We've all heard of Extreme Sports and Extreme Programming and even Extreme Ironing, but I'm guessing that most people haven't heard of Extreme Music Notation. Music Information Retrieval researcher Don Byrd maintains the Extremes of Conventional Music Notation webpage, where he records the extremes found in written music. Some interesting excerpted tidbits:
  • softest pppppppp (8 p's) in Ligeti's Etudes for Piano, 1st Book
  • loudest ffffffff (8 f's) in Ligeti: Etudes for Piano, 2nd Book, (the 1812 overture only reaches ffff)
  • Instruments to be played by one performer in a piece - *Mahler: Symphony no. 5 calls for one clarinetist playing six different instruments.
  • Most repeated notes in a melody - 32 in Prokofieff: Toccata, Op. 11 (1912)

There are many others, quite interesting.


What about "the most obscure notation" as a category. A number compositions could fill that one. Or better yet, "the most obfuscated notation"? Just like obfuscated code, composers have long obfuscated their notation. I think it's because the actual music is relatively simple-looking, but by obfuscating it (bizarre rhythmic spellings, unnecessary changes in time signature of metronome markings, enharmonic spellings of notes), it makes the music look much more "sophisticated". Kyle Gann tells of one composer's advice to a student who submitted a piece for competition in C-major: "Just transpose it to D-flat, it looks better."

Posted by Richard Friedman on May 16, 2005 at 01:47 PM EDT #

Clearly the "Most instruments played by a single player" must have omitted the percussion section. I have no idea how many times I played more than 5 distinct instruments in a single piece.

Posted by David Hall on May 16, 2005 at 05:03 PM EDT #

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