In the last few bars of Liszt's masterpiece, Liszt actually wrote a crescendo which can't possibly be played on the piano. I don't know how to interpret it. How do you approach it? Is that more of a gesture thing (like putting more weight on the keys after having played the notes)?

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  • 4
    Hmmm I would read that as a pp going to a short crescendo sign for one or two chords, then immediately to ppp. In other words, ending quietly on the last three chords.
    – Andy
    Jan 15, 2016 at 11:23
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    Just use the "swell" pedal :-) . Like Andy said, hit the second chord slightly louder than the first, then drop back down. Looks like the crescendo mark should have been placed a bit to the left. Jan 15, 2016 at 12:36
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    If I were playing this, I would most likely ignore it (after puzzling over it for a bit) and if I didn't ignore it, I might try holding down the damper pedal while the chord rings and lightly striking the chord again to make it sound again a little louder. With repeated gentle striking, one can almost fake a swell on a piano like this. Of course, there's not much time here to really create that effect. It's very bizaare. Jan 15, 2016 at 14:33
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    In the autograph - see petrucci.mus.auth.gr/imglnks/usimg/c/c4/…S178_Sonata_in_B_minor__MS.pdf -, the point of the crescendo was a bit left, coming off the end of the preceding chord. Play the second chord louder, then drop back to ppp, as @CarlWitthoft has suggested.
    – user16935
    Jan 15, 2016 at 15:01
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    If this is the only problem you have with the B-minor sonata, good for you. How I would interpret the crescendo is that Liszt wants you to hear the chord swell in your mind so that the sudden ppp of the next chord feels like more of a drop: it's more about what follows the crescendo. All he's saying is: "Hey, I want you to give me an audible difference between pp and ppp." Also note that it might mean that the second chord is simply played a little louder than the first, but maybe not so much as to go from pp to p. But you can't really be too literal with the Romantics.
    – Robusto
    Jan 15, 2016 at 15:50

2 Answers 2


It's often not a bad idea to check whether or not IMSLP has an autograph for a piece in the public domain, or failing that, to check other editions. In this case, IMSLP has a holograph manuscript which shows the point of the crescendo distinctly to the left of the second chord. I would play the second chord somewhat louder than the first, and break right back to ppp for the third chord. The holograph is here.

  • It is arguable imo. The length of the crescendo clearly goes through the whole chord. I guess I should not be too fussy about it, and play it like you said.
    – cfcief
    Jan 16, 2016 at 19:19
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    Tbh, I'm not sure how you could do otherwise. The mechanism of the piano sort of dictates it.
    – user16935
    Jan 16, 2016 at 20:22
  • Indeed, that's why I asked if it has to be "physically" interpreted.
    – cfcief
    Jan 17, 2016 at 16:10
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    Be hard to convince the audience through gesture that you're making a soft note swell. Better to achieve the illusion through phrasing: make sure the three dynamic levels are clear relative to each other, play very legato, and put a very slight agogic accent on the 2nd chord, (i.e., hold the 2nd chord fractionally longer).
    – user16935
    Jan 17, 2016 at 16:58

In many places in Chopin's music, he wrote hairpins like the one on this score to indicate rubato rather than a crescendo or decrescendo. If you used that concept here, it would mean taking a bit more time coming into the ppp.

  • 3
    Interesting, I didn't know this! Do you have any sources or sample pieces that you could point me to?
    – Richard
    Feb 20, 2019 at 22:43

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