A phrase marked soto voce is followed by a phrase marked un poco piu p. I spent considerable time thinking about that. It drove me crazy. "Under voiced" or "hushed" is followed by "a little more piano." WHAT does that MEAN?
Is the second phrase stronger or weaker? I have to decide; I have to prepare the 1st movement bassoon solo in Sibelius Symphony No. 5. So, unless conductor George Manahan requests otherwise, I am choosing to play it slightly stronger than the first phrase. I made the decision based upon the fact that the 3rd phrase is marked mf, and the 4th is poco meno f, followed by piu mf, then poco f and finally cresc. poco a poco al fff dim.
What we have, perhaps, is one enormous crescendo, with several hairpins along the way, followed by a brief diminuendo..
I did struggle with this conclusion. For example, poco meno f follows mf. In other words, ""a little less forte" follows "medium forte." Wow. How can I be sure that poco meno f is louder? And how on earth can I be sure that piu mf (more medium forte) should really be stronger than its preceding poco meno f (a little less forte)????
I am not at all sure. But it's a bassoon solo, and it's my job to prepare it to the best of my ability. It doesn't do much good to listen to recordings, because the dynamic range of the bassoon is so limited that these nuances are all but indiscernable.
I am reminded of the words of my teacher, K. David Van Hoesen: "I don't care how you play the music, as long as it's convincing!"
Whatever I decide about the semantics, I have to sell it to the conductor and ultimately to the audience. After my decisions are made, I practice those decisions until they are convincing. Then, when I'm feeling adequately prepared, I tape my practice sessions in order to hear my renditions from the listener's perspective. That's when I'll really know if my decisions were sound, or if changes may be in order. The taping sessions also point out issues with vibrato and note matching. It's important to be positioned far enough away from walls or large objects which may distort the sound of the bassoon. Sometimes even metal music stands create problems if they're positioned too close to the player. (In the orchestra I always shove my stand as far away as possible, much to the dismay of the oboists who sit in front of me!)
I researched this symphony to see if anything had been written about Sibelius' intentions. No luck. But I learned some interesting facts: this symphony was commissioned by the Finnish government for Sibelius' 50th birthday on December 8, 1915, which had been declared a national holiday. At the exact moment of Sibelius' demise in a nursing home in 1957, his 5th Symphony was being performed in nearby Helsinki. His 5th Symphony had given him a lot of trouble- never satisfied with it, he revised it many times after its premier. Maybe that explains the verbose yet confounding directions he left for the bassoon player......
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