Monday, August 19, 2013


One of my favorite parts of the LA Times is the tiny little column on Page 2 called “FOR THE RECORD.”  This is where sharp-eyed readers turn in their corrections to information (or misinformation) on previously printed articles.

 I’ve decided that rather than get irked because SOMEONE isn’t checking the facts before they send a story to print, I’ll just consider the source and get a good cackle over the goofs.  Since it is obvious that we can’t believe much that is offered as “fact” these days – and perhaps never have been, although I did think at one time newspapers employed fact-checkers – cackling is about all we can do.

I’m going to award a few prizes this week for the following goofs.


On August 7, the obituary of long-time NBC News report John Palmer noted that he left NBC in 1990 to anchor the news program “Instant Recall” and there interviewed Anwar Sadat.  The August 14 rebuttal reminded readers that Sadat was assassinated in 1981.


An August 11 article said this weekend the 405 Freeway in Westminster would be shut down completely in the southbound lanes but only partially in the northbound lanes. 

Oops!  An August 15 a retraction corrected that ALL northbound lanes and ALL southbound lanes would be shut down.  Makes you wonder how many people did NOT read the retraction and got detoured off onto a side street of an unfamiliar city?  That’s actually not a cackling matter, but nevertheless it makes you wonder how, when all the TV stations were announcing a full-blown closure of both lanes that our most prestigious newspaper made that kind of goof.


On August 11 the business section reported that Google co-founder Sergey Brin stole the show last year at the company’s annual developers conference by sky-diving onto the roof while wear Google Goggles.

On August 15 they changed their tune: He wore the device at the conference but did NOT skydive onto the roof.

Now that’s some mistake!  One wonders whether it was the writer or his source that devised that fable.


On August 11 the Times featured a wonderful story on Gustavo Dudamel’s presentation of Verdi’s Requiem at the Hollywood Bowl.  Regarding Verdi’s Dies Irae, “With a score marking of quadruple fortissimo – ffff – [my note: let these represent the musical symbol for loud] that is, roughly “as loud as you can plus one” it is some of the most ferocious music in the whole of the classical music canon.”  Now the fun begins

August 14 “FOR THE RECORD” indicates this: “We also got a bit carried away with our Italian suffixes when illustrating a dynamic marking of quadruple fortissimo.  Verdi’s original marking, quadruple forte, was ffff, not ffffffff,

August 15 rebuttal of “FOR THE RECORD” tries to clarify what was printed:  An August 14 FOR THE RECORD item correcting an Aug 11 Arts and Books section…did not properly explain the Italian names and notations for dynamic markings.  Verdi’s original marking is quadruple forte and is notated as ffff.  Quadruple fortissimo, which was incorrectly mentioned in the article, would be notated as ffffffff.

So as not to leave well enough alone, the August 18 (and perhaps the last entry)  states that in fact, the first article of August 11 said that the score contained a double fortissimo, but it did not.  Verdi’s original marking was a quadruple forte.

SO THERE!  (Really?)  Cackle, cackle.

I understand the need for corrections to make sure old Verdi is understood, but it also makes me think of this unanswerable question:  How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?



Anonymous said...

Well, time for a musician to weigh in.

Forte = f = loud
Fortissimo = ff = louder

These are well known Italian markings and any 2nd year music student will know them.

In practice, anything more than "ff" is a nonsensical marking. Beyond a point, it is not possible to play an instrument "fff" or "ffff". Can a violin play "ffff"? Assuredly not. Can an oboe? No freakin' way. Can a trumpet? Well, sorta.

The way to get fiddles and woodwinds to play "ffff" is to add more of them, to give the piece greater body or weight.

It is possible, with brass instruments (and percussion) to add "edge" to the sound, to push the tone quality to past the point of being sonorous and into a raucous, harsh sound. Sometimes that is what the composer intends and it can be very effectively used.

Verdi almost certainly was not calling for a raucous sound. "Harsh sounds" in the requiem? I don't think so. So what was he indicating?

A musician needs to be able to interpret a huge amount of information in real time, and there frequently isn't an opportunity to "read words" to describe the composer's intent.

Hence all of the special symbols that we use to quickly recognize what the composer wants us to do becomes another language to us. "Marks with meanings like words", John Muir once said. And indeed, that describes what Verdi was attempting to communicate.

He was saying, "play this as full as you can possibly make this section", and the way that he could communicate that to the orchestra, quickly, as the notes are flying past, was to use some variation of "ff".

By the way, in almost 40 years of playing the horn, I have never, ever, seen a definition in a music dictionary that goes beyond "ff.

Verdi chose to use "ffffffff" for a very specific purpose. Only the ignorati will attempt to put a name to this marking, as if the name is what is important. It would have been better for the fools at the Times, those wonderful know-it-all critics who can't possibly "do", to try to create understanding about Verdi's intent than to launch into a laughable exchange about what all those "f's" are called.

Charlene said...