Composers vs Engravers: Stems and Slurs part 8

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John Ruggero
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Composers vs Engravers: Stems and Slurs part 8

Post by John Ruggero » 31 Jul 2017, 21:39

The beginning phrases of the middle part of the Chopin Etude op. 10 no. 3 can be difficult to understand and perform. Does the main melody of this phrase, which is repeated four times, really end with those 4 sixteenths decorating an F# as it appears in the Mikuli edition:
Chopin Stems Mikuli.jpg
Chopin Stems Mikuli.jpg (39.84 KiB) Viewed 1275 times
The following reduction shows that the top voice actually leads to an "understood" B, and that the sixteenths are completing an inner melody rather than being the main melody at this point. For this reason they should be lightly played and trail off. The B in the left hand "stands in" for the missing B in the top voice.
Chopin Stems Reduction 3.jpg
Chopin Stems Reduction 3.jpg (15.44 KiB) Viewed 1275 times
In composer's autograph, down-stemmed sixteenths unusual for such low notes show the middle voice character of these final sixteenths clearly:
Chopin Stems autograph pt 1.jpg
Chopin Stems autograph pt 1.jpg (30.97 KiB) Viewed 1275 times
In this phrase and the three that follow, Chopin is increasing the drama by omitting the final tone of each phrase of the melody
Chopin Stems Autograph 3.jpg
Chopin Stems Autograph 3.jpg (33.84 KiB) Viewed 1275 times
until m. 30 where an expected melodic tone of completion finally occurs:
Chopin Stems Autograph 4.jpg
Chopin Stems Autograph 4.jpg (34.31 KiB) Viewed 1275 times
Chopin Stems Reduction 2.jpg
Chopin Stems Reduction 2.jpg (23.75 KiB) Viewed 1275 times
It was correctly engraved in the first editions, but later engravers and editors missed the point and "corrected" the notation as in the Mikuli above. And this has lead to the molto espr. interpretations of these inner voice notes that one sometimes hears.

In the interest of complete disclosure, Chopin does make a slip of the pen the second time the pattern occurs in the autograph and uses upturned stems, but then he immediately corrects himself in the following two phrases. The downturned stems are also used for these four notes throughout the first editions, whose editors "got it", corrected Chopin's slip, and engraved it as the composer intended. Chopin's sketch for this section shows exactly the same unusual stemming for all four phrases:
Chopin Stems autograph sketch.jpg
Chopin Stems autograph sketch.jpg (86.06 KiB) Viewed 1275 times
Last edited by John Ruggero on 11 Aug 2017, 20:51, edited 1 time in total.
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OCTO
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Re: Composers vs Engravers: Stems and Slurs part 8

Post by OCTO » 11 Aug 2017, 17:53

I find this very interesting.
Possible explanations:
1. Pure engraving economy. With the ink-pen and small grace note that is flagged and slashed, Fryderyk Franciszek stemmed the 16ths down.
2. Omitting the release of the top voice, by purpose of making a stress.
3. Omitting the release of the top voice that might collide with the grace A# notes, thus making it more transparent.

In my opinion I would keep these stems down.
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John Ruggero
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Re: Composers vs Engravers: Stems and Slurs part 8

Post by John Ruggero » 11 Aug 2017, 22:36

OCTO wrote:
11 Aug 2017, 17:53
In my opinion I would keep these stems down.
Thanks, OCTO. They definitely will be!

In response to your thoughts on this spot:

As you know, I think that engraving preferences or hand-writing convenience played no part in decisions like this. Composers like Chopin observed what was standard practice as long as it didn't stand in their way, and when if it did, which was often, they discarded standard practice. Of course, then they had the problem of dealing with house styles, uncomprehending editors and engravers etc. and had to be satisfied with approximations of what they had written in the actual publications.

Your idea 1. is intriguing because grace notes and real notes with opposing stem directions are possibly easier to write and certainly pleasing to the eye. However, I think that the idea is "disproven" when Chopin accidentally writes the up stems on the third repetition (Sorry, I wrote "second" above.):
Chopin Etude op 10 no 3 stems.jpg
Chopin Etude op 10 no 3 stems.jpg (9.64 KiB) Viewed 1194 times
If it were harder to write this, it is seems less likely that he would have made such an error. And it must be an error, because he immediately reverts to the original down stems (see example 4 above). Why? Because they are lower voices and lower voices in the right hand need down stems.

This idea that stems should reflect the overall relationship of the voices is also seen where he will write all up stems for wide ranging melodies in the right hand or all down stems for similar left hand melodies:
Chopin Prelude op 28 no 6 stems.jpg
Chopin Prelude op 28 no 6 stems.jpg (50.09 KiB) Viewed 1194 times
The entire Prelude (op. 28 no 6) is written like this, and there are so many similar examples. Don't those final low notes look really low? Basso profundo.

I am Sorry, OCTO, I didn't understand "the release of the top voice".
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