Piu pp playback too quite

Piu pp plays back practically inaudiably…way quieter than ppp. That can’t be right?

Hi Tyler,

I still hope we get an official answer from the team, but in the meantime here’s some speculation for whatever it’s worth:

I ran into the same thing awhile back, in the opposite direction: più f played back much louder than expected. (The MIDI value sent was 127, though I don’t recall what dynamic curve I was using.) I did a little googling and will summarize what I concluded from it … but nothing I found was from a source I take to be very authoritative, and no doubt if I’ve gone astray, someone here will weigh in to correct me.

Growing up I was taught that things like più p and più f roughly meant “softer than p (but not so soft as pp)” and “stronger than f (but not so strong as ff).”

The search results I encountered suggest that this interpretation of the notation is fairly recent, historically … and that if you go back far enough (edit: not sure of the timeline here), when many more of the nuances of dynamic shading were entrusted to the performers, più p and più f apparently meant the same as p possibile and f possibile, i.e., as soft or as strong as possible. (Incidentally, this is seemingly confirmed anecdotally by a historic text I glanced through weeks ago. I sometimes read old orchestration texts for pleasure, and wish I could recall the exact source I was looking at, but this interpretation seemed to be in effect, because it made several statements in contexts where più f was clearly being referred to not as an interpretive marking, but to denote the loudest that a particular instrument could possibly play, even if the result wasn’t musical or appropriate indoors.)

Assuming the above isn’t mistaken, it’s possible Dorico’s interpretation of these markings is correct for older music, but less correct for more recent common practice. Perhaps someday this could be a playback preference?

That’s interesting. That leads me to think, what’s the interpretation in the case of “meno f” (or “meno p”)

J S Bach occasionally used “pp” as an abbreviation for “più p,” for example a diminuendo written as “p”, then “pp” (i.e.“più p”) and finally “pianissimo” written in full.

So that might “sort of” explain half of samcreed’s post (even though the details seem to have got scrambled), but it’s not so obvious why “ff” would ever have been an analogous abbreviation for “più f.”

Brahms sometimes wrote “pf” as an abbreviation for “più f,” but I don’t think anybody else copied that idea.

Thanks for the examples Rob – very interesting stuff!

But I’m not sure which details got scrambled in my post, could you please elaborate on that? I’ll be happy to edit my post to unscramble them; I’d never want to want to spread incorrect info. (Obviously the “pre-Haydn” guesstimate was way off, but I’m assuming you’re alluding to problems that run far deeper than that. Please go into more detail; I love to learn anything music-related.)

Particularly confusing for me, I never implied that ff was ever an analogous abbreviation for più f. (Until you responded, I didn’t even know pp had ever been used as an abbreviation for più p … !)

The Brahms example is quite intriguing, as I’m surprised he wouldn’t be worried that it would be mistaken for fortepiano. Do you happen to know any more about his usage here? (I wonder if it might have been shorthand while sketching, but that he expected the copyists to “un-abbreviate it” when engraving?)

I do wonder how much of this depends on historical period vs. regional differences vs. personal idiosyncrasies of specific composers (which might not even be entirely consistent across their entire output). I would love it if a musicologist or music historian would weigh in. (Or perhaps the forum’s very own Alan Belkin could shed some additional light, as the depth of his knowledge is impressively broad … though of course I’d never want him to prioritize posting to the forum over composing or making more youtube videos!)

They way I read your post, you were saying più p was originally an abbreviation for “as soft as possible”. But Bach had it the other way round, pp was an abbreviation for “più p” and “pianissimo” was softer than that.

The big problem with historical sources is that before sound recording, everything is verbal descriptions, which can be just as confusing as the music manuscripts. Sometimes a single book says contradictory things in different places, and sometimes even a single sentence can be interpreted two ways with opposite meanings.