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diminuendo & decrescendo


stillnew
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My teacher is away for a month and I have been given The Swan (Saint Saens) to work on. I'm looking over the piece before I start on the nitty gritty of notes and tempo but I'd like to understand the dynamics ahead of time. Thre are the usual < and > for crescendo & decrescendo. But the c d e of the fourth last bar is marked "diminuendo". Is there a subtle difference between diminuendo and decrescendo? I know that language-wise, decrescendo means to become less loud, while diminuendo means to be diminished or smaller.

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This is from a language weenie. I think the proper term is diminuendo. Decrescendo is often used as a synonym. However the meaning of "uncrescendo" doesn't follow from the root word, which is grow. The idea of un-growing or de-growing doesn't make a lot of sense. Getting smaller makes sense, as does growing, but not the opposite. Likewise dediminuendo wouldn't make a lot of sense either.

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The English words "increase" and "decrease" are derived from the same Latin words as crescendo and decrescendo, namely increscere and decrescere, and both of the Latin words are compounds of crescere, meaning "to grow." Should we extirpate the word "decrease" from our vocabulary because it's derived from a word that means, irrationally, "un-grow" or "de-grow"? It seems to me that decrescendo is a perfectly valid word.

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Well, I've educated myself, at least. I think the "dim." is written instead of a > because there are only two notes. It would be interesting to see if there is a pattern though I suspect there is no hard and fast rule. It seems that when there is a longer passage, one sees the symbol, and in shorter passages, there is the abbreviation. I have two version of the piece, the one being faithful to Saint Saens in bowing being the one that I have been given, with strict instruction as to the importance of SS's choice of bowing. I haven't listened to any recordings and I don't want to for now - would rather let my imagination run wild. One can just see the motions of the swan through the bowings and the notes. It is the last few bars that really intrigue me because there are so many changes marked in dynamics in contrast to the pattern in the remaining piece. In my version, the third of the three quarter notes preceding that last long G is not slurred in with the others (as in the other version I've seen), but is separate, tenuto. You can just see the swan giving one powerful kick of its hind legs before it drifts off on its G. (Well, that doesn't sound very 'learned' but give me an A for enthusiasm)

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stillnew,

i like your description of the music and how it serves as a

metaphor for the swan!  :

however, i personally wouldn't agonize too much over the particular

vagaries of composer or publisher notations! (although you seemed

to find it an interesting puzzle, which is fine!)  

cassi  

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Are we talking cello here?

I've been performing this thing since 1950 or so and I'd say there are two aspects to performing it (just playing it for one's own amazement too). One is the "gimics" and the other is feeling.

The "gimics" are the fixed things I do (actually technique things) - the bowings I know will work, the fingerings, bowings, and position changes that I know will work. The "feelings" are the way the piece feels to me when I play it - things like the sound it produces to my ears in the hall, the relative sound volume of the accompanist, the audience responces I notice (people pulling out handkerchiefs and wiping their eyes always gets me to try to pull a few more tears at the long cresecendo and the last few measures. The acoustics of some "halls" may require different bowings to get my sound as i want it.

I think I have performed it on 4 different cellos (played at it on others too). Each cello has different requirements. Each of the bows I have used speaks a bit differently - so each variable-pair changes what I do - but whatever I am using and wherever I am playing I have a certain concept of the piece - that has developed a little over time and that is what I try to produce.

THe ups and downs during the piece are quite emotive - and exciting (if loud enoough to the listeners' ears). But the final diminuendo really fades to eternity (at least as interpreted by the dancer who choreographed "The Dying Swan" to this music). The diminuendo starts this final phrase, but there are additional markings to lower the sound more and to slow it down. When I first practiced this to perform it I would work on different ways to express this. The experiment is worth doing.

The high point of the piece probably comes with the 6-beat crescendoed B four measures earlier - and you have to work out whether it is done in one bow or two - that can depend on how the room sucks sound away from you. I usually play that one in two bows - a 4 beat down-bow and a 2 beat up-bow (accelerating the bow on each pass) to assure the crescendo; the bow change can be quieted with a bit of transverse bow motion toward the fingerboard (among other things) - worth practicing to see what works for you - but in any event, the piano plays on that beat - so you are reasonably covered.

One more thing - you can find this (and many other pieces) on DVD performances now, and I think it is worth watching these to see what other performing artists choose to do with them. On numerous DVDs I have found it interesting to see that the bowing marks in my scores are completely ignored.

And so on.

Andy

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Unfortunately neither cello nor viola, but a violin adaptation. But I do like to suck every aspect out of a piece before I start it, and imagery such as the one of the swan is one of them, though not exclusively. There is technique, and effect, and the rest, but... like in the last piece I was working on, we had the technique plotted out but then deciding whether we had leaping gazelles or galloping horses transported the bow into a different nuance that felt itself into the hand. Agonize, Cassi? That's like looking at a beautiful painting, appreciating the colours, balance of composition, beauty, finding more and more in it, and calling it agonizing. Actually, I was instructed to pay particular attention to the bowing because it was meaningful, but I find it fascinating regardless.

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Stillnew: I know that I am not solving the problem, but I thought this was interesting.

The Oxford concise dictionary of music says:

decrescendo - gradually getting softer

diminuendo - gradually getting quieter.

So if there is a difference between softer amd quieter, please apply that difference.

Ben

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quote:


The Oxford concise dictionary of music says:

decrescendo - gradually getting softer

diminuendo - gradually getting quieter.

So if there is a difference between softer and quieter, please apply that difference.


My first conclusion is that the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music is superior to my Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians. The latter simply cross references the two as equivalents.

That's sort of intriguing in an almost philosophical way: what is the difference between hard/soft, loud/quiet? I think, if I managed to play that nuanced, there is a different feel of mood or colour, like a small shift, in that last little bit, and the dim. plays a part in that feel -- the difference might just happen. At this moment I'm in the primitive but essential stage of making sure I get the notes, shifts, and basic bow distribution right. So it will be quite a while.

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stillnew said:

"Agonize, Cassi? That's like looking at a beautiful painting,

appreciating the colours, balance of composition, beauty, finding

more and more in it, and calling it agonizing. Actually, I was

instructed to pay particular attention to the bowing because it was

meaningful, but I find it fascinating regardless."

stillnew, i think i may have been unclear in what i said!

i agree with you that trying to really understand and interpret the

music can be a rewarding and fulfilling activity!  

i didn't mean to say i would ignore the notations, the instructions

from the composer help you play according to his (or her!)

intentions! i just was trying to that i think different composers

and maybe even different publishers of the same piece of music may

use slightly different ways of indicating things, that for

most intents and purposes mean the same thing!

however, i can see how there might be a difference between 'soft'

and 'quiet,' so i'm a bit less sure of that now, anyway!

 

sorry for any confusion, i definitely wasn't trying to criticize

what you were doing, just trying to maybe re-assure you a bit!

 

cassi  

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Cassi:

quote:


sorry for any confusion, i definitely wasn't trying to criticize

what you were doing, just trying to maybe re-assure you a bit!

 

I've been traveling and haven't been able to get back to the thread before today. Thank you for your kind intentions, Cassi, and they are well taken. I didn't feel criticized - just surprised that looking at the details in music could be a chore or source of worry. But this has given me food for thought, and I realize that for many people trying to get all the details right as a means to interpret music could create anxiety. For me the details are an enrichment. I don't know how to explain it better than this. They can add depth, and that seems to work its way into the "music" part of the music.

quote:


...different composers and maybe even different publishers of the same piece of music may use slightly different ways of indicating things, that for most intents and purposes mean the same thing!

That's what started it all, actually. I had the copy I had been given, which I was told had the originally bowings and dynamics and should be adhered to because it gave the music the attributes that Saint Saens intended. Then another version fell my way. There were a few differences in the bowings, and they seemed to change something important in my imagination as I "read" the sound in my mind. There was something about that last bit which made me curious and prompted the question.

Of course at this stage of my violinistic development, what I perceive in a piece, and what I can actually produce are two different things.

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