[MEI-L] graceful beams

Roland, Perry (pdr4h) pdr4h at eservices.virginia.edu
Sun Apr 14 06:17:17 CEST 2013

Hi Don,

Thanks for joining the discussion.

I should've been wary of using the word "never".  That's a dangerous word when it comes to music notation. (Note to self:  Always avoid the words "always" and "never".  Never use them.)  Chopin's notation is usually pretty "slippery", so I'm not surprised you found evidence there to trip up the unsuspecting.

However, in both the Mozart and Chopin examples, the notes in question are clearly not part of the beamed group of "principal" notes.  Stem direction is the best evidence.  The different stem directions leading to the beams attached to the A# in the penultimate measure of the Chopin clearly indicate that there are two "layers/parts/streams/voices" here.  There isn't just one A#, but two which occupy the same visual space. The big A# just obscures the little one.  The grace note A# belongs to the upper layer while the regular note A# goes with the lower one.  The same thing occurs on the B natural in the last measure.

Now that the part writing has been disentangled, what is most interesting is the *meaning* of this particular vertical alignment, the collision really, of a "principal" note and a "grace" note.  What is Frederic trying to say?  I believe he's indicating that the grace note arpeggio begins *with* the A#, not *after* it (this comports with Gould) and that the performer shouldn't rush getting to the A# at the top of the arpeggio.  (By the way, I believe the sonic effect would've been the same if he'd simply written a wavy line in front of A#-C#-F#-A# in the right hand, just like what's in the left hand. But he made his choice and we have to live with it.)

There's an instance in the 3rd measure of the Chopin example that's more closely analogous to the situation in the Mozart that started the discussion: the grace notes between beat 2 and its second half (assuming this notation is counted in 2/4) lie under the beam connecting the G#-A-G# sequence, but they're not touching it.  In addition, they're part of their own little beamed group.  They are *logically excluded* from participating in the "big beam group" in spite of occurring between its participating notes, just like the grace notes in the Mozart example.

So, I stand by my assertion that grace notes are never (um, "extremely rarely") beamed with "regular" notes, where "beamed with" means "part of the same horizontal sequence as" normal-sized notes.  Granted, I haven't seen the entire universe of music notation, but mixed grace- and normal-note beams are like unicorns -- I've heard talk of them, but as yet I haven't seen one. :-)


Perry Roland
Music Library
University of Virginia
P. O. Box 400175
Charlottesville, VA 22904
434-982-2702 (w)
pdr4h (at) virginia (dot) edu
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