One of a conductor’s jobs – other than deciding the tempo of the music – is to choose how individual notes are to be articulated (should they sound for all or just a part of the time allocated to the note? how are they to be attacked?) Below you can see a (far from comprehensive) selection of articulation marks, ranging, from on the far left, staccatissimo (extremely short) through to tenuto (sustained) on the far right.
Since the middle/end of the nineteenth century composers have tended to include more and more of these in their scores…
… but you’ll find them much, much thinner on the ground in the works of Mozart, Haydn, Bach and their contemporaries.
So, it’s left to the interpreter, in this case the conductor, to decide the articulation. Take the Mozart example above, those opening repeated quavers on the violas, then on the second and finally the first violins; should there be an infinitesimal silence between them or should they be continuous? Here’s one possible interpretation:
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