Monday, January 25, 2010

Temporary Notes (16)

In some music, of a certain vintage — the precise vintage we'll leave to musicologists to fight out — the notational convention was that if one voice had eighth-note triplets, a simultaneous voice sounding quarter + eighth triplets could be written out as dotted-eighth + sixteenth.  At some point — again, musicologists: have at it, this is your job, not mine — this convention gave way to a more logically consistant — if less stylish — reading of both triplets and dotted note values, so that the same notated rhythmic ensemble would have the sixteenth following the dotted eighth played one twelfth of a quarter note later than the last note in the triplet.  As a piece of practical advice, consider this: Unless you specify the earlier convention in your scores, which may be musically useful, players will now expect the later reading. 

Now a piece of aesthetic advice. As always, YMMV:  be careful when superimposing additive and divisive note values. While such combinations may be useful — as a written-out rubato (a la Skryabin/Messiaen/Wyschnegradsky/Boulez), for example, or as transitional figures within some larger rhythmic process, or for adding to the contrast and independence of lines in ensemble counterpoint — there is risk, in just plopping some dotted-somethings on top of tuplets, of the combination coming out a bit clunky (see above).  I don't have anything against clunky as a possible musical topic, but you don't always want clunky and it's often easy to confuse facile clunkiness with something more interesting.   

1 comment:

Thomas Dent said...

The usual musicologist's argument is either 'Schubert [or Froberger or Bach] wrote the semiquaver exactly underneath the triplet quaver' (which is pretty unanswerable) or 'this was a convention' (which is always debatable unless there are mounds of contemporary witnesses who all agree).

This is one area where autographs and their facsimiles can be much more useful than 'urtexts' that put the subdivisions in the 'right' place, nowadays with 'help' from computer typesetting.

Of course one can think the semiquavers on top of the triplets and still have them slightly later in performance without anyone really noticing. This can work quite well in the B flat Trio. A lot better than thinking them later and making darn sure everyone hears them later.