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It looks like a crescendo and a decrescendo on one note, but I don't think that's it:

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    What instrument?
    – Aaron
    Commented Apr 18, 2023 at 19:47
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    Also, title and composer?
    – Aaron
    Commented Apr 18, 2023 at 19:47
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    I have this in the clarinet part of an edition of Fantasiestucke by Schumann and in that it is a brief crescendo and decrescendo over a short motive. Commented Apr 18, 2023 at 20:02
  • What's the Tempo at this point ?
    – Criggie
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 22:02

4 Answers 4

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"It looks like a crescendo and a decrescendo on one note, but I don't think that's it:"

That's EXACTLY what it is. Think of it perhaps as a soft-attack accent. 'Lean on' the note.

You'll even occasionally find it written in piano music, where it's essentially meaningless but can be taken as a musical intention. Composers sometimes do that sort of thing. And performers sometimes even perform some sort of magic and make us feel we're hearing the effect!

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  • It seems odd in that case to place it on such a short note, but not knowing the tempo of the piece in question, it's hard to say. Maybe it's a slow movement and 8th notes are long enough for this nuance to be noticed? Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 13:17
  • Yes, I think we can assume the tempo isn't fast!
    – Laurence
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 0:12
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This notation is often used e.g. by Brahms, e.g. measure 6 in op. 118/I. I’d take it as a "soft accent". A sort of expressive emphasis.

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Just an informed guess, but my first thought of this unfamiliar notation would be that either the high note should be swelled into and out of, or perhaps the entire phrase of three notes should take that dynamic contour. If it's a very slow tempo, the single-note crescendo/decrescendo is more believable.

Now I can't say I've seen that particular combination of two symbols firsthand, but I have seen the crescendo written like that for a single-note swell. Therefore, both of them together should be roughly what I expect, otherwise that's a misleading symbol. Hopefully this isn't for piano!

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    I have actually seen this symbol in a piano score. I think it was Schumann, but I can't remember which piece, it was too long ago, when I was younger. My teacher told me it should be interpreted as an intent: you obviously can't do a crescendo/decrescendo on a single note, but you should feel it as such. LilyPond calls it "espressivo" lilypond.org/doc/v2.25/Documentation/notation/… Commented Apr 18, 2023 at 20:19
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Whilst the second looks exactly like an accent sign, it's actually a pair of signs - crescendo and decrescendo. Because it's only involving three notes, the more usual hairpins need to be truncated to fit. Hence a very quick crescendo to the middle note, followed by an equally quick decrescendo through the last note.

Played best on wind instruments, or bowed strings. On wind, the player often points the instrument down, up, down, to exaggerate the effect, which, after all, is extremely fleeting.

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  • “On wind, the player often points the instrument down, up, down, to exaggerate the effect” - It would be funny to see a singer do this, too.
    – Neal
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 15:59
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    ^ with a handheld mic and a healthy imagination :)
    – user45266
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 23:36
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    Actually you can see some singers with mics do this: they move the head closer to the mic then back again, but it's more often done the other way with a handheld mic, by getting the mic closer
    – Kaddath
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 8:37

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