Extreme dynamics

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David Ward
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Extreme dynamics

Post by David Ward » 28 Feb 2016, 20:45

This has been covered a little before on this forum, but looking at the score of Ligeti's violin concerto, for which OCTO provided this link http://www.schott-music.com/shop/resour ... 153622.pdf in another thread, I was struck by the extreme dynamic markings. eg ffffff occurs several times (it's even difficult to count just how many fs there are). This extreme occurs in both the solo violin part and in other instruments.

I hasten to add that I think this is a wonderful piece, and I'm quite sure Ligeti had a good reason to mark it as he did. But … Only two weeks ago I wrote in an e-mail to a student composer who sent me a string quartet: “Whether or not ffff has any real meaning in a solo violin part is perhaps another matter.” He had used this dynamic in the first violin.

Verdi had ppppppp in some scores, usually reduced to pppp when printed. As one experienced opera conductor said recently: “There is not likely to be any practical difference between pppppp and pppp.” Also, some of Verdi's more extreme dynamics were perhaps no more than an attempt to make performers actually notice: “Yes, I know you're a tenor; but please do try to sing quietly for once.”

I'm aware of the opposite approach to marking dynamics in Prokofiev's 6th Symphony. As a trombonist, one is in many passages of the symphony expected to play very loudly indeed. However in the entire piece the only dynamic above ff is the fff just before the end of the symphony for a great violent blast from the trombones. No other instruments have fff anywhere in the symphony, only the trombones, and only for these few notes near the end.

So back to Ligeti, whom I think is a wonderful composer. What is expected from such extreme dynamics in his violin concerto?
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Re: Extreme dynamics

Post by OCTO » 29 Feb 2016, 07:06

Maybe to break the violin, or ...almost to break.
Interesting, since "p"s have more value than "f"s.
I mean, you can always have something between nothing (pause) and something (ppppppppp).

But f*7 is - what?

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John Ruggero
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Re: Extreme dynamics

Post by John Ruggero » 29 Feb 2016, 15:49

He often says "tutta la forza" in connection with these extreme dynamics. And there are accent marks that are similar: sFFFFFF. All of this is excessive, to say the least.
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Re: Extreme dynamics

Post by DatOrganistTho » 06 Mar 2016, 05:12

John Ruggero wrote:He often says "tutta la forza" in connection with these extreme dynamics. And there are accent marks that are similar: sFFFFFF. All of this is excessive, to say the least.
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Why do you think it is excessive?
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Re: Extreme dynamics

Post by Peter West » 06 Mar 2016, 06:32

Working for Boosey & Hawkes I deal with the music of HR Gruber who uses a lot of extreme dynamics. Page 1 of his opera shows how this starts, there are 0ver 700 pages like this!
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Re: Extreme dynamics

Post by Peter West » 06 Mar 2016, 06:35

...and ends like this!
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David Ward
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Re: Extreme dynamics

Post by David Ward » 06 Mar 2016, 10:33

How does one interpret sffz when elsewhere in the same score one has sfffffz ?

HR Gruber is a very experienced and able musician, so he must know what he wants. On the other hand something might be learnt from the one and only fff (and then only for the trombones) in Prokofiev's 6th Symphony, which I mentioned at the beginning of this thread. These few fff notes are quite likely to be played as loudly as is physically possible.

When I wanted some trombones to play very loudly indeed, I marked them fff rasping without restraint. The result can be heard 1:54 into this clip http://www.composers-uk.com/davidward/far_haaf.mp3 (apologies for limited MP3 sound, but you should be able to get the gist). Only with heavyweight percussion (Tam-Tam, BD etc) have I ever chosen to go above fff and then only(!) to ffff.

I note that HR Gruber appears to have sfffffz for the harp. He's no foolish ingénue, so he must know a) what he means and b) how to get performers to understand and respond to his meaning and convey it to the audience.
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Re: Extreme dynamics

Post by Peter West » 06 Mar 2016, 14:14

I don't think Gruber's ffff. is any louder than anyone else's ff, but by having a larger scale it is (arguably) possible to be more specific in the gradations. Of course, everyone knows that Tchaikovsky used pp. in the clarinet part of the pathetic symphony, but as the clarinet can play almost silently in that register, I think this is a different matter entirely.

So I think that going ppppp. to fffff is purely a matter of having more gradations in the scale.

Gruber often marks the harp sffzs a couple of degrees louder than anyone else, I think to ensure the harp is heard in the texture, rather than disappearing beneath it.
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Re: Extreme dynamics

Post by MJCube » 06 Mar 2016, 21:33

Each instrument can play only so loud. There is no way a single Harp can be heard over a whole string section playing any degree of loud, unless it has its own separate microphone pickup (which is often the case nowadays).

Dynamics are relative. This cliché apparently is not repeated often enough. If your scale is pppp to ffff, you have 10 degrees of volume. IMO that is enough gradation. If you want 14 or 17 or 159 degrees, you still can’t get instruments to go louder or softer than they are able by writing more p’s or more f’s. To me it looks ridiculous on the page (composers’ musical experience notwithstanding), and it breaks down what little standard we have for how to interpret dynamic marks at sight. If I write sfffffz for full orchestra, is that supposed to cause half of the audience permanent deafness? Why would anyone want such a thing?

Conversely, the more extreme the dynamic contrast of a piece, the more it WILL be compressed in a recording, to make it listenable in someone’s living room. Most people listening in an urban home environment can handle only about p~f without disturbing the neighbors, or riding the volume.

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Re: Extreme dynamics

Post by Peter West » 07 Mar 2016, 15:15

ARGH! I hate predictive text!!!
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