In classical music, dynamics means the volume [soft/loud] used in a piece of music.
The two basic dynamic markings are soft, marked p [meaning piano], and loud marked f [meaning forte].
Pianissimo, pp means play very softly. Fortissimo, ff means very loud. To have a phrase played the softest as possibly can be played is marked ppp [piano pianissimo]; and to have a phrase played as loud as possible is marked fff [forte fortissimo].
In the Romantic era of music dynamics are an especially important tool to project certain emotions of the piece that the composer wants to portray. This was certainly true with the great Romantic Czech composer Antonin Dvorak. Because of Dvorak’s numerous exquisite melodies and beautiful sound he portrays in his pieces, this proud Czech is one of my favorite composers.
One of my favorite pieces from Antonin Dvorak is his Symphony #9 in E minor, “From the New World.” Dynamics play an important role in this majestic piece.
During the period when Dvorak was in America as a symphony director, he composed this piece about America. When in America, Dvorak gained a love for African American spirituals and Native American folk music and he reflects that [especially in the early movements] in his most famous symphony. This symphony is not just the most beloved of Dvorak’s symphonies, it is one of the most beloved in all of the symphonic repertoire.
Dvorak’s New World Symphony #9 is scored in E minor with four movements: 1. Adagio – Allegro Molto; 2. Largo; 3. Scherzo; and 4. Allegro con fuoco.
In the final movement of the New World Symphony, Allegro con fuoco, you get the full range of dynamics from pianissimo to fortissimo. You can hear the fortissimo almost immediately with the introduction of the horns. There are many phrases marked forte throughout this movement.
But you also have so many moments of exquisite soft phrases that display a calm beauty in contrast to the bold strength portrayed in the louder statements of the movement. You will easily hear those differences and understand the importance that these dynamics display.
This is truly a great symphony from Antonin Dvorak.
So, please turn up the volume and see how Dvorak uses dynamics to enhance the mood of his New World Symphony, especially in the final movement that begins at 34:08 in the following video. Check out how from the loud beginning of the final movement, it becomes so soft at around the 36:00 minute mark.
Antonin Dvorak: Symphony #9 in E minor, “From the New World”: