Dynamic markings in music are not absolute.
Dynamic markings in music are not absolute. They are relative since there is no adequate means of defining them in specific terms. For example, the term fortissimo is louder, theoretically twice as loud, than forte when performed in approximately the same context in the same piece of music, but what is a forte other than a dynamic indication that exists somewhere between the fortissimo in question and mezzo-forte, again, in the same context and in the same piece of music?
In general, in sophisticated musical environments, dynamics are viewed not only within the context of the circumstances in which the music is being performed, but also in consideration of many other factors, including the prevailing musical culture in which the work was originally composed and performed.
The Quotables offerings about dynamics in these pages consist of comments uttered by some of the world's leading maestri during rehearsals and recording sessions in which this writer, unless otherwise noted, was an active participant. These were not for-the-record public gatherings; however, in light of the fact all of the statements quoted here took place in circumstances that were neither private nor confidential and were witnessed by many, it would seem not altogether inappropriate to recount them here.
As the old cliché goes, the comments range from the sublime to the ridiculous, but they are as relevant and informative as they are priceless. (And hopefully, none of them is even remotely as stuffy and pedantic as this introduction.)