In some Beethoven works (e.g. 8th symphony - first movement) there are some parts with repeated sforzando. Are these intended as simple sforzando or sforzando within crescendo? Is there any historical source explaining this?


I'm actually not sure by what do you mean by "repeated sforzando". I guess you are referring to passages that are repetitive and that have frequent sforzandi (for example, a sforzando each bar, etc.).

In any case, there are no fixed standard rules for these things. You have to see the context in which it happens; in general, any interpretation will make sense if it is coherent with the context. See where the passage goes, where does it come from, what is the role in the structure of the music, what is the harmony doing, the character of the music...

It is difficult to generalize. However, Beethoven's music is known for its insistence. How to "insist"? You have to see. Listen to good recordings and try yourself. If the passages in question are steady in rythm, harmony etc. there may be no need to do crescendo. Some people whant to always do crescendo/diminuendo; well, truth is that music can sometimes stay flat. For example, people who is stubborn do/say the same thing many times no matter what; translated to music, a "stubborn" expression will not do crescendo/diminuendo, but just repeat the same thing many times (until at the end it will explode, or maybe exhaust, who knows).

In addition, Beethoven wrote in a quite meticulous way, so chances are that there is no crescendo if he didn't wrote it. Again, this is not always the case and nothing can be generalized. At the end, to bring a score alive, many things that are not explicitly written need to happen.

  • I'm not sure where you learned that Beethoven was meticulous. Quite the opposite really; his scores are hardly legible and were completely impractical to use. They had to be re-copied before they could even make the parts. You also say it is difficult to generalize, and then spend an entire paragraph generalizing about LVB's music. The effect you describe is most notable a the conclusion of a movement or piece where the composer is intent on creating a sense of finality. – jjmusicnotes Sep 8 '14 at 23:41
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    @jjmusicnotes I'm not sure if this was intended in the answer, but although you're definitely right that his handwriting and autograph organization were anything but meticulous, I think you could argue that the notation was. His dynamic indications are far more frequent than contemporaries, he's one of the first composers to explicitly mark una corda and sutain pedal markings, one of the first to use metronome markings, etc. The style isn't meticulous—I imagine his copyists hated him—but the musical indications are, at least for his time. – Pat Muchmore Sep 9 '14 at 0:37
  • @PatMuchmore - couldn't agree more; my comments were made with respect to his style, and yes, certainly more meticulous in compositional instructions than his contemporaries. – jjmusicnotes Sep 9 '14 at 4:39
  • @jjmusicnotes You are not sure where I learned that Beethoven was meticulous... Well, from manuscripts themselves. We are talking about written musical ideas, not about aesthetics of ink and paper. When a composer crosses out several versions of the very same rhythmic idea (e.g. see Appassionata) before he reaches one that he finds appropriate, he is meticulous (and perhaps obsessive to some extent?) in trying to write what he has in mind in an accurate way. Presentation has zero weight here. – George Sep 9 '14 at 8:20
  • @George - a musical idea, no matter how profound, is useless if poorly presented; just as it is also useless if poorly performed; just as it is also useless if it is poorly conceived. Obsessive? Yes. I agree with "meticulous" in Pat's respect. In your respect, "stubborn" seems to be more appropriate. – jjmusicnotes Sep 9 '14 at 13:03

The sforzando symbol, sfz, is used to indicate a single accented note, much like the > mark, rather than a global change in dynamic level. As such, I don't see what the issue would be with repeating it.

As wikipedia explains:

Accented notes (notes to emphasize or play louder compared to surrounding notes) can be notated sforzando, sforzato, forzando or forzato (abbreviated sfz or fz) ("forcing" or "forced"). One particularly noteworthy use of forzando is in the second movement of Joseph Haydn's Surprise Symphony...

Sforzando (or sforzato or forzando or forzato), indicates a forceful accent and is abbreviated as sf, sfz or fz.

So in the example below, the off-beat sixteenths are meant to be accented:

enter image description here

To the second part of your question, while I'm sure there are period descriptions of dynamic markings, I am not sure what they are.

  • Good answer here Caleb - and this is how Beethoven often used the sforzando as well; often replacing the accent mark with an "sf" or an "sfz". In quick summation, a passage with repeated "sf" indicates a series of accented notes, not a global dynamic change. – jjmusicnotes Sep 8 '14 at 23:43
  • Please note that sforzando is not the same as an accent. Not for Beethoven, and not for any other composer. Notes with sforzando are somehow accented, yes, but sforzandi have connotations of wheight/pressure and, sometimes timing, that "regular" accents do not have. It is true, though, that sforzandi don't refer to a global change of volume. – George Sep 9 '14 at 8:26
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    Side note: Wikipedia is not a good source of information (talking in general, not only for this particular case). – George Sep 9 '14 at 8:28
  • Haydn's Surprise Symphony - (Smile) (Sweet) (Sister) (Sadistic) Surprise (Service) Symphony! – user53472 Mar 8 '19 at 4:49

I don't know about the 8th symphony sforzando but the 5th symphony sforzando is pretty famous and pretty universally interpreted. Here is the Sforzando passage I am referring to(and I'm pretty sure the forte 1 measure early in the tympani is a typo from the publisher):

enter image description here

This is universally interpreted as having the first note of each bar accented while still doing a crescendo to forte. Can't say that sforzando after crescendo symbols always means accents in the crescendo but it does in this sforzando passage.

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