Author Topic: Some questions about nothing  (Read 564 times)

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Patrick O'Keefe

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Some questions about nothing
« on: November 25, 2020, 04:00:27 PM »
... that is, about niente.

I have a piece with many phrases that grow from silence and fade back to silence.  I've used dal niente and al niente.  But I'm wondering if this is foolish.  What I really want is "as quietly as possible", and for horn and bassoon, that may not even be ppp.

First, is n preceding a crescendo or following a decrescendo common enough notation that it doesn't need to be explained in performance notes?

More importantly, should I use some other dynamic marking for instruments that can't do "nothing"?




Michel.R.E

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Re: Some questions about nothing
« Reply #1 on: November 25, 2020, 07:56:36 PM »
if the instrument can't actually do a "dal/al niente" then it is pointless to indicate it.

another well-understood way of notating the effect, however, is to place a tiny o at the point of hairpin. o<  >o
it should be touching the actual hairpin, be part of that hairpin, visually.

if you really want "from/to as soft as you can possibly play" then you could also simply use ppp.
That's an unusually soft dynamic, and it would be well understood by the conductor as meaning the same thing as niente.

To the best of my knowledge, the only instruments in the orchestra truly capable of playing al/dal niente are flute, clarinet, and strings. The method of sound production dictates the physical ability of creating the effect.
Double reeds require a certain amount of pressure before the reed starts to react and vibrate. They can play incredibly softly, but the effect won't be as smooth as it would be, for example, on a clarinet.
Brass instruments have a more or less similar issue: the lips must create a vibration that causes the column of air in the instrument to vibrate.

so the first thing would be to orchestrate VERY carefully.
you can layer the instrumental entrances (ie: strings, flute clarinet, then other woodwinds, then brass. and the inverse for a diminuendo).
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Patrick O'Keefe

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Re: Some questions about nothing
« Reply #2 on: November 25, 2020, 08:27:37 PM »
Thank you for your response, Michel.   I was afraid I was going to hear much of what you said.

if the instrument can't actually do a "dal/al niente" then it is pointless to indicate it.
You are right, of course.  I was asking for a miracle.
another well-understood way of notating the effect, however, is to place a tiny o at the point of hairpin. o<  >o
it should be touching the actual hairpin, be part of that hairpin, visually.

if you really want "from/to as soft as you can possibly play" then you could also simply use ppp.
That's an unusually soft dynamic, and it would be well understood by the conductor as meaning the same thing as niente.
I knew about the tiny circle but I couldn't find a way to get it to play correctly.  I use Sibelius and the little o is a non-functional symbol (except when used to indicate harmonics).  I could define n as functional dynamic marking.  I defined it as softer than ppp.

I'll switch to ppp (which is also probably unrealistic for some of my instruments).


To the best of my knowledge, the only instruments in the orchestra truly capable of playing al/dal niente are flute, clarinet, and strings. ...
so the first thing would be to orchestrate VERY carefully.
you can layer the instrumental entrances (ie: strings, flute clarinet, then other woodwinds, then brass. and the inverse for a diminuendo).

Unfortunately, the ensemble I'm writing for is a wind quintet plus cello - a combination I love.  Half the instruments can do niente; half cannot.  I think what I'll just accept the fact that the oboe, and bassoon and  horn are not going to be as quiet as I originally wanted.  I'll find a way to make that a strength rather than a weakness.