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I just came across the sonatas a quattro by Rossini in the Schott edition and in 2nd movement of first sonata directly follow three decrescendos:

  1. from mf to p
  2. from p to mp
  3. from mp to pp

This clearly excludes a one-time typo and signals the assumption, that mp is softer than p while most references I found claim the opposite. Is this pecularity typical for a certain editor, nation or timeframe or just pure chance? Or is it the same phenomenon, that while everybody agrees what twice as fast means, twice as slow may be considered as faster or slower than slow?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The other answers are correct in that mp is always meant to be louder than p; that's simply the meaning of the term.

Regarding the Rossini specifically, it's interesting to note that he originally wrote the sonatas (at twelve years old, no less!) for two violins, cello, and double bass. Only later was it rearranged for a traditional string quartet and published. Additionally, it doesn't seem to be clear whether he did this later arrangement himself or not. He was known to have disliked the piece a great deal, and might have had nothing to do with it.

So it's entirely possible that those dynamic markings are not related to the original at all, and were instead an attempt by the editor to improve the piece - the only (later) edition I've seen doesn't contain anything of the sort, rather the movement is marked p as a whole with the occasional sf. If later editions follow the original manuscript (which was rediscovered, I believe, in the 1940s), it's possible that they are more accurate to the original, for whatever it's worth.

Still, either way I wouldn't throw out the possibility that it's meant precisely as it's written: piano, decrescendo, then immediately to mezzo-piano. That sort of indication isn't the most common but I've certainly seen it, especially in concert band music.

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"p" is always softer than "mp"

  • P = soft
  • mezzo = "half"
  • mezzo piano = "half soft"

In almost every circumstance what you have seen could be considered a simple editing error. That said, if the intention was to diminuendo and then return to a "mp" marking or in fact grow from a previous "p" marking, then it would not be a typo.

I would recommend looking at different editions of the piece as well as giving it a listen to be absolutely sure. If people are getting quiet and then staying quiet and all the other editions agree, then it's a typo.

Twice as slow is just a funny way of saying "half as fast". It is akin to dividing a number by 2 or multiplying it by 1/2: both give the same result, but it's two different ways of expressing the same intent.

This is not the same as say, Andantino which will be slightly faster than Andante.

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To add to this, all musical terms are in Italian, and the direct translations aren't always 100% accurate, so we say the next best thing. –  amanda witt Feb 1 at 10:39
    
@amandawitt - just to clarify, all Italian musical terms are written in Italian. The French used French; Germans used German; etc etc. –  jjmusicnotes Feb 1 at 16:44
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I've always been taught to read mf and mp as abbreviations for "mezzo-forte" and "mezzo-piano" or "moderatamente piano" and "moderatamente forte".

Mezzo, in italian, means "half" and moderatamente means moderately (mildly, fairly). Both english and italian wikipedia page about this matter agree.

mp, standing for mezzo-piano, meaning "moderately soft".

mf, standing for mezzo-forte, meaning "moderately loud".

Given that, we can "rank" dynamic indications (from the softer to the louder) as follows:

ppp, pp, p, mp, (none), mf, f, ff, fff

so, as jjmusicnotes said, p is softer than mp and it could either be an error or a wanted effect.

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