Teoria musicale

The language of music

Why do you still use Italian as a technical language in music? And why one has to mix Italian, French (laissez vibrer!), German (Ftzg!) and English terminology in a score?

Textual indications are more symbols of a technical vocabulary, more than actual linguistic elements. So, we use them in the language they were first used as technical devices and not for their literal meaning. Here, connotation is more relevant than denotation. Espressivo is a really expressive word, even if nobody would use it in their everyday life.

Most of the modern 'Italian' terminology appeared in the late 1500, and developed until mid-1700 while the various Italian schools dominated the European music. Some of the words/sentences we use today are obsolete Italian, no longer used in common talk. Take for example 'sordino': modern Italian would be 'sordina', with even a change of gender. 'Allegro assai' would sound funny, more than happy, in conversation.

During 1800, German and French musical technology replaced the Italian's as the dominant ones, so many French and German terms started to appear. Impressionism had a huge influence on music from the end of 1800, and Stravinsky used a lot of French terminology. Mahler, Strauss and Schoenberg were other major influences at the beginning of the 20th Century, so there are words or abbreviations, like 'Ftzg' or 'Sprachestimme', we use as musical symbols, without even asking what they really mean from a linguistic point of view.

Then, English is the new Italian in music. During the next century, musicians will wonder what those obsolete English terms did actually mean.