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Mezza voce/sotto voce

Discussion in 'Technique' started by pianolady, Feb 10, 2011.

  1. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Can someone please explain the difference between these two? There is a m.v. in a Chopin piece I am currently working on, and I'm not exactly sure what to do with it. Maybe Chopin didn't even write in that indication, but I'd still like to know the difference.

    Thank you. :)
     
  2. musical-md

    musical-md New Member

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    Hi Monica,
    From the Harvard Dictionary of Music:

    Mezza. [It.] Half. Mezza voce: with "half-voice," i.e., with restrained volume of tone.

    Sotto. [It.] Under. Sotto voce (under the voice) means performance, vocal or instrumental, "in an undertone," i.e. with subdued sound.

    Sounds pretty much the same to me.

    Edit: BTW, in piano music:
    M.d. sotto = right hand under
    M.s. sotto = LH under
    M.d. sopra = RH above
    M.s. sopra = LH above
     
  3. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Eddy,
    Yes, I knew the two definitions, but wondered if there was more to it than that. But thanks for those four other definitions. I don't recall seeing any of them in my music. Forgive me if I sound dense (no, it's not the blonde - I'm just half-asleep now), but does for example, m.d. sotto mean the right hand needs to slide in under the left hand, or does it mean that the RH should just play softer (more subdued) than the LH? I'm thinking it must mean the physical part of placing one hand under or over the other one depending on the notation, because it's usually that the hand playing melody is played louder than the other hand, right? So why would we need a notation that says to play a certain hand louder than the other hand? I'm probably not making sense...good night...
     
  4. musical-md

    musical-md New Member

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    I hope you weren't insulted by my providing definitions. :oops: The last four are about the physical positioning of the hands, not anything about voicing. Yep, I can tell you're sleepy.
     
  5. hanysz

    hanysz New Member

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    Both indications are very rare in piano music. I have a sneaking suspicion that composers write such things when they've just learned a new Italian word and are keen to use it! I wouldn't read too much into it.

    Personally I'd interpret mezza voce as being mp or maybe mf, and sotto voce as being pp. But I can't quote any authority for this, it's just my opinion.

    I'm trying to remember exactly where Chopin used m.v. One of the mazurkas, opus thirty-something or fifty-something?
     
  6. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Wide awake now! :)

    No, Eddy, I wasn't insulted. Just trying to wrap my brain around those definitions, and reading back I got it right.

    @Alexander - thanks. I'll just play it softer. It's only one or two bars long. And I'm going to let the piece remain mystery so that someone doesn't hurry up and record the same piece and then proceed to tell me how badly I played in my rendition. :wink: It's a fairly popular Chopin piece, that's all I will say.... :)
     
  7. richard66

    richard66 Richard Willmer Piano Society Artist

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    You have just said what I have been thinking all along but was too afraid to say so. You know, amateurs... :oops:

    Chopin uses it, for example, over the treble clef on bar 77 of the Etude op 10/12.

    Being a fluent speaker of Italian I must say I find most of the dog Italian to be found on scores to be baffling, when not just simply wrong, like the famous "menuetto" for "minuetto" and "leggiero" for "leggero"

    I have just being recording a Gershwin prelude and there it is written "andante poco rubato" Now what does he mean, andante with little rubato or andante with a little rubato"?
     
  8. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    I think it means "with" a little rubato. I don't think I have ever seen "no rubato".
     
  9. richard66

    richard66 Richard Willmer Piano Society Artist

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    True, Monica, but I make a distinction between "little" = not very much and "a little" = some. In Italian you make this difference.

    The same indication, sotto voce, I have found in Chopin's Prelude op 28/6 and there I would agree with you: what does it mean, placed between the rh and lh and after a p? As Alexander says, it probably means Chopin was practising his Italian. How can a whole piece be in a whisper on all voices?
     
  10. musical-md

    musical-md New Member

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    Ok, that narrows it down. :lol:
     
  11. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Monica,

    I agree with hanysz. Mezzo voce is reducing the dynamic by half, so if it had been mf, then next it has to be p. That reduction can be quantified. But sotto voce, meaning an undertone, takes on more of a qualitative aspect in my opinion. Instead of being just less volume, depending on the character of the piece, it might also be a voice that is one of mystery, intrigue, or foreboding, etc. I think that mezzo voce is subdued, but that sotto voce takes on a different coloration and meaning. Just my interpretation of it.

    David
     
  12. andrew

    andrew Member Piano Society Artist

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    For me, mezza voce = mp or perhaps mf; sotto voce = whispering or in the background.
     
  13. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Thanks people! :)

    I knew sotto voce, and most of times think that using the una chorda pedal in places marked sotto voce is a real good use of that pedal. Not that we're merely lowering the volume of said passages (except that we are), but changing the voice is more what we're after. I just wasn't sure about mezza voce, but okay I'll just go a little softer in those places.
     
  14. StephenC

    StephenC New Member

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    I also actually do the same thing with this indications. Cause for me, that's the best way to play with the indication given. It's somehow the equivalent of the said indications.
     
  15. Kristinaolga

    Kristinaolga New Member

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    Hello, Pianolady,

    "Mezza voce" is explained in “How to read Music by Helen Cooper” as “In a half voice”.
    "Sotto voce" is explained in “The ABC Guide to Music Theory by Eric Taylor” as “in an undertone",
    literally translated from the Italian as “below the voice”.

    If there is a difference, perhaps the "Sotto voce" is even “more quiet” than the "Mezza voce" which is very tender and very quiet already.

    I mention this because it has been said that Chopin was greatly influenced by John Field, the “inventor” of the Nocturne for Piano, and student of Clementi,
    and it is said of John Field that he played the Forte-Piano very, very gently with a very sensitive use of the pedal
    and Liszt wrote of him that he “was dreaming his music” and he was a great inspiration to all the other composers, including Chopin.

    My feeling of the difference, perhaps because of Field’s influence is, that "Sotto voce" is played very very lightly and more delicately and more dreamily than "Mezza voce".

    This is the best explanation I can come up with and I do hope it helps in some way.

    Kind regards from Kristinaolga.
     
  16. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Kristinaolga,

    I like reading how others explain things, so yes what you said helps a lot. Thank you! :)
    I also like what Liszt said about Field.
     
  17. Sesshy

    Sesshy New Member

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    I might be a little late to the party here, but I couldn't help myself.

    Sotto voce does literally mean "undervoice", but there's much more to it than that; it has a very specific connotation.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sotto_voce

    Rather than merely being a dynamic instruction, it conveys an idea, which is the "lowering of one's voice for emphasis". As mentioned in the article, Galileo's famous utterance "Nonetheless, the Earth does move" is a good example of this. I contend that rather than showcasing his Italian, Chopin used this indication very deliberately. Since you're asking about both mezzo voce and sotto voce, I can only assume you're playing op. 48 no. 1, which contains both markings in that order. The second section, which is marked sotto voce, could not be more appropriately suited to that indication. It overflows with subtle, almost celestial profundity. Dynamically speaking, pianissimo is probably about right for that section, since it becomes piano after the crescendo.
     
  18. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hello Sesshy, and welcome to Piano Society.

    Thank you for the information. It's nice to have it included here. However, I was not practicing op. 48, no. 1 when I started this thread. To be honest, I cannot remember what piece triggered my question - it has after all been more than a year! ( I can hardly remember what I had for lunch today. :lol:)
     
  19. rainer

    rainer New Member

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    I think that has pretty well cleared up "sotto voce", but looking back over this thread I see that conflicting interpretations of "mezza voce" have been given.

    There is ambiguity in how this should be translated, there being basically two alternatives. One is "With a half voice" (meaning with half of a full voice, so in effect with a medium voice or, dynamically speaking, somewhere between mp and mf), and the other is "with half the voice" (meaning with half as much voice as previously, so in effect an instruction to reduce the volume or intensity by half). I think the latter interpretation is in general incorrect (except obviously where the voice has up to this point been full). For example, a m.v. instruction can mean you should get louder or more intense if the context is such that up to that point you have been hushed (much like what mf would mean after p). It could even be used as a reminder, lest one be tempted to let the volume creep up or down, and hence repeated instances of m.v. should not be taken to mean you should halve the volume each time.
     
  20. hanysz

    hanysz New Member

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    Chopin's Mazurka opus 50 no. 3 has "mezza voce" at the beginning, so he can't have meant this interpretation.
     

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