Bariolage is a musical technique used with bowed string instruments that involves rapidly playing alternated notes on adjacent strings, one of which is generally left open,[1] thereby exploiting the different timbres of each string.[2][3] Bariolage may involve quick alternation between a static note and changing notes that form a melody either above or below the static note.[4] The static note is usually an open string note, which creates a highly resonant sound. In bluegrass fiddling the technique is known as "cross-fingering".[2]

Example of bariolage from Principes du Violon (1761), p.79, by L'Abbé le Fils[5] Play

The term bariolage appears to have been coined in the nineteenth century to denote an eighteenth-century violin technique requiring flexibility in the wrist and forearm, the mechanics of which are not discussed by nineteenth-century writers.[1] Etymologically, in French, the term was taken from the noun bariolage meaning an 'odd mixture of colours',[6] which in turn derives from the verb barioler meaning 'to streak with several colors'.[7] The bowing technique most often used for bariolage is called ondulé in French or ondeggiando In Italian.[8] Bariolage may also be executed with separate bow strokes.[9]

The French violinist-composer Pierre Baillot writes in his pedagogical treatise of 1834, L'Art du violon (perhaps looking back on what he considered an earlier, less advanced era),

The name bariolage is given to the kind of passage which presents the appearance of disorder and oddness, in that the notes are not played in succession on the same string where one would expect this or when the notes e2, a1, d1, are played not on the same string but alternately with one stopped finger and the open string, or else finally when the open string is played in a position where a stopped note would normally be required.[10]

Joseph Haydn used this effect in the minuet of his Symphony No. 28, in the finale of the "Farewell" Symphony, No. 45, and throughout the finale of his String Quartet Op. 50, No. 6. The "croaking"[11] or "gurgling"[12] unison bariolage passages on D and A gives this quartet its nickname of The Frog.

In the following example, from a violin sonata by Handel,[a] the second measure is to be played with bariolage:

In this passage, the repeated A is played on the open A string, alternating with Fs and Es fingered on the adjacent D string. The notes on the D string (E and F natural) would be fingered as normal (first finger and low second), but the fingerings given above the second measure would be [2040 1040 2040 1040], indicating the switch (bariolage) from open A string to the stopped fourth finger on the D string, also playing the note A.

Another well-known example of bariolage is in Bach's Preludio to the E major Partita No. 3 for solo violin, where three strings are involved in the maneuver (one open string and two fingered notes).

Bariolage is much more rarely employed during the Romantic period in the nineteenth century, but some notable examples of its use are found in Brahms's works. Brahms used this device in the String Sextet in G Major (where it occurs at the very beginning in the viola) and in the Third Violin Sonata, Op. 108.[13]

Twentieth-century extensions

Although bariolage has been an established violinistic technique since at least the early eighteenth century, in contemporary music it may be regarded as an extended technique when used simultaneously in different instruments, or in conjunction with complex rhythmic layering or microtonal tunings. Examples may be found in Mauricio Kagel's 1993 string quartet Notturno and the cadenza of Giacinto Scelsi's 1965 Anahit.[2]

In the twentieth century, composers have adapted the bariolage idea to other instruments, particularly the trombone, where a constant pitch may be repeated while rapidly changing between different slide positions—a technique some composers call enharmonic change or enharmonic tremolo. Notable trombone pieces using this device are Luciano Berio's Sequenza V for solo trombone, and Vinko Globokar's Eppure si muove for a conducting solo trombonist and eleven musicians.[14]

Elliott Carter adapted the technique to the harp in a solo work actually titled Bariolage (1992), which blends the device with trills and a harp technique called bisbigliando, "in a profusion of trilling passages and enharmonic unison colourings."[15]


  1. ^ The Schirmer edition identifies the sonata, in F major, as "12th of the 15 Sonate ad Camera". The quotation comes from the second movement.


  1. ^ a b Stowell, Robin (1990). Violin Technique and Performance Practice in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries, p.172. Cambridge. ISBN 9780521397445.
  2. ^ a b c Patricia, Strange and Strange, Allen (2003). The Contemporary Violin: Extended Performance Techniques, p.32. Scarecrow. ISBN 9781461664109.
  3. ^ Winold, Allen (2007). Bach's Cello Suites, Volumes 1 and 2: Analyses and Explorations, p.19. Indiana University. ISBN 9780253013477. "Involves rapid alternation between two adjacent strings, usually with an open string note on one string and fingered notes on the other string," the difference producing an "interesting timbre."
  4. ^ Nardolillo, Jo (2014). All Things Strings, p.9. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810884441. "A technique of rapid alternation between a moving line and a static note, often an open string, creating a dazzling virtuosic effect...particularly popular in the Baroque era."
  5. ^ Stowell, Robin (2001). The Early Violin and Viola: A Practical Guide, p.79. Cambridge. ISBN 9780521625555.
  6. ^ David C Boyden and Peter Walls, "Bariolage", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publisher, 2001).
  7. ^ David Dalton, Playing the Viola: Conversations with William Promrose, with a foreword by Janos Starker (Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 114. ISBN 978-0-19-103921-8.
  8. ^ Don Michael Randel, "Bariolage", Harvard Dictionary of Music, fourth edition, Harvard University Press Reference Library 16 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003). ISBN 0-674-01163-5.
  9. ^ David C. Boyden and Peter Walls, "Bariolage", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publisher, 2001).
  10. ^ Pierre Baillot (1834), L'art du violon. Quoted in Stowell (1990), p. 198.
  11. ^ Wigmore, Richard (2011). The Faber Pocket Guide to Haydn. Faber & Faber. p. 197. ISBN 978-0571268733. "A quavering effect created by a quickfire repetition of the same note on open and fingered strings."
  12. ^ Hunter, Mary and Will, Richard (2012). Engaging Haydn: Culture, Context, and Criticism, p.283. Cambridge. ISBN 9781107015142.
  13. ^ David Milsom, Theory and Practice in Late Nineteenth-Century Violin Performance, 1850–1900 (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited; Burlington, VT: Aldershot Publishing Company, 2003), p. 93. ISBN 9780754607564.
  14. ^ James Max Adams, "Timbral Diversity: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Solo Works for the Tenor Trombone Containing Extended Techniques", D.A. diss. (Greeley: University of Northern Colorado, 2008): pp. 6, 61, 111.
  15. ^ Kirsty Whatley, "Rough Romance: Sequenza II for Harp as Study and Statement", in Berio's Sequenzas: Essays on Performance, Composition and Analysis, edited by Janet K. Halfyard, 39–52 (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited; Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007): p. 49n13. ISBN 978-0-7546-5445-2.