6

In mm. 342 and 382 of the last movement of his Piano Quartet n. 3, Op.26, Brahms writes G.P. over one measure's rest (with no fermata). Is the intention that this General Pause should last exactly one measure, or should it be interpreted as being at the players' discretion regarding the length? If of discretionary length, is it within bounds to make rest shorter than the number of beats in a measure? What if there were a number of measures indication, e.g. 2 along with the G.P. -- wouldn't that mean a G.P. of exactly 2 measures?

three measures of whole rests with G.P., L.P, and a fermata, respectively https://dictionary.onmusic.org/appendix/topics/pause-markings

Is the explanation above saying that a G.P. over a measure's rest is identical to a fermata over the rest? Just beneath the illustration, the source makes a distinction when explaining a cesura and a cesura with a fermata:

caesura indications with and without fermata

As I see it, a measure's rest with a fermata should generally be longer than a plain measure's rest. Put another way, can a G.P. be exactly the length of the rest, or must is always be longer, i.e. with an implied fermata? Is it more than a reminder that no one is playing?

General Pause Indication in orchestral scores that all the players are silent at that point. New Oxford Companion to Music

That is how I always understood it, as heads up/confirmation that no instrument is playing -- not per se an indication of the length of the pause.

General pause In a score for an ensemble piece, "G.P." (General Pause) indicates silence for one bar or more for the entire ensemble.[7] The marking of general pauses is relevant, as making noise should be avoided there—for instance, page turns in sheet music are avoided during general pauses, as the sound of players turning the page would be audible by the audience.[8] Wikipedia

6

G.P. and a fermata have entirely different meanings. OnMusic Dictionary is wrong.

  • G.P. (or the Italian "vuota") is a courtesy indication that nobody is playing. In the absence of any indication to the contrary the tempo continues. G.P. is mostly only marked in the orchestra parts, the conductor can see from the score that everybody has rests.
  • A fermata indicates that the tempo is suspended and the note (or rest) is held at the performer's discretion.

The two signs are often combined to indicate a silence of indefinite time. In musical theater, for example, this could even mean a whole scene lasting several minutes.

A caesura can have any length, but typically it would be fairly short. Combining a caesura with a fermata gives the performers a hint that it could be a lot longer.

"L.P." would be highly unusual, in fact I don't think I've ever seen it.

8
  • PiedPiper Do you have a printed example of a G.P. and fermata combined? Yes, one *could hold a note/rest + fermata for a length shorter than the note's/rest's value, but you do have a source suggesting that is a valid interpretation of a fermata?
    – DjinTonic
    Aug 3 at 21:01
  • @DjinTonic Kodály "Dances of Galanta" measure 565 in the orchestra parts, not the score (the conductor doesn't need it marked "G.P.", they can see that there are only rests). There's no need for a source to suggest that a fermata can be shorter: I've often see/heard it done .
    – PiedPiper
    Aug 3 at 21:52
  • @PiedPiper I've never encountered making a fermata shorter, either in practice or in definition.
    – Aaron
    Aug 3 at 22:59
  • @ I also do not believe I've ever encountered a L.P. (other than the vinyl variety).
    – DjinTonic
    Aug 4 at 2:56
  • @Aaron Whether a fermata can be shorter is irrelevant here, so I deleted that sentence.
    – PiedPiper
    Aug 4 at 8:13
4

I just found this in The Definitive Guide To Music Notation (2016) p.190, which is quite specific about a difference:

enter image description here

As I imagined, working backwards from a multi-measure G.P. as logically indicating a precise total time, a G.P. with a single measure would also be one exactly measure.


With reference to the Italian alternative, vuota, the Riccordi Enciclopedia della musica has:

vuota 3. battuta vouta -- battuta in cui non vi sono note ma solo pause corrispondenti, nella quale così l'esecuzione è sospesa (per il solo valore della battua).**

[empty 3. empty measure -- a measure in which there are no notes, but only the equivalent rests, during which playing stops (for only/just the duration/[time] value of the measure).] Note the qualification. (Italian is curious in that battuta can mean measure or beat. To distinguish, one would say Sulla terza battuta nella seconda misura. -- On the third beat in the second measure.)

4
  • Very cool! It's reassuring that there's consistency amongst the most reliable sources.
    – Aaron
    Aug 3 at 21:03
  • In all of this, I can't help but think that "exactly one measure" is also not a particularly precise amount of time. Although it does presumably allow a lesser degree of discretion than a measure with a fermata, there is always discretion to stretch the tempo. It's especially easy and common to do it when there is a lack of short notes, whether because of a GP or because everyone has a whole note in that measure.
    – phoog
    Aug 3 at 21:06
  • @phoog3 I don't disagree, but IMO listener's can perceive one measure (even if adjusted slightly) as opposed to something longer that definitely feels deliberately longer.
    – DjinTonic
    Aug 3 at 21:12
  • Ooh, I missed that response because of the extra 3. I too don't disagree. Rereading the answers, and looking at the examples, I'm coming to the conclusion that this is what a court would call a "fact-sensitive inquiry" for which a general rule cannot be stated, so each case must be considered individually.
    – phoog
    Aug 7 at 19:22
1

TL;DR

  • G.P. = "Be very, very quiet. Nobody else is playing here either." But says nothing about the duration of the rest, which is as notated.

  • Fermata = Extend the rest beyond its notated value.


Some definitions from authoritative sources:

caesura

A term sometimes used interchangeably with 'pause' to indicate a note that is held for longer than its written value. More specifically it was used in the Viennese Classical tradition ... to indicate where a singer or wind player should take a breath...; it is also used to denote the holding up of the metre, often heard in the Viennese waltz.1

generalpause (G.P.)

An indication in orchestral scores ... that all players are silent at that point. It commonly occurs after a climactic passage, and was one of the notable innovations of the 18th-century Mannheim school of orchestral playing.2

A rest for the whole orchestra, usually unexpected.3

In a score for an ensemble piece, "G.P." (General Pause) indicates silence for one bar or more for the entire ensemble. The marking of general pauses is relevant, as making noise should be avoided there—for instance, page turns in sheet music are avoided during general pauses, as the sound of players turning the page would be audible by the audience.4

pause/fermata

A sign indicating that the note, chord, or rest over which it appears is to be prolonged at the performer's discretion. It is sometimes placed over a bar-line to indicate a short silence. It may also be used to indicate the end of a phrase, section or composition.5

[A] sign ... showing the end of a passage or indicating the prolongation of a note or rest beyond its usual value.... Sometimes it indicates that a cadenza or flourish should be performed.6

The note [or rest] should be prolonged beyond the normal duration its [notated] value would indicate.7


Conclusion

While there seems to be popular disagreement about whether a G.P. (without further indication) is of fixed or performer-determined length, the authoritative sources do not comment in this regard, but they are explicit that a fermata extends the length.

It's reasonable to conclude that Brahms intended a pause of exactly one measure. In both the G.P. and fermata cases, a shorter-than-notated silence would be indicated by a shorter associated rest or a caesura mark.


Sources

1 The Oxford Companion to Music, ed. Alison Latham (Oxford University Press, 2003)
2 Ibid., 308
3 The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music, ed. Stanley Sadie (Macmillan Press Ltd., 1994)
4 Elaine Gould's Behind Bars, pages 190 and 561 (by way of Wikipedia) 5 Oxford, 937
6 Norton/Grove, 603
7 The Harvard Dictionary of Music, 310 (by way of Wikipedia)*

12
  • 1
    Do you have a printed example (preferably not modern) where a G.P. is combined with a fermata?
    – DjinTonic
    Aug 3 at 20:40
  • @DjinTonic I don't. My answer is based solely on the sources cited.
    – Aaron
    Aug 3 at 20:43
  • I think we're all in agreement that the length of a fermata is at the performers'/conductor's discretion. My question is about this "popular disagreement," and whether all sources limit the meaning of G.P. itself to being a heads-up only, or whether some do mention a discretionary length.
    – DjinTonic
    Aug 3 at 20:48
  • @DjinTonic The OnMusic link in the OP indicates that G.P. and fermata are synonymous. Another site, liveabout.com similarly indicates "The notation "G.P." or "L.P." is marked over a whole rest. The length of the pause is left to the discretion of the performer or conductor.". So there are (at least two) "popular sources" (my term) that say G.P. and fermata are the same.
    – Aaron
    Aug 3 at 20:54
  • I, too, think a G.P. (and cesura) is "often unexpected," and is one motivation for using it. – DjinTonic 5 hours ago
    – DjinTonic
    Aug 4 at 3:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.