What's In A (Musical) Word? Expressing Ink Into Music | Texas Public Radio

What's In A (Musical) Word? Expressing Ink Into Music

Jul 29, 2013

Miles Hoffman, who you might know from playing viola or commenting on NPR's Morning Edition, has written a delightful opinion piece about the word "crescendo." He points out that its use is not always correct, even by some very famous authors! He offers a great example of Joseph Conrad from "The Shadow-Line": “Slight puffs came and went, and whenever they were strong enough to wake up the black water the murmur alongside ran through my very heart in a delicate crescendo of delight and died away swiftly.”

This week's broadcast of the San Antonio Symphony features the best example of crescendos in music, Maurice Ravel's Bolero. It starts sparse and rhythmic, but builds to a complete orchestral climax over a span of about 15 minutes. While Hoffman points out crescendo doesn't mean climax, Bolero represents a one way journey, while there are interludes to the melody, and a countermelody, each segment "smoothly increases the volume." For this work, it crescendos to a climax.

There are lots of terms that help artists interpret music: dynamic markings like Mezzo-piano, Fortissimo; tempo markings such as Andante, or Allegro; and "physical" markings like Con Sordino, or Ped. Musicians read these words or symbols along with the notes (that the composer has written) for directions - but the range of execution varies with each performer.

Words such as Cadence, Phrasing, and Recap(itulation) don't seem to suffer the misuse of Crescendo. Do you find musical terms popping up in conversation?