The concerto ain't over 'til the soloist plays the credenza!
On today's Morning Edition, NPR sports commentator Frank Deford was gently rebuked for using the phrase "the proof is in the pudding" during his most recent appearance. As pointed out by a listener and backed-up by the New York Times' Ben Zimmer, the original phrase is "the proof of the pudding is in the eating," and the common version used by Deford is mistaken. OK, that's another one I'll try not to use. But does music also have such misstatements and misusages? You bet your sweet contrabassoon it does! Let me mention a few that yes, I actually have heard on more than one occasion.
The most common, in my experience, also plagues the language of sportswriters and broadcasters. When the game is on the line, the bases are loaded, it's fourth-and-goal, and Lebron has the ball in his hands, they're fond of saying that things have "reached a crescendo." Ouch! Crescendo, folks, doesn't mean climax, culmination, or even "the exciting part." It means when the music gradually grows in loudness over time. It could be over a long phrase or over a single beat. It could mean going from a whisper to a roar, or it could mean going from a whisper to a slightly louder whisper. High volume does not necessarily have anything to do with it. And rather than being a destination you reach, a crescendo is the reaching. If you need to use a musical analogy on such occasions, the correct one is "turned up to eleven." Now you know.
By the way, the Golden Palm and Musical Dictionary Award for Creative Misusage goes to former baseball executive and current commentator Steve Philips, whom I once heard say that a game had "reached a cressendo ," thereby adding a lovely mispronunciation to the mix. Bravo, Mr. Philips!
Then there's the fancy term for singing without instruments. Or "just singing, no music," as no fewer than three people, on totally separate occasions, have described it to me. The Italian for "in the manner of the chapel," a cappella has been applied over the centuries to classical choral music, gospel choirs, collegiate singing groups, street-corner doo-wop — and also, unfortunately, to solo instruments without back-up. A cappella violin? Please don't.
Next time you're listening to a Concerto, listen up for the moment at the end of the first movement when the music grinds to a halt, the orchestra lays out, and the soloist takes off an a showy flight of fancy. We've reached not the crescendo, but the...credenza? Not unless the orchestra has laid out a buffet for us. The correct term is "cadenza," the Italian for "cadence," which (in this case) refers to the musical resting-point which the soloist is embellishing, a cappella. I mean, unaccompanied.
Can you think of any others? Don't be shy.
(Photo: "Dandy Don" Meredith, left, listening to Howard Cosell, right, expound upon the relative merits of the Joachim and Kreisler cadenzas for Beethoven's Violin Concerto.)