Robert Estrin - piano expert

What is "Subito Piano"?

The importance of "Subito Piano" in Beethoven's music

In this video, Robert explains what "Subito Piano" means in music - particularly in Beethoven's repertoire - and how it can change a music passage for the better.

Released on December 3, 2014

Post a Comment   |   Video problems? Contact Us!
DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, I'm Robert Estrin. Welcome to Today's subject is The Importance of Subito Piano in the Playing of Beethoven. That's right, subito piano. What is subito piano, and why is this so important in playing Beethoven? Subito piano means "suddenly soft". Subito means "suddenly" and this the trademark of Beethoven's writing. A lot of times, you'll see a crescendo going to piano, which seems counter-intuitive. You expect a crescendo getting louder and louder to end up forte, loud, but no. With Beethoven, a lot of times he surprises you, and a crescendo leads to a piano. Now, a lot of people see that and they think, "Oh, well. Let's kind of smooth it over. He doesn't really mean that, does he?" Well, absolutely he does, and in his music, if you make that sudden change after getting louder, it's extremely effective.

There are so many examples of this. I'm going to call to your attention a piece that you're all familiar with, the first movement of the famous "Moonlight Sonata", and there are a couple of examples in the first movement, where, indeed, there is a crescendo to a piano. And listen how effective this is. It really creates quite a mood and an intensity. If I were to play it and kind of gloss over that subito piano, kind of ignore it, and say, "Well, he didn't really mean it", you'd end up with this. It's very milktosed, isn't it? It doesn't have that same energy. Listen to it the right way again, make it to the crescendo, and suddenly get soft on the piano. It has a real attractive quality to it, doesn't it?

Here's another example a little bit later in the first movement of the "Moonlight". Did you hear that? Here, I'll do it without the subito piano, so you can hear the difference. It doesn't capture attention the same way, does it? Listen to it correctly again, with the crescendo to the subito piano, and notice the difference of the emotion it creates. So this is a lesson, not just in the "Moonlight Sonata", but in countless works of Beethoven. Don't be afraid to be a little bit more angular in Beethoven than you might be in Mozart or Haydn. It's one of the things that separates Beethoven's music from earlier composers, that edge, that surprise element. Try it in your Beethoven playing, and see how you like it.

Thanks so much for joining me. I'm Robert Estrin here at I look forward to seeing you next time.
Post a comment, question or special request:
You may: Login  or  
Otherwise, fill the form below to post your comment:
Add your name below:

Add your email below: (to receive replies, will not be displayed or shared)

For verification purposes, please enter the word MUSIC in the field below

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Taraknath Kangsabanik on September 8, 2018 @5:33 am PST
Susan Crawford * VSM MEMBER * on September 5, 2018 @2:26 pm PST
Hello, Robert. The one thing I have never really understood is phrases and phrase marks and how to play them. They are particularly hard for me when a phrase in the right hand ends at a different point from the left. Is that something you can explain in one of your videos? Thank you!
Robert Estrin - host, on September 7, 2018 @4:41 pm PST
I will make a video of that subject for you!
SteveBorcich * VSM MEMBER * on September 5, 2018 @9:09 am PST
Paying close attention to dynamics is very important no matter what style of music you play. It is like the difference between hearing a great public speaker who varies the inflection of his or her voice and a speaker who talks in a monotone. Music is language after all!
Robert Estrin - host, on September 5, 2018 @11:32 am PST
You hit the nail on the head!
Tseng, Li-Chun * VSM MEMBER * on September 5, 2018 @4:55 am PST
This’s so useful for me. Thank you a lot.
Brad on December 3, 2014 @10:07 pm PST
Hi there - thanks for the video! Do you use a special app for the sheet music? Thanks!
Robert - host, on December 4, 2014 @11:06 am PST
Yes, there is a wonderful, free application you can use on iPad or Android tablets:

There is automatic page turning (by moving your head!) or you can use a wireless foot pedal to turn pages:

Here is the Android software link as well:

Please let me know how you enjoy using this great technology.
Dave of Hales Corners * VSM MEMBER * on December 3, 2014 @3:58 pm PST
Robert, that was a really interesting presentation, but I wanted to mention that your repetition (3 times for each selection) was exactly right for those of us who don't catch on right away.
Fulvia Bowerman * VSM MEMBER * on December 3, 2014 @10:52 am PST
Quite interesting! My mother's 2 books of Beethoven's Sonata are a 100 year old German edition. The word Subito does not appear anywhere, I guess we took it for granted that we had to go instantly to a P or even PP after a crescendo. But there is an annotation at the beginning of the Moonlight sonata that says: sempre pp e senza sordini. Now, what does this "senza sordini" means? (I have been playing this since I was a teenager and it is the first time I noticed the annotation !! )
Robert - host, on December 3, 2014 @3:26 pm PST
"Senza sordini" translates to "without the mute" which would indicate to avoid using the soft pedal. However, Beethoven's piano was very different from modern pianos. So, you can take that direction loosely when performing on modern instruments.
Ken Cory * VSM MEMBER * on December 3, 2014 @7:57 am PST
Thanks for this, Robert. Being mostly self-taught, I sometimes get on the wrong track with musical terms. I always thought "subito" meant "below" and in the Moonlight I thought it referred to the triplet accompaniment. What an eye-opener (and an ear-opener!) to learn that it means "suddenly".
Cheryl Giles on December 3, 2014 @6:49 am PST
Love your examples,especially your mention of how this sets Beethoven apart. More of composer distinctions would always be welcome.
No matter if I know your topic or not, I always enjoy your playing. Thanks.
M J Tait * VSM MEMBER * on December 3, 2014 @3:28 am PST
cool, I played this when I was quite a bit younger, the piano teacher had kids running around whilst he was teaching me, but that wasn't what annoyed me. What annoyed me was his understanding of this one he said I played it with too much expression! Guess I made it a bit like the cliff hanger I thought it was lol. Love the word Sibito never heard it before thank you.
Questions? Problems? Contact Us.