I was reading through the music for Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy a few days ago and I realized that I am often surprised when I see expressive markings (dynamics, tempo, accents and the like) that are not in the standard Italian. How did Italian become the standard for expressive markings in the majority of notated music?

I do know that a great deal of music (especially from the Romantic period forward) has these markings in whatever language is appropriate to the composer or to the piece; however, most music uses dynamic markings like Forte and Piano regardless of the primary language of the composer or the language in which the piece is written.


It is because Italian composers were the first to use these markings in their scores, so the formalized the practice during the 1600s if memory serves. It was adapted to music from Europe to formalize the practice in one language so all could understand and perform.

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    You mean: ...so nobody could understand, but still perform... ;-) – awe Mar 26 '12 at 12:17
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    It probably also helped that the Italians were good at publishing, printing and selling sheet music from the 1600s on. They established a solid trend. One might also observe that all computer programming languages are based on English, because most of the work in creating computer languages and implementing them started in the USA. – user1044 Mar 26 '12 at 15:50
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    The Italian printing hegemony is older than that! Rome conquered Egypt largely to secure sources of papyrus. A book written on potsherds is heavy. – luser droog Mar 26 '12 at 19:18
  • @WheatWilliams That is an interesting observation! You could probably expand that into a good answer. – Josh Darnell Mar 26 '12 at 22:19
  • Michael is right on. The earliest scores to include elements such as dynamics (such as Gabriele's 'Sonata Pian e Forte') are in Italian. Elements introduced later after Italian dominance in music waned, such as fluttertounging, are rarely in Italian (this one is in either German or English). – Michael Scott Cuthbert Feb 25 '13 at 4:38

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