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On the Maxime Principle


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In a communication we recently received from Professor Maxime in Paris, she encouraged all instrumentalists to begin thinking of the Italian piano and forte symbols to mean relative degrees of emotional intensity and not the standard practice of indicating only “soft” and “loud” sound.

This recommendation, that the piano and forte symbols should reflect “emotional intensity,” is perhaps a bit startling for those of us who have been taught that the purpose of these symbols was to reflect only the degrees of loudness or softness of the actual volume of sound itself. For those who believe that the sole purpose of music is the communication of feeling and emotions, Professor Maxime’s principle is a welcome reminder that in earlier times the piano and forte symbols were also associated with feeling and were often the responsibility of the performer, not the composer. But the symbols are introduced to us today as being of an objective character with no discussion of how these symbols are related to feeling. While Professor Maxime speaks of “emotional intensity,” we relegate these symbols to the status of being only “dynamic markings.”

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