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 Post subject: Mystery solved? To be, or not to be ... staccato
PostPosted: Sat Dec 17, 2011 11:00 pm 
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I have been puzzled for 25 years about a passage in the Ginastera Sonata Op.22 that I learned and performed that long ago, and am now relearning. Here's the situation: the second movement is a moto perpetuo (not called that) in 6/8 time with tempo marked Presto misterioso. Its opening 2-bar them is a single-voice melodic sequence doubled three octaves lower by the LH that goes through all 12-tones before repeating at the 3rd bar. When this returns for the last time 5/6ths of the piece later (and immediately after a 4-bar passage of ascending chromatic major 3rds for the RH), the voices are now 5 octaves apart, with the hands at the extreme-most limits of the piano. Here's the mystery: over the next 16 bars the melody begins to fragment in the RH, with notes progressively dropping out (the LH is marked legatissimo), the RH notes (except for its lowest starting-and-ending-note D) have staccato marks, but these notes cannot be played staccato due to the lack of dampers for all those high notes! I have penciled in my score the following: "Staccatos meaningless as there are no dampers above d#3/eb3 [on my Baldwin 7']"

You can try to hear what I'm talking about starting 5/6ths of the way through at the link to my recording (which I intend to replace when I have this ready again). Listen for what follows the chromaticaly ascending double-note major 3rds in the RH.

http://server3.pianosociety.com/protect ... -2-rio.mp3

Anyone care to speculate as to why this composer would indicate staccato where it is impossible to perform? :?: Maybe I've just been stupid all along. :|

(I thought about which forum: Techinique, Composing or Repertoire, this would best fit in and decided technique)

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: Mystery solved? To be, or not to be ... staccato
PostPosted: Sun Dec 18, 2011 12:12 am 
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Staccato is not just about shortening notes and giving them a definite end. That aspect is indeed meaningless where there are no dampers. Staccato is also (not always, but in this case almost certainly) about shaping the front of the note, by giving it a kind of attack which differs from that which you would give if playing legato.

As an experiment, try playing the same RH passage legato. It will probably not sound the same.


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 Post subject: Re: Mystery solved? To be, or not to be ... staccato
PostPosted: Sun Dec 18, 2011 2:14 am 
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rainer wrote:
Staccato is not just about shortening notes and giving them a definite end. That aspect is indeed meaningless where there are no dampers. Staccato is also (not always, but in this case almost certainly) about shaping the front of the note, by giving it a kind of attack which differs from that which you would give if playing legato.

As an experiment, try playing the same RH passage legato. It will probably not sound the same.

I beg to differ with you. I will concede your point with other instruments, but not the piano. Given the same dynamic, there cannot be a difference in the sound due to the limited nature of the impeled, rebounding hammer and lack of dampers. After all, all the hammers can do is rebound off the strings with differing degrees of velocity, which translates into volume (ignoring the business of shifting the action as spoken of in another thread).

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: Mystery solved? To be, or not to be ... staccato
PostPosted: Sun Dec 18, 2011 5:07 am 
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Hi Eddy,

I listened to your very fine recording. Given the rapidity of the figuration which is also nearly leggiero touch, and also considering the inherently very fast tone decay in that uppermost, undampered register, I cannot think of any possibility of making the passage work staccato there. Maybe the staccato notation is an abstract matter of form with no expectation of actually being able to execute it?

David

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 Post subject: Re: Mystery solved? To be, or not to be ... staccato
PostPosted: Sun Dec 18, 2011 12:21 pm 
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musical-md wrote:
rainer wrote:
Staccato is also about shaping the front of the note, by giving it a kind of attack which differs from that which you would give if playing legato.
I beg to differ with you. Given the same dynamic, there cannot be a difference in the sound due to the limited nature of the impeled, rebounding hammer and lack of dampers. After all, all the hammers can do is rebound off the strings with differing degrees of velocity, which translates into volume.
Well, the hammers do what the hammers do, there's no arguing with that. Your deduction is correct given your premise, but I'm not sure the premise "Given the same dynamic" is entirely valid. Suppose you were to play that passage in a register where there are dampers, i.e. down an octave or two. The difference between playing it staccato and non-staccato (both at nominally the same dynamic) will not just be reflected in how each note ends but also in how it begins. The player will tend to make an automatic adjustment to the attack, making the staccato attack a little more accented than the non-staccato attack, in effect raising each staccato note's dynamic slightly to compensate for its shorter duration. What I'm suggesting is that, despite the fact that the notes cannot have a shorter duration where there are no dampers, the player would nevertheless be making accents similar to those which would be made if the dampers were present.

Does that way of putting it make more sense? Think of the staccato marks as being shorthand for accents, but perhaps not quite as strong as those you'd make if actual accent marks had been used instead.

Or look at it this way: The reason most pianos don't have dampers up there is that the notes decay so quickly that they don't need them. The composer recognises that any note played up there is going to sound staccato no matter how you play it, so he might as well mark it as such, to make you accent them slightly.


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 Post subject: Re: Mystery solved? To be, or not to be ... staccato
PostPosted: Sun Dec 18, 2011 4:43 pm 
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Good discussion gentlemen; thanks for responding. I think David appreciates the conundrum exactly and Rainer the fact that the composer went through the trouble of marking something that is argueably impossible, yet did so with full intent so should be observed. The difficult question would be to ask if Ginastera actually understood the business of the missing dampers. Let's presume he did. After recent meditation on this puzzling passage I came to the following.

First I should establish that this melodic content is prominent throughout the movement and would be easily recognized by the listener upon its final repetition. Then add that with this final presentation only the RH begins to fragment and dissappear. Last add that there are no dampers in the treble-most region where the indicated RH fragmentation is indicated to be played staccato.

Now for the "esoteric" part: A listener watching a pianist play this fragmentation with the hand gesturing as it had several times before, might think that the pianist is missing some notes, but if the pianist were gesturing staccato presentation (that is the hand is very active demonstrating attacks as if playing on a hot iron) then the fragmentation would not be misappreciated as missed notes. This is the only reason I can come up with for approaching the passage with a touch that cannot be translated by the mechanism of the instrument. To be sure, this is quite esoteric and only appreciated with direct line of sight to the player; this would not be appreciable in a recording. Could Ginastera have considered this transcendental aspect of performance? I don't know. It seems far-stretched to think so, but it seems better than the alternative of such a great composer writing something meaningless.

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


Last edited by musical-md on Sun Dec 18, 2011 9:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Mystery solved? To be, or not to be ... staccato
PostPosted: Sun Dec 18, 2011 7:48 pm 
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musical-md wrote:
I have penciled in my score the following: "Staccatos meaningless as there are no dampers above d#3/eb3 [on my Baldwin 7']"


That score will be worth a lot of money one day. You should precede your scribble with "Lecture to self: " :mrgreen:

But I don't understand what your problem is. Does the absence of dampers make it "impossible" to play staccato ? Or make it meaningless ? Surely they would sound much different if you played them legato or portato. I guess what Ginastera wanted to stress is a sharp contrast with the LH part marked legatissimo.
Maybe he just wanted a little air between these notes but could not be bothered to write 16th notes and rests (which I can well understand). Why make such a fuss of it ? Latin American composers often write impossible things, I think they have the effect in mind more than the nitty-gritty details.

As for the fragmentation, would you really be concerned that an audience would think you missed notes ? Hell, they SHOULD think that, because that is what you are doing - on purpose. I think the composer would want it to sound as if the RH part is disintegrating apart from sheer excitement and exhaustion. I don't think he would even care much exactly which notes you left out.

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 Post subject: Re: Mystery solved? To be, or not to be ... staccato
PostPosted: Sun Dec 18, 2011 9:42 pm 
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techneut wrote:
You should precede your scribble with "Lecture to self: "
I always write stuff in my scores, don't you? Perhaps it's just the teacher in me. In one passage of the same movement both hands begin at the upper register of the piano and end-up at the bottom, BUT, there is an ascending pitch-class throughout. So it both goes up and down at the same time! I have written in my score: "à la Escher" for his works like "Waterfall" 1961 which you can see at http://www.mcescher.com/ under -> Picture gallery -> Recognition and Success 1955 - 1972. BTW, if a pianist doesn't catch this, I think they fail to appreciate the voicing that should be performed.

techneut wrote:
But I don't understand what your problem is. Does the absence of dampers make it "impossible" to play staccato ?
Exactly, except I say it is "the" problem, not "[my]" problem. Try it yourself ... or just look inside your grand and try to explain how you can produce staccato sounds where there are no dampers.

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: Mystery solved? To be, or not to be ... staccato
PostPosted: Sun Dec 18, 2011 10:57 pm 
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Yes, obviously, this movement can not be performed properly without being a connoisseur of Escher's work :P
I'm curious though, where you find here a passage where both hands start in the upper register and end in the lower ?

No need to look into my grand to know there's no dampers up there. Sure you can't produce a true staccato sound up there but
I think Ginastera just meant to play them staccato. Or just maybe, he *did* have an instrument with dampers up all the way...
If so, you'll have to get one too !

On the subject of Escher, his cousin Rudolf was a gifted composer who wrote some splendid (if a bit too overly Ravel-influenced) piano music.

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 Post subject: Re: Mystery solved? To be, or not to be ... staccato
PostPosted: Sun Dec 18, 2011 11:26 pm 
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techneut wrote:
I think Ginastera just meant to play them staccato.
Yes, I think here lies the key to solving the mystery. Eddy seems fixated on the idea that staccato means one thing only, namely that you should achieve the audible effect of notes being cut short instead of ringing on. This is clearly impossible where there are no dampers. But it seems likely (to me at least) that the instruction to play staccato here merely means that you should make your hands do whatever they would normally do to achieve that effect. Of course without dampers it won't achieve that effect, but it will, I suggest, achieve some effect which is not exactly the same effect as you get when your hands don't try to play staccato, namely that each note will be a little accented. This way the RH notes will make themselves heard a little better above the LH accompaniment.


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 Post subject: Re: Mystery solved? To be, or not to be ... staccato
PostPosted: Mon Dec 19, 2011 1:50 am 
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rainer wrote:
Eddy seems fixated on the idea that staccato means one thing only, namely that you should achieve the audible effect of notes being cut short instead of ringing on. This is clearly impossible where there are no dampers
Staccato is simply an articulation (like portato and staccatissimo), and one not unique to the piano, therefore it's definition is more fundamental than anything pianistic (this is different from spiccato or pizzicato for stringed instruments which involves a manner of execution unique to those instruments). Well Rainer at least you admit they won't sound staccato because the instrument can't make staccato there. The passage is directed to be played ppp, which I may add is difficult to accomplish and actually causes the pianist to be on the verge of dropping notes meant to be played. Perhaps more simply and straight forward (Occam's Razor (lex parsimoniae)), Ginastera just didn't understand the limits of the piano and I have been giving him too much credit. This all reminds me of when I have seen a pianist rediculously "try" to get vibrato out of a note by movement of his finger on the key! How stupid. Everyone knows that to get vibrato out of a piano you have to shake the whole instrument! :wink:

Anyone know of other "impossible" notations out there in the literature? It might make for an interesting thread.

Edit: some spelling

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


Last edited by musical-md on Mon Dec 19, 2011 5:17 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Mystery solved? To be, or not to be ... staccato
PostPosted: Mon Dec 19, 2011 2:11 am 
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techneut wrote:
I'm curious though, where you find here a passage where both hands start in the upper register and end in the lower ?
For those curious, if you can get a copy of the score, look at the last 4 measure of the first page of the second movement. The RH starts high, the LH just above middle-c, but four bars later they are in the bowels of the instrument and all along there has been a continuously ascending chromatic line. It's really quite remarkable, in my opinion.

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: Mystery solved? To be, or not to be ... staccato
PostPosted: Mon Dec 19, 2011 2:14 pm 
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musical-md wrote:
Staccato is simply an articulation, and one not unique to the piano, therefore it's definition is more fundamental than anything pianistic. Well Rainer at least you admit they won't sound staccato because the instrument can't make staccato there.
Indeed I do admit that, and I never intended to imply otherwise. As you rightly say it is an articulation, but there are nevertheless two aspects to it. One is the effect you get (or hope to get, i.e. shortened notes), the other is what you do to (try to) make that effect happen (though it may be a slightly oversimplified way of putting it, basically you "jab" at the notes, and this has the side-effect of making them louder).

The point I have been trying to get across is that generally on the piano you would tend to give a staccato note the same overall weight of volume (a term I would loosely define as the product of volume and duration (not a simple linear product, though, but one which takes into account the note's decay envelope)) as you would give a non-staccato note in the same context. Since a staccato note's duration is shorter, its volume needs to be increased in order to keep its weight the same. This is an important side-effect of trying to play staccato on the piano. Since in the present context the absence of dampers makes the primary effect (reduced duration) impossible to achieve, I suggest the composer may (or must) be aiming for the side-effect instead. By instructing you to try to play staccato, he expects you to "jab" at the notes as you would if you were playing in an octave with dampers.
Quote:
The passage is directed to be played ppp, which I may add is difficult to accomplish and actually causes the pianist to be on the verge of dropping notes meant to be played.
Aha! This is most interesting, and I believe it favours my proposed solution to the mystery. By inviting you to "jab at" the notes, the risk of such unintentional drop-outs is reduced.
Quote:
Perhaps more simply and straight forward (lex parsimoniae), Ginastera just didn't understand the limits of the piano and I have been giving him too much credit.
Hmm, I'm not sure about that. It may be simpler to dismiss the composer as ignorant than to try to understand what he had in mind, but it's not an approach I would take lightly. Every self-respecting composer should be aware of the limitations of all the instruments he writes for, and from the guy's biography it seems he was also an eminent teacher of composition, so I suspect you would be unjustly disrespecting him.


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 Post subject: Re: Mystery solved? To be, or not to be ... staccato
PostPosted: Mon Dec 19, 2011 7:18 pm 
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Rainer, your view of staccato is IMO tethered to a dynamic in a manner that may be real for you but is not a necessary phenomenon for a highly-trained pianist. Are you aware of the techinique of "scratch staccato"? Simply to demonstrate, with your hand resting in a natural position on a flat surface, suddenly and with the most rapid velocity possible, draw your fingers inward to form a fist. This is the mechanism, except finger by finger, of scratch staccato. This performs a glancing tangential attack that does not necessarily produce any "jab" or increased volume of attack. This is especailly useful in certain places where the one hand is required to perform both a legato line that is sutained and voiced prominently against a subordinate moving staccato line, such as in the 3rd variation of Rameau's Gavotte et six Doubles (my manner of interpretting it, others may do differently).

Regarding,
Quote:
It may be simpler to dismiss the composer as ignorant than to try to understand what he had in mind, but it's not an approach I would take lightly.
I think that is a bit unfair given all the development I gave to trying to make sense of the senseless before allowing for the simple explanation.

Anyway, I do appreciate the discussion, regardless of our differences. :)

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: Mystery solved? To be, or not to be ... staccato
PostPosted: Tue Dec 20, 2011 1:04 am 
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musical-md wrote:
Rainer, your view of staccato is IMO tethered to a dynamic in a manner that may be real for you but is not a necessary phenomenon for a highly-trained pianist.
I do accept that not all staccatos are the same (and I did say my description of it involving jabbing was an oversimplification) and that a raising of dynamic may well not be associated with all of them. But I strongly suspect that it is in this particular case, because if so, it would certainly be a plausible explanation of your mystery. I don't understand why you seem to want to close your mind to that possibility.
Quote:
Are you aware of the techinique of "scratch staccato"? Simply to demonstrate, with your hand resting in a natural position on a flat surface, suddenly and with the most rapid velocity possible, draw your fingers inward to form a fist. This is the mechanism, except finger by finger, of scratch staccato. This performs a glancing tangential attack that does not necessarily produce any "jab" or increased volume of attack.
I don't recall the term, but I do believe I've come across the technique in some Czerny studies where it mostly involved repeated single notes. Unless you're applying this technique in Ginastera's piece (are you? I don't think you are, because that would seem to be incompatible with the "visual effect" explanation you posited) I don't see why you choose to mention it now.
Quote:
Regarding,
Quote:
It may be simpler to dismiss the composer as ignorant than to try to understand what he had in mind, but it's not an approach I would take lightly.
I think that is a bit unfair given all the development I gave to trying to make sense of the senseless before allowing for the simple explanation.
Let me apologise in advance if I'm doing you an injustice, but the impression I've been getting in this thread is that you have not been earnestly trying to make sense of it at all, but that you've made up your mind that undamped staccatos are impossible and that's all there is to it, and therefore Ginastera is an idiot for writing them; my feeling is that all the "explanations" you've come up with were deliberately weak so that you can shoot them down, thus proving your initial position. Your phrase "trying to make sense of the senseless" is a case in point: it pre-supposes a senselessness, and because you believe there can be no satisfactory explanation, you refuse to even consider any explanation which could be plausible.
Quote:
Anyway, I do appreciate the discussion, regardless of our differences. :)
I'm glad. I don't want this to escalate into a flame war. At least if I've been unfair to you I can apologise, but if you've been unfair to Ginastera you can't, because he's no longer with us. De mortuis nil nisi bene. Perhaps he is a devil, and I'm not sure how I've become his advocate. :|


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