In her answer to Liszt's B minor sonata crescendo, user @Madeleine writes:

In many places in Chopin's music, he wrote hairpins ... to indicate rubato rather than a crescendo or decrescendo.

The answer itself doesn't include any further reference(s).

  1. Did Chopin use hairpins in this way?
  2. Is the answer to #1 a matter of primary documentation, later scholarship, tradition, or individual interpretation?

3 Answers 3


It wasn't limited to Chopin; the hairpin symbols weren't universally tied to dynamics until the twentieth century. Before then, usage was a little more varied. A good source for this is David Hyun-Su Kim. "The Brahmsian Hairpin." 19th-Century Music 36, no. 1 (2012): 46-57.

  • Whaat? This has just blown my mind. Do you have any references to anything online? Nov 23, 2020 at 10:36

Besides the source mentioned by TobyRush, there is a very readable and extensive (60+ pages) discussion of this in Chapter 1 of "The Secret Life of Musical Notation" by Roberto Poli (Amadeus Press 2010). Particular attention is given to Chopin, but Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt and others are also covered.


In addition to the fine answers already given, you might listen to what Seymour Bernstein has to say about "double hairpins" in Romantic music. He makes a very persuasive case that they are never about dynamics, only about rubato. He says it took him ten years to find documentation of this, but then he found what he needed in Cobbett's Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music.

He found further corroboration in some writing by Fanny Mendelssohn, which I include in this screen shot from the video:

Fanny Mendelssohn's comment about double hairpins

I linked to the specific discussion of hairpins in Bernstein's video, but the whole video is well worth watching, as is every lesson you can find from him.

  • Modern people either play < as a crescendo and > as a diminuendo or replace the former with accel. and the latter with rit. In my transcriptions I use actual hairpins and the notation editor plays it as a volume change.
    – Vighnesh
    Dec 29, 2023 at 14:53
  • That is the background to the whole discussion.
    – Robusto
    Dec 30, 2023 at 3:30

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