Thomas Stevens

Dynamics-Part V (Giulini: "P" or "PPPP")

  • General Quotes

Carlo Maria Giulini reiterates an old Toscanini line in a pianissimo version of the Leinsdorf/Sanderling points in Dynamics II.

During a rehearsal of a Giuseppe Verdi work for orchestra and chorus, members of the ‘cello section were playing at an almost inaudible (less than) pianissimo dynamic level in a lyrical soli passage. Conductor Carl Maria Giulini stopped them, and, after complimenting the players for their beautiful soft playing, reiterated an admonition commonly attributed to the legendary maestro, Arturo Toscanini: “Pay attention not to take the “pppp” markings too serious [ly].” He went on to point out that during Verdi’s time, ‘cellists in Italian opera orchestras were loathe to play any dynamic less than a (bel canto) mezzo-forte; so, often times when composers wanted a standard brand “piano” (p) in their works, they would include exaggerated soft dynamic markings (i.e. “ppp/ppp/pppp”) hoping to get something less than a mezzo-forte from the instrumentalists. Giulini’s (Toscanini’s) point? Musicians should just play a generic "piano" ("p") in such circumstances.