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Topic: Question for composers: Dynamics Notation

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  1. #1

    Question for composers: Dynamics Notation

    Hello fellow composers. This is a question for all of you, and especially those who might be great sight readers or have performed in ensembles.

    I have been studying scores and notation manuals for the past 12 years, and I have never come upon the answers to these next questions about how players interpret the following dynamics notation. Perhaps someone with more (or better) experience could be of some help:

    1) when there is a crescendo hairpin with no dynamic following it, does the volume stay louder even after the crescendo marking, or does the volume revert to the dynamic marking previous to the crescendo?

    2) If the answer is based on "context" (which I believe unfortunately may be the case), then what are the rules based on different contexts?

    3) If there are no rules regarding this, then how can any composer expect to communicate his music without also conducting the piece and wasting time on the podium explaining his intention?

    I'm sure there will be more questions, but I have been seeing lots of hazy dynamic writing and was wondering about the standard way of interpreting these things, so I might improve my dynamics notation in Overture.
    http://hopkins.composerarts.com

  2. #2
    Senior Member newmewzikboy's Avatar
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    Re: Question for composers: Dynamics Notation

    Composers can be as general or as specific as they want to be. The < or > may be a subjective notation by the composer to indicate a slight breath. Perhaps also its a typo.

    As for the responsibility on the podium...that is the CONDUCTORS job...not the composer...it's interpretive...and I don't think a waste of anyone's time. Someone might write:

    Like a bird flying in a golden rain and milky hewe, while the space of time eluminates joy and peace on earth, like einstein cofeee...

    or

    Like the taste of water....

    Good luck if you want interpretive rules...stick to engineering or accounting.

    The < might hold until the next dynamic marking...depends on the circumstances, the tessetura of the melos, the texture, text, or whatever else is happening in the piece at the moment

  3. #3

    Re: Question for composers: Dynamics Notation

    Hi Jesse.

    There don't seem to be any rules. It is remiss of composers not to place a final dynamic mark at the and of a crescendo.

    I feel pretty firmly that in such cases you stay louder at the end of the crescendo.

    It is now left to the conductor to decide whether the balance is right or whether to instruct players to modify their sound; so now the conductor is taking a hand in the composition really. However, as a conductor I always felt one of my chief jobs was to unearth the main melodic line and ensure correct balance, whatever the dynamics in the score.

    But as a composer, whenever someone else has conducted my music, the dynamics don't always go the way I want, and not only in crescendos.

    Music notation has never been an exact science; we can all only try our best to carry out the composer's intentions - provided we think we know what they are. So, composers, please be as exact as possible!

    Terry

  4. #4

    Re: Question for composers: Dynamics Notation

    "As for the responsibility on the podium...that is the CONDUCTORS job...not the composer...it's interpretive...and I don't think a waste of anyone's time."

    I understand that conductors should have certain freedoms in interpretation, but I know that composers who write wedges without dynamics following them do care about the relative volume of the notes following them. Why would someone write so many specific dynamics and articulations, but have no preference over whether the notes following a diminuendo to remain quiet or return to the previous marking? It is a pretty huge difference.

    The only reason I care, is because it would be nice not to have to put in dynamic markings afterward if I didn't have to, and could predict the effect.
    http://hopkins.composerarts.com

  5. #5
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    Re: Question for composers: Dynamics Notation

    As long as human beings are interpreting your music, you can never, ever predict the effect - so it's better to be explicit and thorough.

  6. #6

    Re: Question for composers: Dynamics Notation

    When I had my string quartet played, I was very nervous about this issue, so I was very, very specific in notating my phrasing, and it came out great! The recording is just like what I had in my mind (aside from some slower tempos). I was insecure, though, about whether I had put too many markings in when I looked at scores by Stravinsky, Resphigi, Ravel, John Williams, Mussourgsky...
    All the scores I looked at had hairpin crescendo and decrescendos with no dynamics after. Now, I would be fine leaving it up to the conductor, as long as they knew whether to remain loud or quiet or return to the previous dynamic level. Unfortunately, I have no idea how Williams can write these wedges with no dynamics and get the BSO to interpret it in the way he wants on the first take (I have watched the first ever BSO rehearsals of his Horn Concerto, his Elegy, and his Heartwood). I still wonder if there must be some kind of rule that I don't know about for them to see this notation and have absolutely no confusion over the dynamics.
    http://hopkins.composerarts.com

  7. #7
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    Re: Question for composers: Dynamics Notation

    If you look at a score of a Mahler symphony, the orchestra is never left in doubt about his intention at any stage. He does not hesitate to spell it out, either in symbols, in Italian or in German. Often all three together. Given he was not only a composer, but an eminent conductor, that is probably the route to take.

  8. #8
    Senior Member newmewzikboy's Avatar
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    Re: Question for composers: Dynamics Notation

    And if you look at Bach, you would be utterly confused since he offers none.

    As for williams....im sorry? Is he supposed to be a composer??? Perhaps because HE is conducting??

    Ambiguity is a wonderful thing when it comes to art. We need MORE of it, not less...

  9. #9

    Re: Question for composers: Dynamics Notation

    Quote Originally Posted by newmewzikboy
    And if you look at Bach, you would be utterly confused since he offers none.

    As for williams....im sorry? Is he supposed to be a composer??? Perhaps because HE is conducting??

    Ambiguity is a wonderful thing when it comes to art. We need MORE of it, not less...
    If you love ambiguity, then you should applaud Williams' lack of specific dynamics after some crescendo marks. But the fact that he conducts his own music still doesn't explain why he does not need to explain his dynamics notation before the first take. It is amazing that they just seem to know what he means even though he doesn't indicate it by word, score, or arm gesture. He's very precise in most dynamics, just not often in the many little expression wedges within sections. My suspicion is that there are performance standards for modern big time orchestras that you'd only know if you were part of the orchestras. Anybody here in a major symphony orchestra who wants to let us know?

    As for Bach, that was another time. This is the 21st century. Notation has come a long way.
    http://hopkins.composerarts.com

  10. #10
    Senior Member newmewzikboy's Avatar
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    Re: Question for composers: Dynamics Notation

    I once heard a recording of the BSO performing Williams scores in a FS orchestration class, AND THEY SUCKED BIG TIME when compared to a smaller orchestra. BSO SUCKS Dude.

    Bach had the right attitude

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