Cresc. vs. hairpin--Is there a difference?

Hi everyone,

When would you use cresc. and decresc. instead of a hairpin? Or is it a matter of personal taste? I like hairpins and use them all the time. Is this wrong?



Often that depends on the length of the dynamic change, as well as personal taste.

A hairpin that’s 30 bars long and spans multiple systems is quite unwieldy. Usually, for longer “trends” like that you’d use the words, while the hairpins denote more local changes. But you’ll find plenty of examples of sub-1-bar cresc. instructions.

From Parsifal, a belt-and-braces approach :wink:

Long hairpins (more than 2 measures) can clutter up a score or part and necessitate wider spacing between staves. My own practice is to consider using text for regions longer than 2 or 3 measures. And the exact text is important - cresc. for shorter spans, cresc. poco a poco for longer spans, for instance. Using extender dashes (cresc. - - - poco - - - a - - - poco) is also possible over a long span.

Wagner was always doing this but it’s technically ‘tautological’. I think he is just underlining the cresc event.

Perhaps he is trying to indicate a greater swell towards the end of the crescendo? Absent any direction from the conductor, orchestral musicians will sort out stuff like this on their own. It’s truly amazing how a group of 60 or more experienced musicians can reach consensus after minimal preparation of a piece, or immediately for standard repertoire. And all without a single word spoken.

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There is some writing regarding possible intended differences in meaning, that would explain Wagner’s frequent apparent redundancy as something else. See The Secret Life of Musical Notation by Roberto Poli. I have read descriptions and reviews of the book on Amazon but not purchased it yet. Has anyone here read it?

Amazing that after 150 years, his notation is still not clear. Compare that to Beethoven, whose notation practically plays itself.

Thank you, everybody. Your responses were very interesting and instructive. Now I understand why you would use the word instead of the hairpin.