To hold or not to hold? The composer speaks Part 1.

When first coming into contact with the Taubman work, people often struggle with the idea that it is okay to let go of long notes. I know I did. Of course we connect when possible (that is, when the hand is not stretched to do so), but otherwise we can create the illusion of legato through tone, timing, musical direction, and clever use of the pedal. After all, legato is always an illusion when playing the piano. We have all heard a physical connection with a wooden tone, or experienced a lighter physical legato or even a disconnect producing a long, singing line.


Recently, I was working with a student on a contemporary piece which at times is awkward, bordering on unplayable as written. One of the many benefits of playing new(er) music is that you can actually ask the composer questions, so I suggested contacting the composer via the publisher. The answer to one of our questions was as follows:


“The chord F#/A# in the right hand is notated as a dotted minim solely because I needed to indicated that the sound had to be sustained throughout the bar, not that your hand should hold it down for its duration. So where you physically can’t keep it held down for the length of its notation as a dotted minim, you need to sustain it with the pedal. The pedal should be sustained throughout to promote the wash of colour.”


This reflects the Taubman principle that the score is a blueprint, a rough indication of the aural effect desired by the composer, but without instructions as to how to produce that effect.  I thought it would be helpful for people to hear that a composer intended for the long melodic note to be let go, and for permission to be given for the pedal to be used. While we cannot contact Chopin or Schubert to have this same conversation, I hope that this little example also frees up some pianists reading this blog to allow themselves to physically get off long notes when necessary. It will not compromise the musical intention if all of the other elements are in place.

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