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#1793779 - 11/22/11 02:18 AM Rachmaninoff Prelude op. 32, no. 4 - about those held notes
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7422
This has puzzled me for a long time - what to do about the notes that are written to be sustained while there are fast staccato chords going on. As in measures 2 and 5, for example.

So, I decided to check performances on YouTube to see what the professionals do about them. I looked at probably seven or eight clips, mostly of pianists well-known enough to recognize their names. I was surprised that most simply don't sustain them at all!! Or maybe just for a tiny fraction of the time Rachmaninoff specified. It's like that's the default thing to do. One, Constance Keene, used the sostenuto pedal, which sounded strange, although, in a way, it is closer to the score than what the others did. I wouldn't use it simply because I don't think that's what R. had in mind.

But what did he have in mind? It's not a piece he recorded himself, AFAIK, so we can't hear what he did. What do you think? I've been tending to use the sustain pedal to hold the notes, which is messy, but seems to me to be the only thing he could have meant. It's also what I think my teacher back in college did, but I may be misremembering. Now I know that most pianists don't do that, I am rethinking it.

Anybody here have any thoughts or opinions on it?

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#1793824 - 11/22/11 06:51 AM Re: Rachmaninoff Prelude op. 32, no. 4 - about those held notes [Re: wr]
Gerard12 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/19/10
Posts: 754
Loc: South Carolina
In my own experience with the piece, it's been "all of the above." Sometimes, it's whatever works with the instrument you are using. But there's always going to be a compromise between what you think the score demands and what you're able to do effectively.

And, if it's any consolation, those sustained notes are rarely heard for anywhere near their full length. We're creating an illusion, there.

I've used the sostenuto pedal to nice effect on some instruments. I've used 1/2 sustain pedals, 1/4 pedals, flutter, full, etc........Each approach sounds remarkably different and again, what works on one instrument may not work on another. So there's going to be lots of experimentation and imagination involved. It might help to not be beholden to one idea.

It's a tough one. It belongs to a select group of pieces that I've started and stopped working on way too many times in my life - without getting near a 'finished' state. I remember being incredulous when my teacher assigned it when I was an undergrad.........

Best of luck, I wish you success with the piece!


Edited by Gerard12 (11/22/11 07:28 AM)
Edit Reason: i was asleep when i originally wrote this.....
_________________________
Piano performance and instruction (former college music professor).

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#1794197 - 11/22/11 07:29 PM Re: Rachmaninoff Prelude op. 32, no. 4 - about those held notes [Re: Gerard12]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7422
Originally Posted By: Gerard12
In my own experience with the piece, it's been "all of the above." Sometimes, it's whatever works with the instrument you are using. But there's always going to be a compromise between what you think the score demands and what you're able to do effectively.

And, if it's any consolation, those sustained notes are rarely heard for anywhere near their full length. We're creating an illusion, there.

I've used the sostenuto pedal to nice effect on some instruments. I've used 1/2 sustain pedals, 1/4 pedals, flutter, full, etc........Each approach sounds remarkably different and again, what works on one instrument may not work on another. So there's going to be lots of experimentation and imagination involved. It might help to not be beholden to one idea.

It's a tough one. It belongs to a select group of pieces that I've started and stopped working on way too many times in my life - without getting near a 'finished' state. I remember being incredulous when my teacher assigned it when I was an undergrad.........

Best of luck, I wish you success with the piece!


I was thinking that some sort of partial pedaling might work, so you have bolstered that thought. You are right, though, it's probably best not to decide on just one solution.

It still bugs me that Rachmaninoff would notate something so ambiguous - I can't think of another place in his music where I feel I just have no idea what he was thinking the performer should do. He often writes out long note values to indicate pedaling, but this is the only instance where it just doesn't make sense to me. Oh, well....

You are so right about it being tough. It's unlikely I am actually going to try to work it up, but there's something fascinating about the piece, and I enjoy fooling around with it for while, now and again.

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#1794206 - 11/22/11 07:48 PM Re: Rachmaninoff Prelude op. 32, no. 4 - about those held notes [Re: wr]
Damon Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/22/06
Posts: 5913
Loc: St. Louis area
Originally Posted By: wr
This has puzzled me for a long time - what to do about the notes that are written to be sustained while there are fast staccato chords going on. As in measures 2 and 5, for example.
.... One, Constance Keene, used the sostenuto pedal, which sounded strange, although, in a way, it is closer to the score than what the others did. I wouldn't use it simply because I don't think that's what R. had in mind.
............
Anybody here have any thoughts or opinions on it?



I like what Constance Keene did. I was thinking about that as a solution for a Liszt piece I was learning (but didn't finish in time for the e-cital). I mention it because all the concert pianists' recordings I've heard also drop the chord by the next staccato note or pedal somewhat beyond. I wonder if it is because it's not specifically marked in the score or they just don't like using that pedal.
_________________________
Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

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#1794215 - 11/22/11 08:10 PM Re: Rachmaninoff Prelude op. 32, no. 4 - about those held notes [Re: wr]
gooddog Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4669
Loc: Seattle area, WA
I don't know the piece, but I'd probably use the sustenuto pedal.
_________________________
Best regards,

Deborah

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#1794230 - 11/22/11 08:47 PM Re: Rachmaninoff Prelude op. 32, no. 4 - about those held notes [Re: wr]
ChopinAddict Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/29/09
Posts: 6077
Loc: Land of the never-ending music
I haven't played this piece yet, but I have encountered similar cases and I have used the pedal.
_________________________



Music is my best friend.


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#1794378 - 11/23/11 01:57 AM Re: Rachmaninoff Prelude op. 32, no. 4 - about those held notes [Re: wr]
Thrill Science Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/11
Posts: 505
Loc: California
My teacher and I were just discussing this today! You hold the notes with the right pedal.
If your dampers are adjusted well, you may try half-pedaling.
_________________________
Robert Swirsky
Thrill Science, Inc.

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#1794405 - 11/23/11 03:33 AM Re: Rachmaninoff Prelude op. 32, no. 4 - about those held notes [Re: wr]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7422
BTW, I should have explained that the problem with using the sostenuto pedal (other than Rachmaninoff wouldn't have expected it) is that some of the notes being held are also in the staccato chords, so they get struck again, and that sounds pretty weird. I was surprised that Keene used it.

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#1795196 - 11/24/11 07:39 AM Re: Rachmaninoff Prelude op. 32, no. 4 - about those held notes [Re: wr]
SlatterFan Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/13/09
Posts: 783
Loc: Brighton, UK
Originally Posted By: wr
I was thinking that some sort of partial pedaling might work

That's my approach. I agree that using the sostenuto pedal sounds weird, because of the recurring notes. On my Clavinova CLP-230, which is supposed to be a pretty good simulation of a Yamaha grand piano (though I'm sure opinions differ!), I find that rapid partial pedaling on the 2nd and 3rd beats works okay: the long octaves just manage to sing through, and the staccato chords are blurred but not too blurred. It's a balance of letting the "horns" sing through without muffling the "strings" too much.

I find the piece fascinating too. Do you know the Grieg lyric piece Evening in the mountains? I see a clear connection between it and the middle section of Rachmaninoff's Op.32 No.4. I sense vulnerability in the middle "sunset" section of Op.32 No.4, with its sinking harmonies and nervous "woodwind" trills. Home feels far away, and the darkness of night ominous. Adding to this is a moment of "departure" or "disconnecting from home" in No.4 that links up with a moment of "return" or "reconnecting with home" in No.10. I'm talking about a few measures in both pieces that are remarkably similar in outline and feel.

My Op.32 summary:
Click to reveal..
1-3 = happenings at home, 4 = departure, 5-9 = happenings away from home, 10 = return, 11-13 = happenings back at home


Edited by SlatterFan (11/24/11 12:41 PM)
Edit Reason: Fixed typo and reduced wordiness!
_________________________
Julian

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#1795663 - 11/25/11 04:33 AM Re: Rachmaninoff Prelude op. 32, no. 4 - about those held notes [Re: SlatterFan]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7422
Originally Posted By: SlatterFan
Originally Posted By: wr
I was thinking that some sort of partial pedaling might work

That's my approach. I agree that using the sostenuto pedal sounds weird, because of the recurring notes. On my Clavinova CLP-230, which is supposed to be a pretty good simulation of a Yamaha grand piano (though I'm sure opinions differ!), I find that rapid partial pedaling on the 2nd and 3rd beats works okay: the long octaves just manage to sing through, and the staccato chords are blurred but not too blurred. It's a balance of letting the "horns" sing through without muffling the "strings" too much.

I find the piece fascinating too. Do you know the Grieg lyric piece Evening in the mountains? I see a clear connection between it and the middle section of Rachmaninoff's Op.32 No.4. I sense vulnerability in the middle "sunset" section of Op.32 No.4, with its sinking harmonies and nervous "woodwind" trills. Home feels far away, and the darkness of night ominous. Adding to this is a moment of "departure" or "disconnecting from home" in No.4 that links up with a moment of "return" or "reconnecting with home" in No.10. I'm talking about a few measures in both pieces that are remarkably similar in outline and feel.

My Op.32 summary:
Click to reveal..
1-3 = happenings at home, 4 = departure, 5-9 = happenings away from home, 10 = return, 11-13 = happenings back at home


I went to YouTube to hear "Evening in the Mountains" - this stark Richter performance is pretty amazing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdBVQeAm10c

While I can hear how you make a connection between it and the Rachmaninoff, it doesn't hit me as strongly as it does you, I don't think.

It's funny - if concrete ideas about "content" occur to me regarding the music I work on, I don't resist them, but on the other hand, I don't really particularly invite them, either. The Rachmaninoff hasn't really given me any very specific programmatic ideas yet - time will tell. I was thinking about that just a couple of days ago, wondering if it would trigger some specific imagery at some point. A lot of music doesn't, for me, even if it's quite vivid in effect.

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#1795928 - 11/25/11 06:04 PM Re: Rachmaninoff Prelude op. 32, no. 4 - about those held notes [Re: wr]
SlatterFan Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/13/09
Posts: 783
Loc: Brighton, UK
Originally Posted By: wr
I went to YouTube to hear "Evening in the Mountains" - this stark Richter performance is pretty amazing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdBVQeAm10c

While I can hear how you make a connection between it and the Rachmaninoff, it doesn't hit me as strongly as it does you, I don't think.

I agree that Richter's version has a stark power, but the main tempo given by the composer is allegretto, not the largo played by Richter, which greatly obscures the connection. (I was hoping you would pull the complete Lyric Pieces from your shelf and play the piece yourself. Poor Grieg, so sadly neglected in amateurs' libraries!) At a sensible tempo, there's a sequence of 6 measures in particular that in my opinion makes it really obvious that Rachmaninoff knew and liked the piece, and highlights the similarity of mood between the sections.

Originally Posted By: wr
It's funny - if concrete ideas about "content" occur to me regarding the music I work on, I don't resist them, but on the other hand, I don't really particularly invite them, either. The Rachmaninoff hasn't really given me any very specific programmatic ideas yet - time will tell. I was thinking about that just a couple of days ago, wondering if it would trigger some specific imagery at some point. A lot of music doesn't, for me, even if it's quite vivid in effect.

I am similar. For some reason Rachmaninoff's op.32 pieces were the first in my life to inspire moods and images, and I quite quickly gave them all titles. I like it that in my imagination they fit a clear emotional travelogue or scheme. On a purely musical level, it is clear how often the composer links the end of one piece to the beginning of the next, suggesting they were conceived as working as a complete set as well as individual pieces. Nos. 4 and 13 are going to the be the last ones I attempt to learn seriously: real pipe dream stuff!
_________________________
Julian

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#1795964 - 11/25/11 07:04 PM Re: Rachmaninoff Prelude op. 32, no. 4 - about those held notes [Re: wr]
BruceD Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 17666
Loc: Victoria, BC
I will just add that in my edition of the Grieg Lyric Pieces the "main" tempo for "Evening in the Mountains" is not Allegretto which is for the first eight bars only, but Andante espressivo. I do agree, though, that Richter's tempo is a bit on the slow side of Andante.

In her wonderful transversal of the Lyric Pieces, Eva Knardahl takes this piece a shade faster than Richter and it doesn't seem to lack momentum in her hands. I don't think the piece is lacking in momentum chez Richter, either. In fact, I rather like it.

Regards,
_________________________
BruceD
- - - - -
Estonia 190 in satin ebony

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#1796010 - 11/25/11 09:25 PM Re: Rachmaninoff Prelude op. 32, no. 4 - about those held notes [Re: BruceD]
SlatterFan Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/13/09
Posts: 783
Loc: Brighton, UK
Originally Posted By: BruceD
I will just add that in my edition of the Grieg Lyric Pieces the "main" tempo for "Evening in the Mountains" is not Allegretto which is for the first eight bars only, but Andante espressivo. I do agree, though, that Richter's tempo is a bit on the slow side of Andante.

The piece starts Allegretto, then there is a section with a single note melody marked Andante espressivo, then the second half of the piece is marked Tempo I, which I understand as meaning the original Allegretto. It's the second half that's relevant to the point I made, where the melody returns harmonized and with moments of similarity to the middle section of Rach's Op.32 No.4. (Even if one somehow reads Tempo I as meaning Andante espressivo, I do find Richter's playing remarkably slow. And I would continue to find it remarkable even if 10/10 or 100/100 or 1000/1000 of acclaimed pianists played it similarly.)
_________________________
Julian

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