I have always understood the term sotto voce to be more of an expressive instruction - a feeling - than a specific dynamic mark. It's used to mark a passage (often in vocal music, but it's not limited to vocal music) that should be performed very quietly. But it doesn't seem to take the place of a proper dynamic mark.

In this Brahms piece, for instance, it is paired with p to tell the performer not only to play at a soft dynamic, but also to play in an understated manner; with restraint.

Brahms Symphony 3

Brahms excerpt

Now here is the question: Assuming that a regular dynamic marking is also required, how does one "cancel" the sotto voce instruction? Is there an opposite term like arco/pizz. that is expected? Does the instruction disappear with the next dynamic marking to appear? How should one cancel the indication of sotto voce?

If the context is important, the passage is soprano/alto in a choral piece, and the dynamic is indeed piano.

As a possible answer, a further search brought me to this bassoon moment in the same piece. Is mezza voce (translated from Italian: half/medium voice) perhaps Brahms' answer? EDIT: Aaron beat me to it!

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  • 1
    Note, btw, the f at rehearsal B. We can probably presume that there's no "forte sotto voce." I guess it's a fair question, how does "p e sotto voce" compare to "pp", e.g. after reh. A? For what it's worth, I think Brahms threw it in at the beginning and not thereafter because, as you say, it's an expressive instruction, and once the movement "gets going" the bassist presumably knows when to be subdued. Feb 24, 2023 at 1:35

1 Answer 1


There are three "voce"s for music:

  • sotto voce: hushed voice (lit. "under the voice")
  • mezza voce: half voice
  • piena voce: full voice
  • Would a dynamic mark, especially at mp or above, cancel it out also? Feb 24, 2023 at 3:04
  • @ToddWilcox Anything mp or lower, I would have to give it real interpretive thought; but, mf or higher I would interpret as a cancellation. I'm not aware of any convention.
    – Aaron
    Feb 24, 2023 at 3:20

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