There are many musical terms that get translated into several languages, depending on the native language of the composer who’s using the terms. The Italian term Allegro, for example, might appear as “Lively,” in English, or “Vif,” in French, or “Lebhaft,” in German. But there’s one musical term that for some reason you’ll only ever see…or hear…in the original Italian, and that’s Pizzicato. Pizzicato is the Italian word for “plucked.” To play pizzicato on a stringed instrument means to make the notes sound by plucking the strings with the fingers, rather than by using the bow.
Why is pizzicato never translated? Beats me. Maybe just because pizzicato is a delightful-sounding word. It certainly sounds better than “plucked.” Musicians sometimes shorten it to “pizz,” when they’re discussing a passage, as in, “Oh, I forgot, those three notes are pizz”…but I’ve never in my life heard a colleague say anything on the order of, “Those three notes are plucked.”
Interesting, isn’t it?
This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.