Col legno

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Col legno ( Italian "with the wood") is a set of instructions for playing string instruments that aim at a brittle, percussive sound. The strings are either beaten lightly ( col legno battuto , the original col legno ) or bowed (col legno tratto) , not with the hair of the bow , but with its wooden rod .

The col legno appeared as a bizarre effect as early as the 17th century, until late Romanticism it was rather rare, since then it has been used frequently. The new music , it does not set more one with the intention of alienating or grotesque.

For the first time called for Tobias Hume this technique in one of his works, even in Capriccio Stravagante of Carlo Farina it occurs. In the last movement of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 , the col legno characterizes the so-called “Turkish theme”. In the 2nd movement of his Symphony No. 67, Joseph Haydn demands the col legno playing with mute. Also, Antonio Salieri used occasionally Col-legno effects in his operas. For example in the scene “E voi da buon marito… Non vo 'gia che vi suonino” from La Cifra .

In the large symphony orchestra , the Col legno comes into its own, for example in Chopin's piano concertos, Franz Liszt's Mazeppa , Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony (1st movement, bars 304 ff.), Holst's  The Planets (at the beginning of “Mars, the Bringer of War ”), Arthur Honegger's La Danse macabre or Arnold Schönberg's Moses und Aron .

Some instrumentalists refuse to use this type of line or buy a second bow for this purpose, as this technique can damage the wood of the bow stick.

The game instruction col legno is replaced by arco or ord. ( ordinario ) reversed.


  • Riemann Musik Lexikon, Sachteil, Schott, Mainz 1967, p. 178.