What’s the Difference Between Sforzando and Forte?

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This is LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about the difference between sforzando and forte. On the piano, it’s really tough. You don’t have much control over the shape of the tone once a note is played, other than the pedals. I’ll get into that in a moment. You must be able to delineate what a sforzando is compared to a forte or fortepiano. Sometimes you’ll see a forte and right after that a piano (FP)! What is it!? Is it forte or is it piano? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today!

Forte means loud.

Forte indicates everything is played at a high volume. On the piano when you play a note, it’s immediately fading away. So you get a strong attack. In fact, when you play the piano without the pedal, everything is somewhat sforzando, because a sforzando is basically just a strong attack. So forte is loud throughout, sforzando is a strong attack that fades away, whereas a fortepiano is like a sforzando, but with a longer time before the sound diminishes in volume. I also play French horn. All of those distinctions can be achieved with much more precision on the horn. So how do you achieve these things on the piano?

One sforzando technique is to let go of the pedal after the initial attack to make the chord fade away.

You can fake a sforzando-like sound by utilizing the pedal. It’s a very subtle difference in tone. Little touches of the pedal sometimes can create a sforzando effect. On the piano we don’t have as much to work with on the tone of a note once it’s struck. All you have are the pedals! You can do half pedals, you can incorporate the soft as well pedal. But to understand the tone you’re after is key for achieving the desired results. If you listen to the beginning of Vladimir Horowitz’s performance of the Pathetique Sonata of Beethoven, it is very stark in the way he pedals it to get that fortepiano effect. Other pianists play a little bit smoother, without so much angularity in their fortepiano or sforzandi. So there are a lot of different ways of approaching this.

On the piano, you just have to do your best with what you have to work with.

On the piano, you can use the pedal to try to achieve some sense of the beginning of the note compared to the end of the note. But on wind instruments and string instruments, there are infinite possibilities for the shape of every note! That’s why you see all these different markings of accents in the score: fortepiano, sforzando, accents, fortissimo piano, et cetera. You have to understand what the sound would be if it was played by a symphony orchestra, or a string quartet, or a brass choir, to get a sense of the sound you are after. As a pianist, you just have to do the best you can with your hands and your pedaling to achieve the sound the composer intended.

I hope this is helpful for you! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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