm Gottes’ from the Orgelbüchlein. [can’t follow this] Joins appoggiatura to its resolution e.g. Sarabande of French suite 5, bar 39.

Does this slurring only occur in the 2nd section?

French 3 Sara French 2 Menuet
French 3 Anglaise Eng 1 cour 2 & double 1
English 3 courante  Eng 3 allemande (similar passages at end of each half)
Partita 2, sarabande Eng 3 courante, 1st sec only!
Partita 4, menuet Eng 3 minuet 1, 1st sec only!
  Organ sonata 1, adagio, 1st sec only!

What dances does this slurring occur in?  Not in preludes or gigues, rondeaux, fantasias etc.(but see Eng. 5, passepied and Partita 6, toccata, bar 9 etc) not often in allemandes (but see French 3 bar 9, Eng 3, Partita 2) most often in sarabandes, suggesting quiet legato style?

Sometimes a slur is part of a principal motive, see French 6 allemande and French 4 gavotte 2.

The organ prelude ‘Wachet auf’ has a lot of slurring. Does this match the violin bowing of the cantata? (check).

 ‘Double appoggiatura’                         

A regular place for a 4-note slur is on a descending phrase involving two appoggiaturas at a half close e.g  FEDC over C major harmony. This typically occurs at a half close. (Appogs. must be dissonant).  How do inégal enthusiasts explain this?  Can it mean SL or equal? But then what about Mozart and Haydn usage?

e.g. French 1 Courante – sometimes first note is understood e.g. bar 14. This formula also appears frequently unslurred in French 1 allemande; French 3 anglaise, Engl. 3, courante, gav 1.

e.g. also English 2 Courante, Organ sonata 3, i

Orchestral suites: no. 1, courante, bars 4 and 7; gavotte 1, bar 4, 6 and 7 in the bass!; gavotte 2 and Forlane: copious paired slurring – SL or equal?. Leaps in Forlane (e.g. bar 4 and esp. bar 23) make SL seem unlikely.  See also Goldberg 15, bar 17 and violin partita, allemande double.  Menuet I, bar 6, three sets of quavers, 1st two with appog, rest with paired slurring.  Passepied I has continuous quavers slurred in 4s.  What does this mean? égal? Passepied has quavers slurred in 6s.

number 2: bourrée 1, bar 23: paired quavers. Bourrée 2, a lot of qqqq with first 3 slurred together. Same in minuet. Minuet ends with double appog. with paired slurring.

number 3. Gavotte II – descending scales often slurred in 4s.

number 4. Bourrée II. Melody in bassoon- all in quavers slurred in 4s. Double appog. motive found in oboe 1 part at bar 19 & 27 with appog. The same motive is used in the bass with four-note slur in Gavotte. Réjouissance is dominated by a descending motive

                               q (with trill) ss (no slur)

where the trill could stand for an appoggiatura.

Solo violin partita 1 – Allem, bar 5, beat 1: written


 Slurring of triplets and demisemiquavers

Organ sonata 4, iii
Slurring of demisemiquavers Organ sonata 5, ii

Staccato dots

Organ sonata 6, ii
Staccato dots and slurs together, Organ sonata 6, iii.
Goldberg 13 bar 11 – here it seems to mean ‘equal’
Goldberg 13 bars 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30. Here it seems to mean isolating or sustaining staccato note.
Italian concerto i 15 etc. In last movement bar 9-11 dot and slur and reversed! What does this mean?  Last mvt bar bar 59 etc.  Does this mean, sustain dotted note? Whatever this means it must throw light on bars 25, 117 where there is no staccato note!  Likely meaning “This is where the tune begins”.

Is the combination of slurs and staccato notes a late usage? Perhaps it is related to string bowing?  (BWV 1019 is only dated Cöthen).

 Violin and clavier sonatas BWV 1014-1019

no 1 adagio.  Slurring only in violin part
andante  Slurring in both.  NB ‘double slurs’ in violin part. See also ‘Wachet auf’ organ prelude bar 20.
no 2  andante – see Carl Dolmetsch
presto – both parts have frequent ‘double appoggiaturas’ – 4 notes slurs.
no 3  allegro.  Both have frequent  qqqq groups with only first 3 slurred. Compare 6th organ sonata where last note often has staccato dot; compare also Goldberg 13, Italian concerto i or iii. This seems a more sophisticated kind of slurring.


Great suites

 ‘Double appoggiatura’

This is very well illustrated in Suite 7, andante, especially in bars 7, 21 and 26 where two actual appoggiaturas are used. Even better Handel seems to use appoggiaturas freely in this movement as a kind of ‘égal’ notation, see bars 14, 23 and 30. cf JS Bach, B minor partita, passepied 2, bars 5-6.

Apart from the above movement this type of passage does not occur very often but see Suite 3, allemande, bar 17.

1733 set

Allemande in d (suite 3) Barenreiter p 20, bar 6, – 2 written appoggiaturas.  Also bar 16, 25 (one appog). See also menuetto.
Suite 7 in B♭, sarabande: bar 7 (tonality odd)
Suite 8 in G, gavotta, good exx esp. bar 10, 11: 2 backfalls and bar 12, trill and backfall.


‘Comfort ye’  bar 20                                    bar 26

‘But who may abide’: bar 23                       Lam does SL SL (many times)

‘Rejoice greatly’: bar 35

‘He was despised’: bar 50

‘But thou didst not leave’: bars 6 and 18
cf JSB Goldberg aria, bars 2, 6


8 suites

Suite 2: notes slurred in pairs suggest double appog. as above: see bar 15. No other examples?
Miscellaneous volume: A new ground – no 9 bar 4, 5, 9, 11, 12. (cf Welcome to all the pleasures). Minuet no 13, bars 4 and 15. Here the third note is an appoggiatura.  Ground no 33, bars 12, 36.  Ground no 34, bar37



No 2: bar 14, beat 2: no dotting, does this mean even or SL?
No 3, Ground. Bars 11-15, a whole series in sequence, trill on first note, also bar 28 beat 4. Corant: bars 1 and 18. Written out SL rhythm.
No. 4, allemande. Bar 13, beats 2 and 4, doubly written out SL rhythm!
No. 5, most semiquavers are dotted, except the ‘double appoggiatura’ figures at bars 6, 9, 12 and 20. He seems to be getting fond of this figure. 
No 8, Slow bar 6, beat 3; bar 14, beat 3 both pairs slurred. Allemande: opening motive uses backfalls (Ferguson says on the beat – like appogs – disagrees with Boxall). So does Courante, motive at bar 13 etc.(this motive is used in Sarabande & Jigg too).
No. 10. Allmand. Bar 2, beat 1, SL twice written out. Gavott: in 2nd trio nearly all quavers in written-out SL notation, 3 of them with appropriate dissonances.
No 17 bar 3
bar 16  Minuet vol. 2 p 14 bar 34.

Maria Boxall’s book

Les Tambourins by F Couperin bar 16, bar 16 beat 3 – paired slurring and 4332 fingering that implies SL BUT compare bar 15 beat 2 and bar 16 beat 1 which have square slurs and fingering that imply ordinary LS inequality.
Gavotte by Dandrieu, no 31, paired slurring
Couperin: no 33 – Les coucous bénévoles, bar 8 ((trill on first note)
BUT on p. 24 she says that when a small note comes between two descending notes a third apart it should come BEFORE the beat! A good example at Les lis naissans (no 35) bar 5. At bar 16 you have two appoggiaturas. Surely the second appoggiatura doesn’t come early here?

Couperin uses paired slurring (square slurs?) in Les Satires no 45, bar 5, 12, 22 etc. Does this mean equal?

Maria Boxall emphasizes that, in the absence of other instructions, notes should be separate, sometimes as much as 50% sound, 50% silence (see p 10 of text volume. Her wedges at the beginning demonstrate this, though it is durational rather than proportional inequality that she indicates in the quavers.

Paired slurring
It would seem possible that this generally meant SL or equal rhythm. French evidence?

Louis Couperin
Doesn’t appear to use this form very often but excellent exception at Courante in d at page 93 in Curtis ed.(written out SL rhythm)

Keyboard collections
1706 set: 2nd allemande, bar 18, 2 separate slurs. Gavotte: part of main theme, 2 sep slurs.  1724 set allemande in e: bass arpeggios bars 15-16, 1st and 2nd time bars (both sections) suggest overlegato.  See also gigues 1 and 2. Les tendres plaintes have LH slurs suggesting sustaining chords. Rappel – paired slurs mean overlegato? Les Tourbillons – 
Nouvelles suittes (c. 1728). L’Enharmonique bars 31, 32, 39, 40 – slurs mean sustain?  L’Egyptienne. Beaming in pairs, bar 31. Does this mean SL?
Cinq pièces (1741) La Livri. ‘2 reprise’ LH sustain. L’Agaçante: ineg. at two levels?  However, in Les Indes galantes there are many more slurs see



p 84 (last bar)

p 92 bars 3, 11, 13.

The only slurs in the movement are associated with this motif.
p 100, penultimate bar

p 102, 104

Paired slurring throughout middle section

p 115

This figure synchronizes with            in orchestra, see also p 204 penultimate bar and p 205, bar 5.

pp 117 and 119

p, l39, 140 & 143

p 216

Rameau uses an alternative to the falling tetrachord:                    see p 174 and 224

Appoggiaturas are always harmonic dissonances

Op. 2. He favours a progression in which descending 4-note phrase is harmonized so that in which only the third note is an accented dissonance (the harmony goes IV I). See allemandes in sonatas 1 and 6 – in both cases paired slurring is used uniquely in the movement. See also allemande from Sonata 8 at slower tempo.
In most of these sonatas, falling tetrachords are common but they usually only use unaccented dissonances.

Violin & piano sonata in G, K 301: ii see minore.  Sonata in A, K 305: Var I, bars 6 & 7. Sonata in D, K 306: used frequently in i, ii and allegretto.
Single appoggiatura.  Copious examples.  SL rhythm is implied – see Piano sonata K279 ii bar 20, where rhythm appears to be carried on at bar 22.

Lawes consort music
Musica Britannica XXI ed Lefkowitz

Suite no 1 in G minor: (b) b 25, bass viol has dots, organ not. b 48 ditto; b 111 ditto.
Six-part consort suites: Suite no 1 in C minor b 70, 71 and 73 bass viol 2 has dots, organ not.
Sonatas for violin, bass viol & organ. No 1 in G minor, page 94, (c) bar 38: short-long inequality indicated by quavers slurred in pairs.(see section 2). No 7 in D minor: (b) b 21-22: violin part has dots, organ part does not in similar passage. Sonata no 8 in D major: (b) b 38,39, 45, 46 violin has dots, organ does not in similar passage. Sonatas for two violins bass viol and organ: Sonata no 1 in G minor: a number of examples of SL inequality (see section 2 above). Sonata no 6 in D major (a). b 77-80 – in similar passages violin 1 has dots, violin 2 not.
Sonata no 7 in D minor: b 2,3: violin 1 has dot, violin 2 not in similar passage. b 3: bass viol has dot, organ not.
The Royal Consort. Suite no 2 in D minor. b 39,40 first violin part in particular has very revealing discrepancies in notation of one motive.(e) Corant: rhythmic discrepancies in bar 1.
NB in discrepancies between organ and bass viol, it is always the organ that doesn’t have dots.

[i] Maria Boxall

[ii] Henry Purcell: Eight suites and Miscellaneous Keyboard Pieces ed. Howard Ferguson (London, 1968) Editorial Notes.  See Suite 6, almand, bar 14. See also Mus. Brit. XXI, Lawes Consort Music, pp.  94 and 111.

[iii] Henry Purcell, Coll. Ed. ed. Peter Dennison. Similar evidence is found in ‘Blessed is the man’ bar 190 (same volume).