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I'm currently engraving a hand-written SATB piece in LilyPond and encountered some music notation I'm not really sure what to do with. It consists of four consecutive quarter notes with each note having "<" and ">" signs below them (it's in the alto part). The lyrics are in Swedish.

Crescendos?

An ASCII art attempt at this looks something like this:

--|--|--|--|--
--o--o--o--o--
  <  >  <  >

My interpretation is that they are intended as single-note crescendos followed by decrescendos. Are there other valid interpretations of this that are specific to choral music?

Also, I still haven't found a way to produce this "decrescendo" sign in LilyPond, at least not in a visually appealing way. Maybe taking an accent sign and mirroring it horizontally could work, but I haven't delved into tweaking LilyPond out that far yet.

I'm now going with the Unicode MUSICAL SYMBOL CRESCENDO (U+1D192) and DECRESCENDO (U+1D193) simply attached as markup strings to the notes in question. For now, that is as close as I can get, semantically and visually. This is the LilyPond output:

LilyPond output

The arranger of this piece is Hans Zimmergren (1937-2018), and the music (according to the manuscript) is based on an english traditional melody. The lyrics are an excerpt from Sakarias 9:9 (which is probably Zachary 9:9 in the English-speaking world). It's a single-page manuscript of 16 bars, probably intended as part of service. No tempo indicated, but as it is kind of hymnal it's probably andante at the most.

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    Are you sure that they're not very short crescendo/decrescendo pairs? Do you not have access to the composer or copyist? I certainly can't think of anything else they'd mean, but maybe seeing an image would help bring something to mind. What language is the piece in?
    – phoog
    Nov 12, 2022 at 14:46
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    My first guess was exactly that of cresc/decresc pairs. The arranger is long dead, I'm afraid, and we haven't performed it yet, so I'm not sure how it's meant to sound.
    – gmw
    Nov 12, 2022 at 14:53
  • I’ve seen very short hairpins before. Is there a tempo marking? The slower the tempo the more likely they are hairpins, IMHO Nov 12, 2022 at 18:24
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    Is the arranger also the composer? That is, although the arranger is dead, might there be other arrangements of the piece? They could give clues. So, title and composer ...? (Thanks for the image. Very helpful.)
    – Aaron
    Nov 12, 2022 at 22:13
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    Do you know anyone who performed this arrangement with the arranger's participation? A member of the choir for which it was arranged, perhaps? That's probably your best bet to avoid having to guess at what it means.
    – phoog
    Nov 13, 2022 at 15:11

4 Answers 4

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A simple way to obtain this symbol in LilyPond is to use the rotation property to rotate a normal accent.

\version "2.22.2"

reverseAccent = \tweak rotation #'(180 0 0) \accent

{
  c'-> c'\reverseAccent 
}

See https://lilypond.org/doc/v2.23/Documentation/notation/rotating-objects.html#rotating-layout-objects

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The "reverse accent" is a legitimate articulation symbol in Musescore called "Fade in":

"Fade in" articulation in Musescore

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    Worth noting that the corresponding "accent symbol" to the right of it is called "fade out".
    – Edward
    Nov 12, 2022 at 22:55
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    They also look quite different than the accent symbol, but in handwriting they could look the same.
    – Edward
    Nov 12, 2022 at 22:56
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    Also, worth noting that outside of Musescore/Lilypond, I think any performer would simply refer to these as crescendo/decrescendo or "hairpins." The notes pictured would be odd with accents, but hairpins would make sense. Nov 13, 2022 at 4:10
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The arranger is indicating that the word should be accented against its normal pattern of emphasis.

Ordinarily, the second syllable of "rättfärdig" ("-fär-") receives the emphasis; however, Zimmergren is asking for the first and third to be emphasized on the second and fourth beats of the measure.

There is no standard "anti-accent" symbol, but sometimes a u-shaped arc attached to the note. Lilypond does not have a native symbol for anti-accents.

See also

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They certainly look like accents to me. A crescendo or diminuendo should extend into the space that represents the note's duration, almost to the point underneath the following note. But indeed I suspect that you are correct to suspect that these are not accents.

In applying dynamic markings to a staff containing more than two parts, one generally puts them below the staff only, and the markings apply to both parts. If the parts require different dynamic markings, then the markings for the upper part go below the staff.

In vocal music, however, dynamics usually go above the staff because the lyrics are below the staff. That might suggest that these markings apply only to the alto part. On the other hand, this arranger has written the words farther away from the staff than normal -- on the staff below -- so it's possible that all the dynamics are written below the vocal staff. In that case, these marks would apply to both parts. Some comparison of the arranger's other work might be in order, if possible, to get a better sense of his style.

My best guess, without seeing other manuscripts or indeed the rest of this piece, is that the marks are intended to highlight the melodic contour of the soprano part. Whether this means that the entire choir should do this or only the altos (because the sopranos should do it naturally on account of the melodic contour itself) is probably a matter for debate, but in any event it's clear that the altos should be aware of the sopranos' melodic contour and that they should be supporting it by singing a bit more loudly under the higher notes and more softly under the lower ones. This is especially so because the lower notes are low in the soprano range, so the sopranos won't have as much volume as the altos.

There is a good deal of speculation here, of course. This is the most plausible explanation given the little information in the question, but it could be way off. To reiterate, looking at other work by the arranger could well point in a different direction.

If I were engraving this, I would probably not make these crescendo/decrescendo pairs, because that actually implies that the low note is the loudest point of each swell. Since I think that's the opposite of the intention, I would either change the dynamic markings entirely or reproduce them as written; in both cases I would add a note of explanation.

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  • The arranger (or copyist) apparently used three staves for each system; the middle staff is used for lyrics (which are the same for all voices). My guess is that the dynamics discussed apply to all voices. There are no other explicit dynamics in the piece to compare with.
    – gmw
    Nov 13, 2022 at 23:32
  • @gmw normally dynamics apply to all the voices on the same staff only. This would be even more true if there are words written between the staves, preventing the dynamics from being there (in the middle). To indicate dynamics that apply to the whole ensemble, they should be applied separately to all staves, so singers don't have to pay attention to the staff they're not singing from.
    – phoog
    Nov 14, 2022 at 9:47

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