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#3189296 01/28/22 10:38 AM
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Howdy. I can no longer recall what I was once taught about how to play passages where, for example, the accompaniment is in triplets (or triple time) and the melody includes a dotted 16th-note. For instance: In the 2nd and 4th measures of the first of the Kinderszenen of Schumann or the third and fifth measures of Chopin's Op. 15 No. 1 nocturne. Is there a general rule? Is there a written explanation somewhere? All I can recall is that sometimes you see a 16th-note written and you play a triplet, but I can't remember where or when (as the song goes).

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There is no single, formal rule that fits all composers. Bach and his peers often wrote dotted forms which were played as triplets, but not always.

With the Chopin Nocturne, the instructions at the beginning (Andante Cantabile) give a strong clue as to how to play the melody. Sing it without the triplets below and see what happens. For me, I tend to elongate the time before the 16th and take some time as well on the 16th, causing a slight slowing of the the melody which then is made up in the next two beats. I remember reading about Chopin's somewhat erratic insistence on playing the left hand as if it were a metronome and being completely free in the right hand. You just needed to make sure that the two hands more or less met at some points on the harmonic journey. Pretty much the way great jazz singers perform with a band.

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It seems that the answer shouldn't be any more complicated than it needs to be, i.e. the composer notated it as polyrhythm, so that's they way it's intended to be played. But I can see how in the Schumann and Chopin examples cited it may be somewhat ambiguous. However, consider the finale of Schubert D. 959 where the theme first appears in duple meter, which is then repeated verbatim with tripled accompaniment. Here there is no doubt that it should be treated as polyrhythm.


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All that verbiage I said above aside, those are dotted notes in the Chopin and played more or less as such.

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Originally Posted by cygnusdei
It seems that the answer shouldn't be any more complicated than it needs to be, i.e. the composer notated it as polyrhythm, so that's they way it's intended to be played. But I can see how in the Schumann and Chopin examples cited it may be somewhat ambiguous. However, consider the finale of Schubert D. 959 where the theme first appears in duple meter, which is then repeated verbatim with tripled accompaniment. Here there is no doubt that it should be treated as polyrhythm.
In these cases, I would agree with you. In baroque music however, much is not written out which is still intended. We have to dig into the music and make educated guesses about whether or not a dotted note figure is as it is, or a triplet, or a note inégale, as many sequential 1/8th notes are meant to be played.

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It gets even more tricky in the con fuoco section. Almost all editions show dotted 1/8- 16th note figures for the melody but differ on the alignment of the 16th note with the sextuplets. Some place 1/16 note vertically with the 2nd to last sextuplet, and others with the last, and others in an indeterminant place.

I guess musicality must needs take over.

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A good example of dotted notes being interpreted as triplets is in Bach's Cantata 147. Probably one of the most popular pieces of Xmas music is in the cantata - Jesu, Joy of... Here the melody is written in triplets, but Bach scores the other instruments in dotted 1/8-16th pairs, saving time and ink. Nearly every modern consumer score has rewritten the figures as triplets. I guess laser printing is cheap these days and one doesn't want to confuse the consumer by requiring them to have knowledge about baroque ink-saving techniques.

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Originally Posted by Tono
Howdy. I can no longer recall what I was once taught about how to play passages where, for example, the accompaniment is in triplets (or triple time) and the melody includes a dotted 16th-note. For instance: In the 2nd and 4th measures of the first of the Kinderszenen of Schumann or the third and fifth measures of Chopin's Op. 15 No. 1 nocturne. Is there a general rule? Is there a written explanation somewhere? All I can recall is that sometimes you see a 16th-note written and you play a triplet, but I can't remember where or when (as the song goes).

For Schumann and the Chopin case ig is clearly to be played as dotted.

In baroque music it depends on the period, the composer and the piece. There is no doubt that rythmic clash (or rythmic counterpoint) was intended. For example in Frescobaldi toccata 9, secondo libro there are sections in 4/4 for the right hand and in 12/8 for the left, as written in the first edition, returning to C afterwards. This ties back to polyphonic music where proportions were used with sometimes different meters for voices, typically applying the sesquialtera proportion to a binary rythm.

The dot In baroque music is variable so it can mean a true dot, or it can be reduced to a triplet or overdotted as well. The triplet sign did not exist, thus we are left with our musical sense to interpret.

In Bach we can find examples of all cases. In cantata 105, written in C, he suddenly changes the upper string part only in a sesquialtera proportion of 12/8, making it clear he wants the rythms to conflict.

Rameau will often use different rythms, 3 against 4, or 5 against 4. So rythmic difference/counterpoint was usual.

There are also cases where assimilation seems like the best solution. Typically fast tempo or when the triplet rythm is predominant are situations where one must look at possible assimilation. On the other hand slow tempo or when the melody is in binary rythm probably require rythmic difference. And there are cases where there are pros and cons like the famous tempo di gavotta in the partita 6, though many pianists assimilate.


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With baroque and earlier music conventional notations may still have been evolving, so the execution may differ from later practices. However, consistency in the composer's own notation should be considered. For example the Gigue in BWV 816 - it's 2:1 rhythm throughout and notated as such, not as 3:1 dotted rhythm. So one may argue that Bach was perfectly capable of notating a 2:1 rhythm if he so desired, with the corollary that if the notation instead shows 3:1 dotted rhythm, that, too, is exactly how he wanted it. (In fact, the 2:1 rhythm is simpler to notate as it doesn't require dots).

But with other composers, one should consider the other works to ascertain the consistency of notation.


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Sidokar and cygnusdei,

What do you think about the con fuoco section of the Chopin Nocturne mentioned by the OP in terms of the placement of the melodic 1/16th?

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Originally Posted by prout
Sidokar and cygnusdei,

What do you think about the con fuoco section of the Chopin Nocturne mentioned by the OP in terms of the placement of the melodic 1/16th?

You mean in terms of duration against the sextuplets ?


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Originally Posted by Sidokar
Originally Posted by prout
Sidokar and cygnusdei,

What do you think about the con fuoco section of the Chopin Nocturne mentioned by the OP in terms of the placement of the melodic 1/16th?

You mean in terms of duration against the sextuplets ?
Yes, thanks.

I have three editions (IMSLP) that vertically place the 1/16ths in different locations, including different locations within the same edition.

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It's the same dotted rhythm as in the A section, da..da-da-da
When the melody is on LH and accompaniment is on RH it's still easy to maintain the rhythm, but I guess when both are on RH it's trickier.


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If I were being pedantic, I would play all the dotted rhythms in this work mathematically proportionally as written using the least common multiple of triplets and 1/16ths, which is 12, placing the third triplet at 8/12ths of a beat, the 1/16th note at 9/12ths of a beat, and the final sextuplets at 8/12ths and 10/12ths of a beat respectively.

Obviously, I prefer to make music and not consume valuable though interesting time on the math. Which brings me to the point. Did Chopin care? Did he place the 1/16ths vertically with care? Did the various editors make choices about where to most easily engrave the 1/16ths clearly (my guess)?

I ask all this because I have spent most of my career on interpreting organ and harpsichord and piano/vocal rep, not solo piano rep, so my knowledge is severely lacking in solo piano rep performance practice. I now listen exclusively to recorded and live jazz and live piano recitals.

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My math above is confusing - it's like counting fenceposts and fence rungs. For example,

Counting from 1/12, the triplets are placed at 1/12, 5/12, and 9/12 of a beat. I count from 0, hence the relationships above.

Must spend more time on music, less on math.

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I agree that there are other things which are more important than whether you should play notes 1/12 beat apart, and I bet composers thought there were other things that were more important than whether to notate things like that exactly. Most of the time, the listener is not going to notice one way or the other.

Most music comes in groups of 2, 3, or 4 beats, rarely 5. Beyond that, the grouping gets subdivided, evenly or unevenly. I do not see any reason to divide a group of 3 or 4 into twelfths. It might come up rarely, but it is going to sound like grace notes, and most people can decide whether grace notes make sense or not in context.


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Originally Posted by prout
If I were being pedantic, I would play all the dotted rhythms in this work mathematically proportionally as written using the least common multiple of triplets and 1/16ths, which is 12, placing the third triplet at 8/12ths of a beat, the 1/16th note at 9/12ths of a beat, and the final sextuplets at 8/12ths and 10/12ths of a beat respectively.

Obviously, I prefer to make music and not consume valuable though interesting time on the math. Which brings me to the point. Did Chopin care? Did he place the 1/16ths vertically with care? Did the various editors make choices about where to most easily engrave the 1/16ths clearly (my guess)?

I ask all this because I have spent most of my career on interpreting organ and harpsichord and piano/vocal rep, not solo piano rep, so my knowledge is severely lacking in solo piano rep performance practice. I now listen exclusively to recorded and live jazz and live piano recitals.


The earlier editions, namely the first Schlesinger edition is obviously not very precise. At least not mathematically. BTW bar 45, 46 and 47 the 16th is not positionned at the same place than elsewhere though I dont see any particular reason to play it any differently. Both Mikuli and Kullak remain constant (which indicates that the first edition is probably incorrect) but Each edition puts the 16th slightly differently. Henle decided to put it at a constant place, National Edition follows the first edition.

As you suggest I would put the math behind and just look at it from a musical perspective, trying to make the melodic line consistent and expressive. So for me the 16th must not be played too late so that the melodic line remains meaningful.


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