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I've heard this idea before and have just read it again in Hamilton's book After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianism and Modern Performance. The quote is from Busoni: "The connection of one sustained tone with the following tone is perfect to a certain extent only when the second tone is struck with a softness precisely corresponding to the natural decrease in tone of the first". IOW after striking the first note its loudness will naturally decay and to achieve a perfect legato the second note must match the decreased loudness of the first note right before the second note is struck.

If one takes this literally it would mean that every legato passage would automatically result in a decrescendo which makes no sense. But perhaps this idea is more about not making a note in some lyrical passage stick out by being much too soft or loud, i.e. shaping the melody appropriately.

What do you think about the above?

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don't think about it, just play haha


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Well, PL is right, in theory, isn't he? We couldn't play legato as Busoni describes it for very long until we're playing silence. Yet, this is often what some teachers have encouraged us to do when we are trying to play legato.

And, in spite of the illusion that a phrase of music on a piano can be played legato, (how does one play legato on an essentially percussive instrument?) some pianists manage to give that illusion, don't they?

Much of our ability to match the new note with the decay of the preceding one depends upon the volume and the length of the preceding note, but in practice there has to be a regaining of volume for us not to end up with "diminishing returns" smile

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No.

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Originally Posted by JoelW
No.

Joel, you consistently clutter these threads with flippant and unhelpful comments. I find this rude, obnoxious, nasty, mean spirited,
Additionally, 99.9% of all pianists would disagree


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It all depends on speed, pedal, kind of piece/style, there is no recipe/method, Bach=finger-legato, Moszkowski=speed, Prokofiev=volume/endurance/big and solid piano, I played Bach in churches, practically no legato needed, I played Rachmaninov in 'cool' venues: heavy right foot.


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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
Originally Posted by JoelW
No.

Joel, you consistently clutter these threads with flippant and unhelpful comments. I find this rude, obnoxious, nasty, mean spirited,
Additionally, 99.9% of all pianists would disagree

I would appreciate if if you addressed me by my handle, which is JoelW.

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Plover is right. It's not literally possible.

But, of course, it would be a mistake to dismiss it because of not being strictly possible. Take it for its message, which is an important one.

Not unlike Chopin saying the accompaniment continues keeping "strict time" during rubato....

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pianoloverus, do you think Busoni is referring to any sequence of legato notes, such as a continuously moving line, or does he mean, more specifically, two notes, where one is a relatively long note followed by a concluding note? If this is the case, then yes, Businoi makes perfect sense.

We hear this all the time in two note slurred phrase structures, and also at the ends of phrases.

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Originally Posted by prout
pianoloverus, do you think Busoni is referring to any sequence of legato notes, such as a continuously moving line, or does he mean, more specifically, two notes, where one is a relatively long note followed by a concluding note? If this is the case, then yes, Busonii makes perfect sense.

We hear this all the time in two note slurred phrase structures, and also at the ends of phrases.
I have no idea what Busoni is referring to but what you say is certainly correct. If that's what he meant, I wish he had been more specific. Maybe he assumed we'd be smart enough to know which passages he was talking about.

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Originally Posted by BruceD
(how does one play legato on an essentially percussive instrument?) some pianists manage to give that illusion, don't they?


If one takes the meaning of legato to mean a connection of the notes i.e. with no gap inbetween the notes, then it is perfectly possible to play legato on a piano. One simply does not let go of the preceding note until after the next note is struck, which is how we're taught to play legato on a piano.

However, if one thinks of legato as not having an attack on the next note, then I should imagine that only wind and string instruments can play legato in this fashion. For example, playing more than one note with one bow length, or one breath. However, I would tend to go more with the first definition, which makes it perfectly possible to play legato on a piano.

Which definition do you think is correct? Is it actually the second one, do you think?

Just to add - I don't personally think Busoni is correct here. As pointed out, this would result in only a legato being achieved over the course of a diminuendo, which seems wrong. On a violin, it is perfectly possible to legato with one bow length and increase the pressure on the bow as one does so, resulting in a simultaneous legato and crescendo.

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What if the previous note is held for x seconds resulting in potentially no sound from the following note? I wonder if someone could calculate the average sustain of each note on a Steinway D and make a chart determining how long one can actually hold any given note and still get a perfect legato from the following note.

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I'd also like to know if it's possible to play legato when the notes are not directly next to each other on the keyboard.


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Originally Posted by JoelW
What if the previous note is held for x seconds resulting in potentially no sound from the following note? I wonder if someone could calculate the average sustain of each note on a Steinway D and make a chart determining how long one can actually hold any given note and still get a perfect legato from the following note.
The same would occur when a wind player runs out of breath (unless they use circular breathing, wnich drives me crazy - another topic) or when a string player runs out of bow. A re-bow - that is in this case a change of direction, not a re-taking of the bow, is clearly heard and not a sustained, even sound.

I often subtly change the length of a preceding note, depending on the piano and venue, to ensure that a legato line or ending still is heard.

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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
I'd also like to know if it's possible to play legato when the notes are not directly next to each other on the keyboard.
Absolutely, or at least, expected by the composer. I am prepping the Brahms ‘cello sonatas and the E minor first movement left hand is mostly two note phrases, offbeat, and the notes are an octave (or nearly an octave) apart. The legato effect - no pedal is used - is essential to the sense of the music.

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Play legato as "Smoothly connected" and you are golden. Don't overthink it.


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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
If one takes this literally it would mean that every legato passage would automatically result in a decrescendo which makes no sense.

You're quite right. We can indeed give the illusion of legato, but that's not how it's done.

Here's something to try. Take a recording of your favourite pianist playing a beautiful legato passage, where you get the impression they are really making the piano sing. Run it through an audio program such as Audacity so you can see the changes in amplitude. You won't see one note starting at the intensity of the decaying note just before it, you'll see a jump in intensity at the start of each note.

And yet the pianist contrives to make you hear a legato phrase. How? There are different elements involved here, probably the most important being shaping, be it through gradual changes of dynamic or minute rubati.

Here's another thing to try: take a simple ascending arpeggio and play it connected but absolutely straight, each note with the same intensity and metronomically in tempo. Now play the same arpeggio with a cresecndo and a little rubato, slightly delaying the last couple of notes like a singer arriving at their top note. Which version sounds more legato?


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You do it for a 'sighing' motif. It just shows what a crappy instrument the piano actually is.

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Originally Posted by MRC
Now play the same arpeggio with a crescendo and a little rubato, slightly delaying the last couple of notes like a singer arriving at their top note.
An astute composer would indicate this with an opening hairpin.

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Wolfie: "My music should flow like oil".

Some pianists play Mozart with long, smooth phrases and a warm Romanticized sound, but a period approach generally favors crisp articulation and spare use of pedal. Robert Levin, another fortepiano expert, has written that Mozart favored a translucent sound and a singing melody that “must flow like oil,” while pointing out that “legato” was not a term the composer applied to his keyboard works. Beethoven reportedly told Czerny that Mozart had a “fine but choppy way of playing, no legato.”


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
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