symphony no.1 movement 1 page 16 by the string sections

Working on Peter I. Tchaikovsky first symphony manuscript conductor's score. I came to an interesting observation.

On the same page all instruments start with a P (piano) then a few measures later get louder to an F (forte) the difference is that for some instruments he added an expressive, crescendo mark, while some he use's an opening hairpin. I would like to know if there is a difference between the two? If not why does he use it for one instrument yes, and other instruments no?

The symphony is no. 1 first movement around page 16. To get to look on the manuscript you can go to imslp Tchaikovsky symphony no1 opus 13.

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    Can we get a picture? Hard to analyse the score without the score.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 6:47
  • I tried to download it doesn't go. I still not so good in this. I'll try again.
    – Nachmen
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 7:28
  • On IMSLP, there's only the 'Moscow: P. Jurgenson's' editions. Do you have other editions? Or better, do you have the autograph score? It would be helpful. Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 7:30
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    I'm not aware of any difference in meaning. Typically, if one has a (de-)crescendo over many bars, hair pins are easier to stretch than the word. But here, where the same number of bars is concerned it looks arbitrary (if not inconsistent). Given that the first violins have the word and all other strings the hair pins excludes a relation to instrument type.
    – guidot
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 8:17
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    @guidot, There is a difference between the use of hairpins and the word 'crescendo'. Historically, they did not have the same meaning. In the first chapter of the book 'The secret life of Musical Notation' (Roberto Poli), the author explain how hairpins, in some old works (as the ones of Chopin, for example), where used to mark speed changes in a musical line. Because of the time when this symphony was written, I think they can mean something else, but this need to be deepened. Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 9:27

5 Answers 5


I am both a flutist and vocalist in the USA and it looks to me like the score has the word "crescendo" written across many bars for some instruments and then the hairpin symbol referring to "crescendo" under other instruments. I don't believe there is a difference in the speed at which the crescendo would be performed by the orchestra as a whole in this case, regardless of how the crescendo instruction is notated. Hope this is helpful!


I think this is an error in the score. If I say that, it's because Thcaikovsky, in a letter to Jugensern (the editor of the score you are working on), say that few mistakes are still present in the score.

I found this on the internet:

Tchaikovsky gave a detailed account of his reworking of his First Symphony, and publication of the full score, in a letter to Pyotr Jurgenson of 15 April 1886:

'' It was written in 1866. For its performance I made some changes to it on the advice of Nikolay Grigoryevich, in which form it was performed in 1868. But then I decided to make some fundamental revisions to it. However, I did not carry out this intention until 1874. In 1875, on my birthday, you surprised me by presenting me with a printed copy of the full score. I was touched by your kindness, but very displeased with the numerous errors which spoiled the edition. But mistakes aside, the symphony was printed correctly, i.e. with changes to the theme that I made in 1874. Then it was not played until 1883. Before the performance, Albrecht sent the full score to me at Kamenka. I noticed many mistakes, and during rehearsals Erdmannsdörfer found many more, but everything was performed correctly. Then you wanted to publish a new piano arrangement of the symphony, and commissioned Langer to do it, which was a bad idea. He made this with Kashkin's help, and I checked it (during rehearsals for Mazepa, i.e. at the end of '83 and beginning of '84).

What has happened to all these?: i.e. the full score with my corrections, and Erdmannsdörfer's on the parts, used for rehearsals, and the piano arrangement—they all seem to have disappeared without trace. Now, a month or so ago, you asked where were the revisions I'd made to the First Symphony? I explained to you that there were no revisions, and that there were only corrections to the score printed in 1875, made by myself and Erdmannsdörfer. Now what do I find? You've sent Ivanov the First Symphony with insertions here and there, which I removed during my fundamental revision in 1874; i.e. all the rubbish I threw out, you have now painstakingly restored. Where did you get these discarded passages? Who's trying to annoy me? And why did you send the parts for the later version, thus contradicting the full score which had the symphony in its original form...?

And so, to clear up once and for all the state of affairs regarding my long-suffering symphony, I say again:

1) The full score of my symphony as it stands contains countless errors. 2) There should be the parts used by Erdmannsdörfer for the performance of the symphony in 1883. I don't know where they are, but they don't appear to be the ones you've now sent to Ivanov. 3) The [piano] arrangement was made very badly, and printed with dozens of careless mistakes.

All these were corrected in 1883 and '84, but I don't know where the proofs are now.

4) The handwritten sheets, enclosed with the proofs you sent to Ivanov, quite outrageously contain everything I threw out in 1874, and which, for reasons incomprehensible to me, you saw fit to restore.''

To support this answer, I also had a look in some individual parts. I found that in the bass and second violin parts (I only had a look to the strings section), the publisher used this notation (instead of what was in the score):

Bass part: Bass part

Second Violin part: Second Violin part

instead of this score part : Score part

Viewing that, one can suppose that there is a mistake in the score (or in the part). I think to resolve this question, you will have to access the real score of this symphony with the annotated by the composer (because the autograph score seems to be lost).

  • If you say it's a mistake on the part of the publisher, that's ok with me. But the second part of the question is there a difference, wasn't answered.
    – Nachmen
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 9:20
  • Welcome to the site. i hope we can rely on further great answers in the future.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 9:28
  • I started to answer this above (in a comment to guidot). In my university percussions classes (Université Laval), I learn that the difference between the two, nowadays, is that the hairpins are use to have a gradual increase in dynamic and the word crescendo is use to ask a more retarded increase in the dynamic (you have to wait a bit before increasing more quickly). I don't know if you understand what I mean (english is not my language, so I have difficulties to explain it). Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 9:33
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    But because this work is old, maybe you have to research in the significance of hairpins in romantic works... You can maybe try to read the Roberto Poli work's mentioned above. Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 9:39

Yes, there's a difference. I do mostly re-engraving of very old out-of-print public domain works from obscure sources sometimes, and as Tchaikowsky was well aware, engravers used to, and still do, take incredible liberties - myself included! However, I understand the conventional interpretation is that "cresc." and "dim." means "start changing the volume, and keep doing it until I tell you to do something else", and a hairpin up or down is a clear indication of how long the change in volume is to take. Hence if there's a volume change required over many bars (good ol' Rossini overtures!), you'd write "crescendo" or perhaps "poco a poco cresc." or "molto cresc.": and then write in the finishing dynamic where it is required. A hairpin drawn over a large number of bars just doesn't work visually.

Another thing that's argued about constantly is how to interpret fp and pf! One thing's for sure, pf doesn't mean start softly and suddenly get louder!

Interesting thread!



The hairpin in old music is used as a rhythmic device (rit/accel) or agogic accent. This is discussed at length in Roberto Poli's book, "The Secret Life of Musical Notation." At some point early in the 20th century this changed. In very small circles this knowledge is known, but most musicians are largely ignorant of the practice.


I cannot say for this piece in particular, but just want to mention that during the romantic era, hairpins was also used to denote a type of rhythmic flexibility and rubato. That is, in contrast to the traditional interpretation as crescendo and diminuendo.

In this fantastic Youtube video where Seymour Bernstein goes through Chopin's Prelude in E minor he mentions this point, and also shows some documentation to back up this interpretation of hairpins. For instance:

The sign <>, as used by Brahms, often occurs when he wishes to express great sincerity and warmth, applied not only to tone; but to rythm also. He would linger not on one note only, but on the whole idea, as if unable to tear himself away from its beauty.

(Stated to be from "Cobbett's encyclopedic survey of chamber music")

Another quote is:

The <> sign stands for accelerando and ritardando. The instruction is striking on several accounts. First the performer is to interpret the tempo flexibly, presumably in a type of rubato - the rhythmic groupings are not literal, but elastic, now pressing forward, now restrained. Traditionally used to control dynamics, the hairpins regulate instead a constantly shifting sense of rhythmic energy and abatement.

(Quote attributed to Fanny Mendelssohn)

Maybe more to the point is this research paper "The Brahmsian Hairpin" by David Hyun-Su Kim (19th-Century Music Vol. 36, No. 1), which describes different interpretations of hairpins across time.


Hairpins, the notation symbols < and >, are today universally accepted as equivalent to the markings crescendo and diminuendo, calling for an increase or decrease in volume. This view is irreconcilable with the scores of the core German repertoire of the nineteenth century. This article offers a new understanding of hairpins based on careful examination of the scores of Brahms and of early-twentieth-century recordings by artists close to him. In Brahms's milieu hairpins did not prescribe sounds, but rather described meanings. The difference between prescription and description is central, suggesting that instead of “growing louder/quieter,” hairpins are better understood as “becoming more/less.” The means by which “more/less” was realized by nineteenth-century musicians included many techniques beyond dynamics, most notably agogic inflection.

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