Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Discuss the rules of notation, standard notation practices, efficient notation practices and graphic design.
User avatar
John Ruggero
Posts: 1503
Joined: 05 Oct 2015, 14:25
Location: Raleigh, NC USA

Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Post by John Ruggero » 17 Dec 2015, 20:59

E. Gould mentions that the standard rules for stem direction are sometimes flexible. For example, the direction of the stem of a middle line note (p. 13) or beamed group (p, 25) should follow the prevailing stem direction.

But many composers have applied this principle in a much broader way. I became aware of this in looking through autographs, which show a very creative approach to stem direction. The manuscripts also show that while these compsoers were quite aware of the standard rules, they didn't apply these rules mechanically, because they were incapable of doing anything mechanically.

Here is an example by J. S. Bach. Note the stem direction in measures 2 where Bach goes beyond Gould's recommendations to keep the stems going in the same direction throughout the phrase. Note also how Bach makes the stem direction in bars 2 and 3 of the LH match bar 1. He uses stem direction to encompass whole phrases.
Ex 1 Bach Invention.jpg
Ex 1 Bach Invention.jpg (100.9 KiB) Viewed 5665 times
Here is a similar example by Mendelssohn:
Ex 2 Mendelssohn Clarinet Sonata.jpg
Ex 2 Mendelssohn Clarinet Sonata.jpg (40.08 KiB) Viewed 5665 times
It is not just beamed groups that received this treatment. Here is an example from Don Giovanni in which the quarter notes are treated as groups and stem direction is maintained throughout. Mozart could not bring himslef to break up the phrase with awkward stem direction changes:
Ex 3 Mozart Don Giovanni.jpg
Ex 3 Mozart Don Giovanni.jpg (90.23 KiB) Viewed 5665 times
Here is an example by Chopin in which stem direction is used orchestrally. The 16th notes and following long note always have up stems to distinguish them from the following chords, which represent a different orchestral color.
Ex 4 Chopin Sonata.jpg
Ex 4 Chopin Sonata.jpg (188.79 KiB) Viewed 5665 times
Here is the Breitkopf first edition, which changes the direction of the stems. The distinction between colors is now confused, and the player has lost an important interpretive clue.
Ex 5 Chopin Sonata 1st German.jpg
Ex 5 Chopin Sonata 1st German.jpg (449.07 KiB) Viewed 5665 times
Here is the French first edition which preserves the composer’s stem directions:
Ex 6 Chopin Sonata 1st French ed..jpg
Ex 6 Chopin Sonata 1st French ed..jpg (116.5 KiB) Viewed 5665 times
Here is another example from the same piece by Chopin in which the cantilena melody is shown exclusively in up stems to show the unbroken sweep of the melody:
Ex 7 Chopin Sonata.jpg
Ex 7 Chopin Sonata.jpg (204.17 KiB) Viewed 5665 times
Here is an example by J. S. Bach in which the stem direction in the bass suddenly changes to show an unusual voice leading as if the bass part splits into two voices F# and Ab both leading to the following note G. The first copy is by the composer, the second, by a trusted associate who preserves directon of the stems. To my knowledge, no suceeding edition of this work preserves this important notation by Bach. Only the Schenker analysis in “Five Graphic Music Analyses” (Dover) points out this notation.
Ex 8 Bach WTC 1.jpg
Ex 8 Bach WTC 1.jpg (250.81 KiB) Viewed 5665 times
Mac mini (OS 10.8.5) with dual monitors, Kurzweil Mark 5 with M-Audio Midisport 2 x 2,
Finale 2014d with GPO 4, JW Plug-ins, SmartScore X Pro, Adobe InDesign CS4,
Inkscape .48.5 and .91, FontForge 20150526
http://www.cantilenapress.com

OCTO
Posts: 1274
Joined: 05 Oct 2015, 06:52
Location: Sweden

Re: Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Post by OCTO » 18 Dec 2015, 10:48

Very nice, John!
It is true, I commonly use "exceptions" and get stressed that sometimes it looks differenty in Finale.
Sometimes I see lovely shapes that I don't want to change when composing; like in Chopin Sonata.

The question is if engraves should keep this or not. What is your opinion?
Freelance Composer. Self-Publisher.
Finale 25.5 • Sibelius 2019 • MuseScore 2+3 • Logic Pro X • Ableton Live 9+10 • Digital Performer 9 /// OS X El Capitan, (side system: Debian 9, Windows 10)

Knut
Posts: 867
Joined: 05 Oct 2015, 18:07
Location: Oslo, Norway

Re: Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Post by Knut » 18 Dec 2015, 13:09

Very interesting!

I really don't have the knowledge to be able to judge this from an interpretive perspective. From an engraver's point of view, however, vertical balance often guides the choice of stem direction.

Gould's statement, that the middle line is neutral has been criticized for not being in accordance with the more mechanical modern convention of reserving the midline strictly for downstem notes.

Personally, I have adopted a bit more flexibility, depending on the phrase to avoid changing direction of slurs and other markings. This practice is more in the spirit of widely adopted 19th and early 20th century practices.

I actually prefer the Breitkopf example to the manuscript because it gives a more vertically even setting. The distinction between melody and harmony seems perfectly clear to me, even without breaking the rules. I think there would have to be rests in an additional voice below the 16th notes to warrant the stem direction chosen by the composer.

OCTO
Posts: 1274
Joined: 05 Oct 2015, 06:52
Location: Sweden

Re: Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Post by OCTO » 18 Dec 2015, 13:42

Yes indeed...
I have adopted that kind of compromises, when the "correct" solution implies additional interruption of compact notational flow.
What do you think?
Screen shot 2015-12-18 at 2.37.32 PM.png
Screen shot 2015-12-18 at 2.37.32 PM.png (43.57 KiB) Viewed 5636 times
Freelance Composer. Self-Publisher.
Finale 25.5 • Sibelius 2019 • MuseScore 2+3 • Logic Pro X • Ableton Live 9+10 • Digital Performer 9 /// OS X El Capitan, (side system: Debian 9, Windows 10)

Knut
Posts: 867
Joined: 05 Oct 2015, 18:07
Location: Oslo, Norway

Re: Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Post by Knut » 18 Dec 2015, 14:00

OCTO,

That's a good example of what I'm talking about, perhaps with the exception of the Ab in measure 1, which there really is no reason to flip.

In many circumstances, flipping the slur in the 'wrong' direction gives a similarly even result, totally acceptable in my view:
Skjermbilde 2015-12-18 kl. 14.55.57.png
Skjermbilde 2015-12-18 kl. 14.55.57.png (418.67 KiB) Viewed 5632 times

Knut
Posts: 867
Joined: 05 Oct 2015, 18:07
Location: Oslo, Norway

Re: Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Post by Knut » 18 Dec 2015, 14:52

Considering OCTO's example, especially the flipped Ab in the first measure, a bit further, a case could perhaps be made to treat stem direction on unbeamed notes in the same frase as if they where beamed to improve the vertical spacing. In this case, OCTO's treatment of the Ab is entirely appropriate.

OCTO
Posts: 1274
Joined: 05 Oct 2015, 06:52
Location: Sweden

Re: Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Post by OCTO » 18 Dec 2015, 15:10

Knut wrote:Considering OCTO's example, especially the flipped Ab in the first measure, a bit further, a case could perhaps be made to treat stem direction on unbeamed notes in the same frase as if they where beamed to improve the vertical spacing. In this case, OCTO's treatment of the Ab is entirely appropriate.
Yes, interesting, measure 14 is affected by automatic Finale's split: all Bs are down! It means that the ends are in the opposite directions, and it makes extremely difficult to enter other objects around such as sulr, trill and dynamics.
Freelance Composer. Self-Publisher.
Finale 25.5 • Sibelius 2019 • MuseScore 2+3 • Logic Pro X • Ableton Live 9+10 • Digital Performer 9 /// OS X El Capitan, (side system: Debian 9, Windows 10)

User avatar
John Ruggero
Posts: 1503
Joined: 05 Oct 2015, 14:25
Location: Raleigh, NC USA

Re: Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Post by John Ruggero » 18 Dec 2015, 20:26

I am glad that my post has provoked such a lively conversation!

from Knut:
Gould's statement, that the middle line is neutral has been criticized for not being in accordance with the more mechanical modern convention of reserving the midline strictly for downstem notes.
In accordance with Ross and other authorities on modern engraving, A. Arnstein used only downstems for the middle line notes. In looking through the autographs and early editions, however, it appears that upstems were the earlier convention. I applaud Gould for taking a flexible approach.
I actually prefer the Breitkopf example to the manuscript because it gives a more vertically even setting. The distinction between melody and harmony seems perfectly clear to me, even without breaking the rules. I think there would have to be rests in an additional voice below the 16th notes to warrant the stem direction chosen by the composer.
I must disagree with this for the following reasons:

1. I believe that the notation of any master composer should be engraved as it stands. Only clear errors should be corrected; the composer's notational choices should be left untouched. 2. immediately following illustrates why I feel this way:

2. In this particular case, the editor of the Breitkopf edition did not understand the opening measures and should not have changed the notation. According to the Breitkopf, the RH "chord" on beat 2 of measure 1 is merely a filler accompaniment, when in reality, it is first part of the next section of the phrase which runs D B C# A#. The Breitkopf conception is what one generally hears now to the detriment of one of Chopin's greatest works.

The Chopin notation could not be clearer: there are three parts to the opening four measure phrase:
(1) up stems: the opening single note motive of 5 notes ending on F#
(2) down stems: a four-note sub-phrase in chords beginning on D
(3) starting in up stems: the final sub-phrase that begins on F#, the ending note of the opening motive and in a sense continuing from it in up stems. There are so many notational subtleties of this kind in masterpieces that have been destroyed by engravers.

3. One of the basic principles of piano notation is simplicity, because keyboard music is inherently complex. The best composers know the art of simplification, both in writing for the instrument and in notating what they have written.* Not a note too many, or even a rest too many. In this case, rests under the opening phrase would be too many because they are unnecessary. Chopin's notation conveys the music as simply and clearly as possible.

4. As far as engraving practices and choices, obviously, the first priority is to communicate the composer's intention; everything else is secondary.

Incidentally, I think that Chopin's slurring is also superior to that of both editions, but that is a different subject.

OCTO,

I think your notation is fine and in line with how composers have always felt about breaking up phrases with stem direction changes. In my opinion, Gould's flexibility should be applied to all notes, not just the middle line note. Such flexibility can only be used properly by experienced composers, however.

*Brahms supposedly once said something like: "Don't make the same mistake that I did when I first wrote for the piano. We all wrote too many notes then. Beethoven was the greatest at writing for the keyboard, because he could get orchestral effects with very few notes"
Mac mini (OS 10.8.5) with dual monitors, Kurzweil Mark 5 with M-Audio Midisport 2 x 2,
Finale 2014d with GPO 4, JW Plug-ins, SmartScore X Pro, Adobe InDesign CS4,
Inkscape .48.5 and .91, FontForge 20150526
http://www.cantilenapress.com

Knut
Posts: 867
Joined: 05 Oct 2015, 18:07
Location: Oslo, Norway

Re: Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Post by Knut » 18 Dec 2015, 22:00

John, those are all sound points, and I totally agree that the first priority of the notation is to communicate the composer's intentions. Also, I do not in anyway condone the practice of altering notation of a manuscript without a thorough understanding of what's going on musically.

I do, however, feel that Chopin's notation isn't as unambiguous as you say. At least, it did not communicate clearly to the Breitkopf editor nor to myself. Simplification is well and good, but not at the expense of absolute clarity. Since the altered notation makes sense, musically speaking, this is a case where I feel it's better to make the voice phrasing absolutely clear at the expense of a bit more clutter.

Without saying that an authoritative edition should adopt the alterations, this is probably how I would notate this passage, had I written it myself:
Skjermbilde 2015-12-18 kl. 22.39.16.png
Skjermbilde 2015-12-18 kl. 22.39.16.png (136.56 KiB) Viewed 5583 times
BTW, do you know of any recordings where Chopin's intended phrasing is retained?

Edit: Just saw that I forgot to shift the right hand C on first eighth-note chord in measure 2 to the lower staff. That said, I might not use cross staff notation in this case at all.

User avatar
John Ruggero
Posts: 1503
Joined: 05 Oct 2015, 14:25
Location: Raleigh, NC USA

Re: Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Post by John Ruggero » 19 Dec 2015, 00:03

Knut, just as you were doing your version, I was doing mine!

I think that your version is much better than the Breitkopf and conveys Chopin's intention so that a player would not be mislead by it. However, I prefer the original because the "wildness" of the opening notes, (this piece should sound like an improvisation) the way the motive keeps coming in out of nowhere, is better shown by his notation.

Your extra rests are the kind that some editors love to add to make everything "correct". Please believe me that such rests are redundant. Voices come and go freely in piano music and it is not necessary to fill out measures with rests as in instrumental parts.

Here is my "version" which is just Chopin's in Finale. I did change Allo. maestoso to Allegro maestoso because I don't think that it is necessary to adhere to such an abbreviation. Otherwise everything is as Chopin wrote it, particularly the division of the notes between the staves, which, as usual, turns out to be important.

The analysis shows that the melody is actually a palindrome outlining a decorated B minor triad going down and then up. It also is all about the note F# in two registers. So it is good if the F# in measure 2 "appears" naked like the F# in measure 1 to show that the main melody is resuming after a short parenthetical phrase.

The analysis also shows that after the initial important D in the parenthetical melody, the lower notes of the chordal sequence in measure 1 might be thought of as the operative melody with octave doubling above it. Register in piano music equates to orchestration, and a pianist might actually voice the lower RH notes of chords 2-4 as the main voice to make a darker sound to subordinate this phrase. Supporting this interpretation is the three note arpeggio motive which occurs in the upbeat and measures 1-2 of the phrase and actually twice in measure 1.

This opening phrase with its palindrome and intricate motives is really an incredible piece of inspiration and technique.

To me, the upstems of the opening notes give life to the music as it sweeps in out of nowhere. The up stems point to palindrome that follows. Chopin has come up with the perfect way to notate the feeling and the inner organization of the music. And it is obviously not a slip of the pen because he used the up stems over and over and over without exception.
Chopin analysis.jpg
Chopin analysis.jpg (116.97 KiB) Viewed 5563 times
Last edited by John Ruggero on 19 Dec 2015, 16:07, edited 2 times in total.
Mac mini (OS 10.8.5) with dual monitors, Kurzweil Mark 5 with M-Audio Midisport 2 x 2,
Finale 2014d with GPO 4, JW Plug-ins, SmartScore X Pro, Adobe InDesign CS4,
Inkscape .48.5 and .91, FontForge 20150526
http://www.cantilenapress.com

Post Reply