14 bizarre, perplexing and distressing performance directions

A selection of our favourite composer performance directions, requests and musings. Just don't ask us to play them.

performance directions

Just confusing

Please don't ask us about this one. No. Idea. (for those musicologically inclined, there's plenty of debate, bemusement, and calls for this drunken staff to go home on Reddit )


György Ligeti experiments with extreme volumes – aka "shouting-in-the-pub voice" and "shouldn't-really-be-talking-in-the-library voice" – in his Etudes for piano.

Leggierissimo e legatissimo

The great Romantic pianist/composer Chopin annotated his score leggierissimo e legatissimo (extremely light and delicate with a very smooth effect). Here's a thought Friedrich, if you're so keen on your piece being played light and smooth, how about re-evaluating your choice of SIX FLATS.



In the 1980s, Karajan was a particular fan of Tempo di Merchant Ivory.

Erik Satie: Limp Preludes (for a dog)

No survey of the bizarre in classical music is complete without a mention of this Parisian. In the field of directions, his offer some particular highlights, including Imbibet (drunken) and Corpulentus (Corpulent). You provide the wine, we'll bring the pies.


More Drinking

While we're on the subject, perhaps the finale involves waking up, head aching, next to a half-eaten kebab.

Counting to 5.5

Why this wasn't notated in 11/16 will no doubt go down as one of the great mysteries of all music.


Don't you mean tactus-box?


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The wifi's pretty dodgy in the orchestra pit anyway.

The maligned Maestro

Also found at the top of every viola score (jokes).

How soft, Pyotr Ilyich?

Yep, even back in 1893 Tchaik was at it. It's probably one of the most iconic performance directions ever, in one of the most devastating moments in symphonic music. Shh.


When precision is important. Feel free to calculate the rallentando on the 3rd page. It's dN/dt = -Nλ


Sometime you've just got to go for it...

And for the Finale...

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