Gene Gajewski

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Cross Staff Shenanigans!

You’re just not beaming if you’re cross…

I obtained most of the parts of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet score from the same MuseScore contributor, mainly because I thought (at the time) that the editing and liberties taken with the material would be minimal from part to part. For the most part, that’s been true. I do have two PDF scans of different publisher’s printed editions of the score, and they agree, apart from a few hiccups, although much of the cue text is different. This is because of different editorial decisions on which parts to condense, and which ones to leave alone and so on.

One of the reasons I use as a goto music resource is because someone has already scanned the music to a digital format using an optical-reader program. Most folks do a reasonable job of correcting the inevitable mistakes an optical-reading music program makes, but no one is perfect. Optical readers capable of reading symphonic scores are incredibly expensive. Someday I might purchase one, but for now I would rather spend my money on VST musical libraries.

I have learned over time to identify the areas that are problematic to optical-readers and give those areas extra scrutiny when working with such sourced material. Additionally, it helps me to have an original print or PDF scan of the music on hand to compare what the what the digitized version has against the print original.

Now for the fun stuff

I was missing a MuseScore source for the part of Waltz Of The Flowers, and – my original source for most of the ballet simply omitted it, and that fact slipped past me. I looked online some more and found just one example, from an altogether different contributor. This one has some ugly MuseScore edits (for playback purposes within the MuseScore app that I will not make use of) that will need to be undone. It also has some very strange notation for the harp part. There is a lot of cross-staff beaming going on with the harp as can be seen in the PDF prints and shown below, but this contributor’s converted version had the notes all jazzed up on the same single staff. I suppose his optical scanner just kind of puked and choked on the cross-staff beaming and so.

So, it is now off to the scanned prints for me, to use as a reference while I correct these errors. There is a lot of stuff that looks like this…

4/4 and 3/3 sequence at the beginning of the both French and Russian print

among other things. I got the first thirty bars whipped into shape and then went back to verify them against both print scans. Then I noticed this… odd… 4/4, 4/3 sequence….

Russian ‘7752’ print
French/ NY Boud Brothers print

in a later bar. No – there’s no missing notes in play here, that measure is really supposed to have just fifteen notes, both prints agree. But they do have a contention as we shall see.

My Dorico-ized version of the second PDF print here has a 7-tuplet showing over the entire beamed group of seven notes instead of a 3-tuplet indicated over just the last three of the seven, and why do some of the notes in the first PDF example have three flag lines instead of two as in the other PDF? The 32nds indicated only make sense if you consider those seven notes as two groups, one of four 32nds covering an eight’s duration and then three sixteenths as a triplet covering the latter eighth duration. That plus the preceding eight sixteenths properly covers the whole measure with a total duration of 3 Quarter notes!

But what Dorico must have seen was the French version of those seven notes where those seven notes were all sixteenth notes, with the ‘3’ tuple outright being ignored because the first four notes of the seven (as sixteenths) used up all the available time with none left for the final three, and since they are joined within the same bar, attempt to treat them rationally as 7 over 4 to fit available the quarter note time duration, and damn the sixteenths, because really, one quarter note is all the time there is left.

Wikipedia happens to mention that “Tuplets may be counted, most often at extremely slow tempos, using the least common multiple (LCM) between the original and tuplet divisions. For example, with a 3-against-2 tuplet (triplets) the LCM is 6. Since 6 ÷ 2 = 3 and 6 ÷ 3 = 2 the quarter notes fall every three counts (overlined) and the triplets every two (underlined),” but “This is fairly easily brought up to tempo, and depending on the music may be counted in tempo, while 7-against-4, having an LCM of 28, may be counted at extremely slow tempos but must be played intuitively (“felt out”) at tempo“. If Wikipedia points out your particular issue (7 against 4) as an example of a possible issue to be aware of, you must know you are in for a wild ride…

Looking at it in retrospect, there are a lot of ways that things could have been more precise here, and this example was enough to cause me to stop and consider just what the heck is going on here. (Enough to make me want to blog on it, so that I remember how to deal with this particular type of timing issue in the future).

In my opinion, the ‘3‘ tuple number in that old print has to be merely advisory here and for the just the latter half of the seven beamed note groups in the second example, because as written that run with seven notes has only a quarter notes life to live, no matter how you slice those seven notes.

Why just a quarter note duration? Because the preceding eight notes split evenly over two quarter note divisions and there is no tuple number on top of them – in both PDF examples. They are read as-is: eight sixteenth notes, which will occupy two beats of a 3/4 meter.

If the composer wanted to spread all of a measure’s notes evenly across the entire measure, he would have simply and clearly noted them all with a single bracketed tuple number (say 15, or 15:12, matching the 3/4 meter), but since the preceding eight note’s beam breaks at a beat boundary without any tuple showing above it, which is a rather hard and fast notational standard, we must assume that that those notes are as-is, that this is what he wanted – and it is also shown printed that way in both of my reference prints.

In my mind, if Tchaikovsky wanted an equal division of an odd number of notes over an entire measure, he would have bloody notated it directly so. (That, or maybe he was giving the printers an easter egg here and he wanted to amuse himself by seeing what they managed to come up with…?)

The Russian print is closer to what should be Tchaikovsky’s ideal because the engraver is explicitly acknowledging that the prior eight notes occupied two Quarters, and so the 4/32nds then occupies an eighth followed by a 3/16 triplet occupying the remaining eighth. (I would have broken that beam to make it inescapably clear), but I think Dorico’s solution with 7/4 for the whole group is more elegant as it evenly doles out those seven notes over the total of that available Quarter note duration.

That would be the correct way to interpret it, and that is why Dorico marked it as a seven tuple, not some arbitrary four notes plus a triplet that went over budget.

See that last triplet on the right before last eighth note in the old Russian PDF print? There needs to be a bass clef preceding it also, to undo the treble clef that was jammed in earlier, and it is just not in there. So it’s not just the Frenchies asleep at the wheel, the Russky’s have their faults too.

See, although these notes cross staff, it is really just the harpist doing a scale run, and the first note of that sub-group of three needs to be lower in pitch than the preceding four notes. Well, they ARE the right indicated notes, just ones for the F clef, which is missing, which they did get right for the top staff, but each staff must have its own clef change. That’s the rule! You MAY NOT assume that just because the top clef switched, the bottom clef does too, because hundreds of years of manuscript practice has treated them completely independent of each other.

(One of the prints does have it, fortunately.) Yet another thing that I must watch out for because computerized music will perform exactly what you have written down, not what you might have merely intended.

If I had to guess, cross staffing is what the best practice is, trying to minimize the number of ledger lines a note needs to use.

Not being a music expert, still, I can easily see where these kinds of issues could happen when copying or transcribing non-trivial musical examples. Imagine about 70 years ago when these prints were originally made and how difficult it was to catch errors in the printing plates before they made it to press. Think of the time it took to manually ‘engrave’ just a single page of music. Yikes!

So – I am fixing up the score for Waltz Of The Flowers using a three-way process: recognizing that the MuseScore originator’s optical-reader scan hosed-up a ton of cross-beaming notation, and secondly, that same cross-beaming also caught both of the ancient engraver’s prints off-guard (in different ways) as well, and lastly checking my work against both reference prints, keeping in mind the these minor hiccups in the prints.

Good thing I have prints from two different publishers for comparisons…

Since I have started working with classical scores, I have tended to develop a reading style wherein I mentally match an original print stylistically when comparing my digitized version with an original print. When the print styles differ, your ability to quickly review and compare two different scores of the same thing drops drastically. It is very annoying if not unnerving, enough so that I will go in and change things to match my reference, even if the musical passage in question is musically equivalent. It is no wonder why people can be persnickety about the appearance of their music in print – it slows things down if not in a form you are used to using.

There are many ways to ‘encode’ or ‘engrave’ the same piece of music. They can look different and yet the result is the same. It is important to note that musical engraving is a short-hand, symbolic system which had developed over a prolonged period of centuries. There are many conventions in music printing which were originally conceived to keep the amount of ‘hand engraving’ needed to a minimum, rather than other, more ‘expressive’ concerns. Think of bar repeat symbols, bar-end repeats, segno’s, coda’s, the limited number of standard note durations creating the need for tuples, and so on.

Music is not a science. If you approach music that way, you will get frustrated easily. It is much better to treat it as a holistic body of knowledge, where the sum is greater than the parts. There’s merit in taking a deep dive at times, like this one, to get a better understanding of some of the musical pecadillos, but know that things got this way over time. Remember, music uses things like whole number ratios for its meters, because whole number are easy to use, in practice. No calculator needed! But if you get the rare odd division like 7/4 sixteenths, not so easy…..

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