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Why has piano notation recently moved to hands being split across staves? (Read 420 times)

Offline carrot_cake

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I started learning the piano in the late 80s, just over 30 years ago. At this point almost all the editions used notation that separated hand position by stave, or at least all the notes relating to one hand remained on the same stave. However, in the last 20 years i noticed that whenever I went to buy new music almost all editions mixed notes for one hand between the staves. Does anyone know why this happened? Was it the prevalence of a particular notation software? Below I'm going to give a couple of examples to explain the difference

Beethoven's Pathetique 1 (Traditional):


Beethoven's Pathetique 1 (Recent):



Here's a second example from the slow movement


Beethoven's Pathetique 2 (Traditional):

Beethoven's Pathetique 2 (Recent):



I find the change quite frustrating, because I'm finding it is hindering my ability to sight read and learn new pieces, for no good reason. Furthermore, I find it very hard to explain to shops and it's becoming harder and harder to find the notation in the way i prefer. The only option i can find is hoping a copy turns up at a charity shop, which is a pretty poor strategy when you're looking for a specific piece.

If anyone knows if there is a specific name for the difference in notation styles that would go some way to helping. From a more academic perspective I'd be interested to know if anyone knows why there's been a shift in notation? Has anyone else found this to be a problem as well?

Many thanks

Piano Street's Digital Sheet Music Library

Beethoven: Sonata 8 (Pathétique), opus 13
piano sheet music of Sonata 8 (Pathétique)


Offline dogperson

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For Pathetique, as well as other music in the public domain, imslp.org  is a good source for editions.
In addition, you can use the ‘look inside’ feature offered by Henle, and  other vendors to check  the format

Look for older editions at used music websites.  Don’t know what edition you are referencing

Offline j_tour

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Don’t know what edition you are referencing

I thought it looked familiar, so I pulled out my old Henle breakout edition of the Pathétique.  Published 1980 it says (not printed necessarily in that year:  it just says copyright 1952/1980 by G. Henle Verlag, München), and my teacher would have bought it for me about 1988 or so using her secret teacher's discount.

That's the "recent" lower examples from the OP.

As for the OP's question? 

I really couldn't say how engravers (no doubt in collaboration with the editor) decide to present any given work.  I didn't have a problem reading this particular one as a kid age twelve give or take a year, but it's certainly an issue with Bach and similar. 
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Offline jacobson747

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My guess:  The ones that you find difficult to read due to "mixed notes for one hand between the staves" are Urtext editions.  I believe this is how music was written in the time of Beethoven.

Offline brogers70

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My guess:  The ones that you find difficult to read due to "mixed notes for one hand between the staves" are Urtext editions.  I believe this is how music was written in the time of Beethoven.

My guess is that your guess is correct. The long term trend has been to make the score more of a set of instructions as to what buttons to push and less of a picture of the music itself. An extreme example of the early notation as  a picture of the music rather than as a set of instructions would be Bach writing the Art of the Fugue with each line on a separate staff (and with its own clef) and counting on the organist or keyboard player to digest it all and figure out how to distribute the voices between hands. In Beethoven's manuscripts the notes mostly just go where they go without regard to what you have to do to play them. Later editions tried to make reading easier by assigning the upper staff to right hand and lower staff to left, at least as much as possible.

Offline lelle

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Urtext editions often imitate how the composer notated things in the autograph or the first edition. Sometimes the distribution across staves is based on what felt the most convenient for the composer to write, sometimes for a specific psychological effect on the reader, sometimes both. When you get good at reading, cross-staff notation wont bother you that much because your brain will be able to quickly see what seems reasonable to play with what hand.

Offline carrot_cake

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My guess is that your guess is correct. The long term trend has been to make the score more of a set of instructions as to what buttons to push and less of a picture of the music itself. An extreme example of the early notation as  a picture of the music rather than as a set of instructions would be Bach writing the Art of the Fugue with each line on a separate staff (and with its own clef) and counting on the organist or keyboard player to digest it all and figure out how to distribute the voices between hands. In Beethoven's manuscripts the notes mostly just go where they go without regard to what you have to do to play them. Later editions tried to make reading easier by assigning the upper staff to right hand and lower staff to left, at least as much as possible.

You're both correct, the version i didn't like is Urtext. Which is sad because it was actually an 18th birthday present i got (20 years ago), but i still find myself using the other 60 year old version I found in a Charity Shop. Still, it's not just Urtext, Associated Board editions have now moved to the Urtext style notations so it's taking a bit longer to find the versions i like. The main issue for me is I general excel at sight reading, so it really is a hamper to my enjoying of playing.

Offline quantum

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I'd just approach it as a sight reading skill to add to your repertoire.  The primary challenge being reading two staves, with two different clefs, and playing it with a single hand. 

Practice it in isolation with a single hand, and make it an exercise you do every day for a few minutes. 

A good exercise is to take an SATB hymn or chorale and play the Alto and Tenor parts with a single hand.  Practice this with both right and left hands. 

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