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Sustaining long notes on piano

Discussion in 'Technique' started by organtechnic23, Nov 6, 2009.

  1. organtechnic23

    organtechnic23 New Member

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    For Rachmaninov's Etudes-Tableaux Op.33, No.5, measures 42, 44, and 46, there are the notes supposed to be held as a voice suspended over the other notes. How would one keep the note alive and strong without having to play it ff (such a sudden contrast would be out of place in a section marked pp). For measure 42, the sustain would work fine, but in 44 if you do sustain you catch the other notes that aren't supposed to be suspended. Especially in 44 it creates a sort of smear over the rest of the measure that doesn't make for good listening. How would one isolate that upper voice and keep it strong when the sustain doesn't do the trick in all circumstances and the sound from the note fades too quickly after being struck?
     
  2. mgasilva

    mgasilva New Member

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    The sostenuto pedal could be an answer to problems like that. Though I am not familiar with the piece in question, it seems like a situation where the sostenuto could be useful.

    Not every grande piano is equipped with one and I've never seen it on a vertical (though I know there are some who do have them). Even on old grands it may not be completely functional.

    On some lower-end grand pianos, there is a "fake" sostenuto pedal which removes the dampers from the bass section of the strings, thus augmenting the duration of the basses. The true complete sostenuto maintains away from the strings only those dampers who are already away when it is pressed.

    Many electronic pianos have a sostenuto pedal.

    So, I don't know if this helps, but as this is a pedal that is not present on every piano and is so rarely used, not everyone is completely familiar with its function. It has been said that you could go through a whole career as a concert pianist and never use it.
     
  3. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    I don't totally agree with you here. I have used the sostenuto pedal in particular in a Liszt Consolation, a Chopin Prelude, and a couple Granados pieces (can't remember which ones), and I am certainly not close to being a concert pianist. And I have seen a concert pianist use his left foot to press down both the sos. pedal and una corda pedal at the same time, while managing the sustain pedal with his right foot. That for sure is something I can't do!

    (Actually, I remember using the sos. pedal also in a Rachmaninov piece - can't remember that one right now either, but I remember doing it.)
     
  4. organtechnic23

    organtechnic23 New Member

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    Sounds like the sostenuto pedal is my friend. I don't know what's with this proclivity to avoid things I'm somewhat unfamiliar with, but it really is a part of the instrument that one should know how to use. The sostenuto and I shall become more closely acquainted in the near future.

    That fellow must either have big feet or he wears an extra-large shoe on his left foot (though probably the former).
     
  5. RSPIll

    RSPIll New Member

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    In this case, the sostenuto pedal would not be of great help. It would simply hold the note at the volume that it was played and natural decay would set in anyway.

    First, the melody is at a dynamic of piano with a "tenuto", which can indicate a slight bit of stress, while the accompaniement figure is pianissimo. The held melody note will gain a little (though probably not terribly perceptible) from sympathetic vibrations with the accompaniement.

    You might consider these long notes as more of a state of mind. There is a natural decay on the piano that Rach would well have understood. I think the idea is that you make sure that the next melody notes are equal to the beginning of those sustained notes. Keep the note "spinning" in your mind as if it were sustained on a violin so that the melody continues seemlessly.

    The damper pedal would mask the delicate staccato of the accompaniement, though it may be necessary on the first beat for the half and then whole note basses. Even here, the sostenuto would not be of great help because you would catch those accompaniement notes. You might experiment with some half-pedaling. This technique can let some of the bass to continue to sound while still damping the middle and upper registers.
     
  6. organtechnic23

    organtechnic23 New Member

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    That was very useful advice! I figured Rach wouldn't put something in that couldn't be played (well, maybe), but the idea of keeping the note in mind is a useful technique to allow for the melody to move with proper musicality. Notes as a state of mind... that's certainly something to be pondered. There could be something philosophical about that. One could even consider notes as a state of being, or is that taking it too far?
     
  7. RSPIll

    RSPIll New Member

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    I'll make a note of that thought :wink:

    Actually, Rach has written stuff that is near impossible for us mere mortals. He had HUGE hands and could play things that most of us have to work around.
     
  8. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    maybe you've seen this before, but you probably mean like this?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifKKlhYF53w

    :lol:

    (sorry - I'll get serious now - well, pretty soon anyway :wink: )
     
  9. RSPIll

    RSPIll New Member

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    Yeah, that's the idea.

    I love that. Never thought of that system for performing Rach. Now I can enlarge my repertoire (in more ways than one). :roll:
     
  10. mgasilva

    mgasilva New Member

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    It just occurred to me that the "una corda" pedal, while changing the piano sound's timbre by making the hammer strike only two strings and thus also making it somewhat softer, does also make the sound sustain for a longe time, due to storage of some of the energy in the third (unstruck) string. Could that be useful?

    BTW, I downloaded the score to that piece and the score I saw didn't go up to measure 42. Is it an incomplete version or am I missing something here (Like for example repetitions?).

    :)

    Marcelo
     
  11. organtechnic23

    organtechnic23 New Member

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    My score has 63 measures (pretty sure I counted that right).

    That's a new idea to me - good thinking! I think in this context that would be useful because the passage in which it would be used is already at pp and p to begin with... so it would be appropriate for the una corda to be used there. Maybe Rach wrote it that way assuming the pianist would already be using the una corda pedal?
     
  12. hyenal

    hyenal New Member Piano Society Artist

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    The pianist guy said in Korean: Because I'm a Korean, "small hands!"
    In the logic of that, it is because I'm also Korean, that I'm always suffering from the hand size ;)
    What I recently discovered is however, that the real problem is the length of my little fingers. They are too short in relation to the ring fingers :evil:
     
  13. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hye-Jin, do you mean that just your little finger, what I call the 'pinky' is too short? I think mine is a bit short too. When I look at my hands, the top of my pinky (5th finger) comes exactly to the crease on the top knuckle of my 4th finger (ring finger). That is a lot shorter than all my other fingers!
     
  14. hyenal

    hyenal New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Monica, it's exactly so at my LH. What's really sad is the right pinky. It doesn't reach even that crease...!!! I became to find that, after I saw the pinky of my daughter. Her right pinky reaches farther (over the crease) than the left one. Better than mine.
    I've heard that Arthur Rubinstein's pinkies were nearly so long as his ring fingers :shock:
     
  15. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Oh, that's just not fair... :x :wink:

    We should start a new club called the "Short Pinkies Pianists Club". :idea:

    And Hye-Jin, I never really thought of this before, but I wonder if when we are a baby, do our fingers grow at the same rate, or do they grow at various rates, and after adolescence you end up with fingers that are a different ratio from one another than when we were young. It's too late for me to check this since my boys are grown, but you can find out yourself with your young daughter. Maybe you can let me know the outcome in about eighteen years. :lol:
     
  16. RSPIll

    RSPIll New Member

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    I had the same problem, Marcelo. There appears to be two versions of the set. It is the one in D minor and in some sets it is numbered as no. 4, not no. 5. The Wikipedia info about them explains what happened:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Études-Tableaux,_Op._33_(Rachmaninoff)

    Scott
     
  17. hyenal

    hyenal New Member Piano Society Artist

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    That's a good idea!!! From now on you and I are members of SPPC ;)

    OK, I'll check that :D
     
  18. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    I like that. :)
     

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