Minute Details

While I remember, from 35 years ago, that my teacher always emphasized that dolce and espressivo were not the same, more importantly that you can play dolce without being espressivo and the other way around, dolce meaning sweetly and espressivo meaning expressively, I do not recall actually unterstanding the difference – or perhaps I intuitively understood, but never to the point that I could explain it to someone else which would be a basic requirement for teaching. 

 None of my teachers since has even mentioned that there was a difference, and in my own teaching I always felt lucky that no student ever questioned how they were different. 

Many years ago, I was fortunate to learn (from a video by Maurice Hinson I believe) one more way to translate dolce:  the literal translation of “sweetly” isn’t really helpful for pianists – “would you care for some sugar on the keys?” – but “gently” is.  So, that’s what I have been teaching my students:  dolce means sweetly which means to play gently, the way you would hold a baby (animal, or human). 

But I still didn’t really know how to describe the difference between dolce and espressivo.

Out of the blue, this morning, I got it.

Dolce refers to the touch, how you play each individual note, how you touch the key.  Espressivo refers to how you shape a motive, a phrase, melody, a musical idea.  As my teacher said 35 years ago, two completely different things.

Now I get it.