Take the 2-minute tour ×
Music: Practice & Theory Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for musicians, students, and enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm trying to understand why Erik Satie put chords impossible to play with the right hand up in the treble clef. Why not put these chords in the bass clef so that it is obvious that they are played with the left hand?

share|improve this question
1  
This is one of many unconventional yet fascinating aspects of this composer, consider "his first three gnossiennes... without time signatures and bar lines (often referred to as "absolute time") and traditional tempo markings." –  filzilla Mar 21 '14 at 23:07
4  
It would also be helpful to name the piece, and the measure (if there is one) you are referring to as this would eliminate guess work and possible confusion by those who wish to answer your good question. –  filzilla Mar 21 '14 at 23:10
2  
You can't spell "satire" without "satie". Among other things, he was a proponent of Dadaism and put a lot of silly, dry humor into his pieces, among other treasures. –  jjmusicnotes Mar 22 '14 at 1:06
    
For a good example of a place where there's a great deal of hand crossing, see the beginning of Brahms's G Minor Rhapsody, Op. 79 No. 2. You will see that there are melody notes that need to be taken with the left hand crossing over. These would be very difficult to write in the bass clef. –  BobRodes Mar 24 '14 at 13:18

2 Answers 2

There is no fixed association of the left hand with the bass clef. Plenty of non-eccentric composers like Mozart and Beethoven wrote whole passages where the left hand is playing high enough to be easiest written in treble clef. Sometimes the right hand dives over the left to play low bass notes, and is written in the bass clef.

share|improve this answer
2  
Non-excentric composers like Mozart. I remember some menuet where the only way to play a particular note was to use one's nose. I remember because I played that thing on chromatic button accordion (where it was sort of playable) and asked my teacher what the idea on the piano would have been. –  User8773 Mar 22 '14 at 19:13
1  
Chopin did that too, on the last chord of his second Ballade. People usually break the chord up. At least, I haven't ever seen anyone use their nose, although I tried it myself. It hurts, and the piece is way too somber to do something that ridiculous-looking at the end. :) –  BobRodes Jan 11 at 19:04

Advanced pianists don't see the bass clef as meaning left hand and the treble as meaning right. The chief consideration for which clef to put a note in is readability, and notes on ledger lines are usually harder to read. So, if the left hand is playing many notes above treble F or thereabouts in a passage (while the right hand is playing higher stuff along with it), the lower clef will switch to treble for a while. Furthermore, there are plenty of cases where stuff in the upper clef gets played with the left hand, and vice versa.

The overriding rule is to use the hand which gets the job done, period.

To illustrate this, here's a snippet from Copland's Piano Variations:

enter image description here

This piece is characterized by a lot of leaping around the piano, and often resorts to using three staves (and even four in a couple of places). Here, you'll notice that the middle staff moves from bass to treble in the fourth bar. You'll also notice the "l. h." under the D# in the first bar, partly because it's easier to play, and partly because Copland wants to emphasize the slur between that note and the upcoming C# an octave higher. This emphasizes a contrast between the notes in the top staff and those in the bottom two.

Of course, he could have written all this in two staves, but putting it in three clarifies the voicing that he wanted, making the middle voice stand out better.

Now, Satie is kind of unique as a composer, probably the only composer that was also a musical humorist. So, although I can't think of any offhand, there are probably places in Satie's music where his note placements were some sort of joke. To get some idea of Satie's attitude towards music, have a look at this parody of the "three wise monkeys":

enter image description here

Satie is in the middle. The other people in the picture are the writer James Joyce and the artist Marcel Duchamp. I feel pretty sure that it was Satie who put the others up to it!

Satie constantly satirized the self-important and sentimental musical conventions of Romantic music. For a fine example, see Embryons desséchés - "Dried Embryos". This is a collection of three pieces entitled d'Holothurie (Of a Holothurian, or sea cucumber), d'Edriophthalma (A disused order including things as diverse as freshwater shrimp and woodlice), and de Podophthalma (the stalk-eyed Crustaceans, including lobsters, crabs and prawns). Not exactly "To a Wild Rose" or "At an Old Trysting-Place"! The ridiculously bombastic and superficial cadenza tacked on to the end of de Podophthalma is notated Cadence obligée (de l'Auteur), or "Obligatory cadenza (by the Author)".

Here's a bit from Embryons desséchés:

enter image description here

The writing says "I haven't any tobacco, fortunately I don't smoke"! Typical.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.