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The piece is Alkan's Quasi Faust (from the Grande Sonate 'Les Quatre Âges'). There are a few idiosyncrasies in the score, but the most remarkable one I found is this example of dotted notes crossing barlines:

Alkan Quasi Faust score

For the record, this is the original 1848 edition found here. The later edition by Dr. Hartwig Albrecht corrects them into quarter notes tied to eighth notes in the next bar.

Questions:

  • This is illegal, right? Not just a matter of opinion like whether you can dot rests, but universally considered wrong?

  • Though perhaps conjectural, is there any reason, rhythmical or otherwise, why would Alkan notate it like this? I am supposing that this was a decision on the part of Alkan himself, although I suppose it could have been the 1848 editor.

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    It's worth considering that the dotted quarter note doesn't actually cross the barline. Beats 4 are written, properly, as quarter notes. The "dot" means "play half the duration of the note immediately to my left", so putting it across the barline makes sense as a shorthand -- and IMO easier to read than a tie. It's just so odd to see a dot separated from the note it refers to. – Aaron Aug 18 '20 at 22:04
  • Lazy typesetter and/or showoff composer. Just write the fourth-beat quarter-note tied to an eighth note in the next measure. – Carl Witthoft Aug 21 '20 at 13:14
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    @CarlWitthoft At the very least a show-off composer. Have you heard the piece? – KeizerHarm Aug 21 '20 at 14:10
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This use of dotted notes is old-fashioned but was occasionally seen in the 19th century, e.g. by Brahms. Alkan himself uses it in a passage near the end of the finale of his Symphonie (op.39 no.7). In his The Piano Music of Alkan (a reprint of the score of several of Alkan's works, with editorial notes), Raymond Lewenthal says, of that passage, "(Anyone unfamiliar with this substitute for the tie or bind has not had much to do with old music or Brahms.)"

5

This is a fairly obvious and convenient method of indicating an ostinato rhythm without having to distort its shape with artificial ties. It's not common, but I've seen it done by other composers. In my opinion, this is at least as good as the more complicated alternative of alternating between dotted and tied notes. Greatly improved clarity trumps strict adherence to the bar arithmetic.

(I'm not at my reference desk at the moment, but I'd assume that (a) Elaine Gould probably forbids this and (b) I disagree.)

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  • Thanks for your answer. To be fair, the "proper" notation would forbid dotted notes that cross a division of the bar, meaning that each of these dotted crotchets would become a tied crotchet+quaver, rather than an alternation between dots and ties. That is in fact how the modern edition notates it. – KeizerHarm Aug 18 '20 at 7:25
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    Alkan was certainly aware that he was pushing the envelope - look how he positions the dots so that they actually occur in the next bar! (Ordinary dots would immediately follow their notes.) But I think it's fitting because his piano scoring also pushes the envelope all the time :-) – Kilian Foth Aug 18 '20 at 7:28
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    Alkan was not so much pushing the envelope but using notation which was old-fashioned even for its time, and would later not be tolerated, as more and more aspects of notation became standardised more rigidly. For example, as the OP's graphic shows, Alkan was not so rigid as most about where to put the sharps in a key signature. – Rosie F Aug 18 '20 at 8:41
  • @RosieF - I used to work with a band whose charts often had complete random # placings. As long as we could count how many, it really didn't matter! – Tim Aug 18 '20 at 9:08
  • This notation appeals to me because it's orthogonal, in the sense that the part of the note that overlaps the bar is notated in the bar where it's played. I agree that it's at least as clear as any other notation I've seen. – Scott Wallace Aug 19 '20 at 14:44
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There's not much that's illegal in music, except perhaps plagiarism!

The dots look more like a representation of rests rather than dots to elongate notes. It's fairly obvious, looking at the bass clef, where the notes and rests come. They certainly don't belong to the notes they are following.

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    Interesting theory, but in the rest of the score, eighth rests are notated properly with their usual shape. So then the question becomes why use dots would be just for them only here. – KeizerHarm Aug 18 '20 at 7:19

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