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I'm new to piano (and music theory) and I'm a little confused by the notation used for what I understand to be crescendo and diminuendo for the Arietta A1 piece.

The first bar starts off with a "p" meaning "piano" or "quietly", then the next indication is a diminuendo > in bar 5 and then again > in bar 6, meaning even more quietly?

The next indication is then in bars 10 and 11 showing yet another diminuendo > in each bar??

I don't think this makes sense - have they missed out some crescendos from the music score?

  • It would be useful to add a composer or other elements to identify the piece. Linking to the sheet music on imslp.org for example would be even beter. – Tim H Sep 14 '15 at 12:10
  • @TimH It's the one from this book they publish boosey.com/shop/prod/ABRSM-Piano-Exam-Pieces-2015-2016-Grade-1/…, i'm not sure i'm allowed to link it here as it is copyrighted – magritte Sep 14 '15 at 12:28
  • The sheet music can also be found here: imslp.org/wiki/… – Tim H Sep 14 '15 at 12:55
  • @TimH The IMSLP link doesn't match the ABRSM syllabus. The frst "arietta" is Lesson 12 not 5, but the dynamic markings don't match the OP's question, and the general standard of the pieces looks much too high for Grade 1. This link has a preview of the first page of what seems to be the correct "Op 42 No 5". sheetmusic2print.com/Clementi/Arietta-42-5.aspx – user19146 Sep 14 '15 at 23:11
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I'm assuming that you mean this piece: http://www.sheetmusic2print.com/Clementi/Arietta-42-5.aspx.

The marking "p" means "softly," but not "as soft as possible", so you should be able to play more softly than "p". Make sure you start the piece loudly enough so you can do that!

The music divides up into four-bar phrases. I would interpret the dynamics as meaning that each 4-bar phrase (starting at bars 1, 5, 9, etc) should begin "p", and get softer towards the end.

The instructions on sheet music often leave a lot of the details to "common sense". Trying to indicate everything precisely, leaving nothing to the performer's imagination, is quite a modern idea.

  • Yes! that's the one - thanks for finding it! So are you saying that each bar after a > resets to a volume of p? i.e. the dynamic only applies to the bar it's in and then after that you reset to the previous volume? Also I kind of feel that bars 8, 9, and 10 should get progressively louder - do you think they missed that out? For the exam I just want to understand the dynamic markings so that I don't lose marks unnecessarily - I would have thought you should play precisely what is written? Or is that not the case? – magritte Sep 15 '15 at 8:26
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    The problem with "playing precisely what is written" is that musical notation isn't precise. You shouldn't do anything that obviously contradicts what is written, but if you feel bars 8-10 should get slightly louder, that's fine. (If you make a huge crescendo and play bar 10 fortissimo, that's not OK.) This is a piece of music, not a technical exercise. You should be able to find YouTube videos of the exam pieces. Listen carefully to the different performances and notice what is different about them. Then decide for yourself how you want to play the piece. – user19146 Sep 15 '15 at 11:11
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There is a feeling of an appoggiatura in those measures. So I actually would start each of the measures with the strange decrescendos slightly louder than what came before, and then allow some decay through the remainder of the measure. In other words, allow yourself to lean into the appoggiatura.

So, in essence, to me those funny decrescendos function as a very lateral, spread-out sort of accent.

To discover the dynamic shaping that makes the most sense to you, sing your melody. Try it a few different ways and choose what you like best. Then make your piano line sound like what you sang.

  • This makes a lot of sense, thanks aparente001 :-) – magritte Sep 17 '15 at 10:34
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A lot of times the dynamic signs have an interpretative character, they are not meant to be as a very hard prescription of the loudness of the piece. The exact loudness is left to be chosen by the performer. For example there is no consensus on how loud (say in decibels) a forte is or a pianissimo: it all depends on context.

Likewise the exact performance of diminuendo's and crescendo's are up to the performer.

On the other hand, having no indication of dynamics doesn't mean the performer has to keep a constant loudness for every note, either. On the contrary: playing like this would be very inexpressive and good phrasing would be impossible.

What's certain is that the composer (or, as in this case: the editor) wants you to perform the piece with the expression of piano and the expression of diminuendo at the right places.

In your case: it could be possible that a very slight almost unhearable crescendo between diminuendo's could help you to make this 'feeling' of continuing diminuendo possible.

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I had exactly same question to my tutor actually. The answer was a bit "meh, kinda blah", in other words not precise. But in general I am constantly being told, and hopefully this helps:

  • many of these markings are really very editorial, especially in A* pieces which are baroque or early classic. This means they are "up to you", only a suggestion. They are very likely not in the original score;

  • many of these pieces in A* group are actually not original piano music (obviously) but rather perhaps harpsichord (or say organ). And all these dynamics are not possible on those instruments. So again, this is a modern adaptation to use these dynamics.

  • what's more important is the legato/stocatto touch (especially in bass line) and phrasing, rythm, and getting the strong beats right rather than dynamics in those A* pieces. To get that more authentic feel.

So you see, perhaps it's not very important to get hung up on dynamics here, in simplictic terms :)

My personal interpretation of that piece, it might be helpful to think of it as a song, so those bars with "dims", think of someone singing on "one breath, one syllable", eg "ahhhhhhhhah", and then restarting the same from the next baat. You'd see it would be "dim" by the end each bar if you try to actually sing it.

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