Different types of accent in notation & performance

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David Ward
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Different types of accent in notation & performance

Post by David Ward » 24 Oct 2017, 20:27

These thoughts have developed on from the thread on tied final quavers.

I have always understood that on orchestral instruments (bowed strings, woodwind and brass) there should be a different type of attack for each of these types of accent >, sf, fp and <> (as an accent). The first to be a sharp attack which immediately reduces, crucially the second sf has its loudest point immediately after the attack rather than on it (unless the note is very short), while the fp holds the loud bit for noticeably longer than the > and then suddenly reduces.

a) Do members of the forum recognize these distinctions and are they (should they be) widely understood by advanced students and young pros?
b) Is there any acknowledged piano equivalent, or are they all the same on that instrument?

I'm thinking primarily of music from the classical period through to today, played on modern instruments (but with due acknowledgement of period practice when relevant).

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Re: Different types of accent in notation & performance

Post by Knut » 24 Oct 2017, 21:50

For what it's worth, I have pretty much the same understanding of these marks. This interpretation is also more or less confirmed by the following explanatory graphics form Walter Pistons book on orchestration. This book, however, isn't exactly recent, and the topic is only discussed in detail with regard to the string section.
Skjermbilde 2017-10-24 kl. 23.38.54.png
Skjermbilde 2017-10-24 kl. 23.38.54.png (39.67 KiB) Viewed 1984 times
His supplemental commentary is quite disheartening, however:

Composers in general seem to have been indifferent to these distinctions, one reason being perhaps that they are impossible to reproduce on the pianoforte. Therefore it becomes a responsibility of the conductor to decide which accent is meant by the composer's sign, and to see that it is properly executed.

This seems to me to leave these marks particularly vulnerable to ambiguity and frequent changes in fashion.

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OCTO
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Re: Different types of accent in notation & performance

Post by OCTO » 27 Oct 2017, 20:56

As a violinist I see clear distinctions: sf and fp are the exact dynamic ranges.
> and <> are the relative dynamic ranges, they are executed in the frame of general dynamics. Therefore, > can be executed in ppp or fff dynamic frame, as an example.

Perhaps having sf inside of a pp frame, could be possible but I don't remember I have seen any right now.
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John Ruggero
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Re: Different types of accent in notation & performance

Post by John Ruggero » 28 Oct 2017, 11:47

I don't think of these markings in such a clear-cut way, so a > might vary in meaning depending on the situation. Also I have always considered sf and ^ as markings relative to the prevailing dynamic. A sf in the midst of pp can be seen in the Beethoven op 7 example that I just posted at viewtopic.php?f=2&t=337&start=40. But of course, sf = > for Beethoven.

A real fp is actually possible on the piano, Piston notwithstanding. I think this came up once before. The note is played at a f and then the key is allowed to rise high enough for the dampers to slightly stop the string, producing a sudden drop in dynamic. The effect is wonderful. made even more so because it is so rarely heard.

While pianists in general might be less sensitive to the attacks listed than other musicians, the piano does have means of producing similar effects. Various ways of striking the key can introduce more or less noise component in the sound, and the relationship between simultaneous and successive notes can mimic these effects as well. One might even counter that since it takes a lot of trickery to create such effects on a piano, some pianists might might be even more sensitive to them as composers and conductors.
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Re: Different types of accent in notation & performance

Post by Knut » 28 Oct 2017, 15:45

Thank you, John, for chiming in! I know now I've heard the piano fp effect in the past, but I had forgotten about it. I'll certainly make use of it when I get the chance!

I was thinking about all the different ways one might strike the string on a piano and that the markings might be an illustration of the resulting sounds, but I can't say I've ever observed a firm consistency in the performance of many of these markings to be able to confidently tell them apart.

While I can personally relate to what I think Piston is trying to say in his comment, I find it quite contradictory or at least problematic. How are conductors or musicians supposed to choose the 'right' marking if indeed they where applied on the basis of indifference?

BTW, one marking not mentioned in either the OP or Piston's book is sfz, which for most has the same meaning as sf. Others, however, claim that sf stands for subito forte, which is something else entirely.

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Re: Different types of accent in notation & performance

Post by John Ruggero » 28 Oct 2017, 16:20

You are very welcome, Knut. I agree; Piston's statement is not thought through. But he is probably right that players of instruments that lack control over the sustain of single tones are less sensitive to such effects for single tones and should probably take up a second or third instrument or do some singing to have this experience.

On the other hand, attacks and other such effects don't happen in a vacuum. They are used for specific musical reasons and this has a big effect on how they should be played. I think that pianists may be more accustomed to thinking of the general effect intended and interpret markings in that light, as opposed to players who might have a one-size-fits-all approach that Piston chart might suggest.

sf = fz = sfz for a very long time now. I think that the use of sf as a subito marking would be dangerous! Then there is the unfortunate pf for poco F.
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Re: Different types of accent in notation & performance

Post by Knut » 30 Oct 2017, 13:32

John Ruggero wrote:
28 Oct 2017, 16:20
On the other hand, attacks and other such effects don't happen in a vacuum. They are used for specific musical reasons and this has a big effect on how they should be played. I think that pianists may be more accustomed to thinking of the general effect intended and interoperate markings in that light, as opposed to players who might have a one-size-fits-all approach that Piston chart might suggest.
Sure, I would agree with that, except that you would still need a rather strong consensus on which situations warrants a particular marking and what they mean in a particular context, something which I'm not sure there is.
John Ruggero wrote:
28 Oct 2017, 16:20
sf = fz = sfz for a very long time now. I think that the use of sf as a subito marking would be dangerous!
That might well be the case, but, of course, it doesn't prevent any misunderstandings arisen from music which predates that convention, however long standing it may be.

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Re: Different types of accent in notation & performance

Post by John Ruggero » 30 Oct 2017, 22:38

Knut wrote:
30 Oct 2017, 13:32
Sure, I would agree with that, except that you would still need a rather strong consensus on which situations warrants a particular marking and what they mean in a particular context, something which I'm not sure there is.
I agree that there is no consensus, especially since composers are a creative bunch that are always coming up with something unexpected. So intuition, insight and context rule. And for the player playing a single orchestral part and without the opportunity to gain complete perspective, there is the conductor.
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