In Rachmaninoff's 'Étude-Tableaux Op.33 No.4 in D-minor' there are plenty of places where you are supposed to play staccato while playing legato in the left hand (for example, measures 32-34 below). How is this really executed the way he intended it (particularly also the pedaling)?

Thank you for your answers.

Edit: Forgot to say, I know that the top voice must be legato, but I don't understand how this is possible, while using the pedal and playing staccato. Especially since in measure 33 it goes over 2 octaves.

Rachmaninoff - Etude-Tableaux Op.33 No.4 - mm. 32-34

  • In my book this is Op.33 No5 (not 4). Maybe someone can also suggest how to play the passages like m.37. Even "Rachmaninov’s legendary handspan" is insufficient to keep that 2-octave plus third with the left hand. In my score it even says "m.d." there. You have to KEEP that chord while playing the followingRH notes, which are again staccato in m.38.In 37 they are not staccato marked but I think you should not use pedal for the RH there to make it sound ok
    – guest15
    Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 20:27
  • There are reasons why this particular Etude-Tableau is a posthumously published one.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 21:05

3 Answers 3


As @Howlium says, the legato applies only to the "melody line" in the top voice of the left hand, not to the staccato chords. As for execution...


EDIT: It's significant that the chords in measure 32, from the beginning of beat 2 until the "grace-chord" on 4, all lack staccato markings.

Alexander Kobrin

In addition to the legato melody over staccato chords, there are particular problems in the left hand's tied D4 on m. 32 beats 2-3, and the tied C4 in m. 33, beats 1-2.

In Alexander Kobrin's performance on YouTube, you can watch his hands in this section. The relevant portion is from 1:40 - 1:49. The entire LH "singing" line is executed by Kobrin with an accented staccato articulation, using the sustain pedal to create the legato. Note that in the case of D4, he re-executes it on beat 3, but he does not re-execute the C4 in the following measure.

Sviatoslav Richter

There is also a "synthesiafied" Richter performance. The color-bars in mm. 32-34 suggest two possibilities:

  1. That his hands are big enough, for example, in m. 32 to play the beat 2 chord with his thumb on D4, then cross fingers 2 and 3 over the thumb to execute the chord on the half-beat. This technique would work for the remainder of the passage, excepting m. 33 beat 2.
  2. On the D4, there are slight breaks in the color-bar, so perhaps he's actually re-articulating the note very quietly. (Pretty unbelievable feat, IMO, and less likely, but it's Richter.)

He does seem to use very light sustain pedal in that passage, though not so much in the piece as a whole.



Giving this passage a try (but short of performance speed), I would most likely execute it by changing the pedal just after I play each melody note. So, for example:

Beat 2: play all four notes with pedal, but near immediately release the pedal and all notes but D4, then reapply pedal to catch D4 (which I would continue to hold with my thumb).

Beat 2&: play chord with 5-1-2, releasing the pedal, but again holding onto the D4 and immediately reapplying the pedal.

Beat 3: play the 2-note chord, then release all three keys, but keep the pedal until playing the chord on ...

Beat 3&: same technique of catching the melody note with the pedal applies here and after.

Beat 4: keep the pedal through the "grace chord", but change it upon playing the F4.

And so forth...

  • Thank you for the answer. I watched Kobrin's version and I am not sure, what he is actually doing with the pedaling. Does he slightly lift it while execute the staccato part but not fully? Not sure if I understood what you wrote about the Richter correctly.
    – Matriz
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 22:25
  • Did you mean by re-articulating the D4 just the top voice?
    – Matriz
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 22:33
  • @Matriz Kobrin's pedaling is difficult to discern, but it sounds to me like he's either half-pedaling, likely clearing the pedal between "melody" notes. In Richter's performance, I'm suggesting he articulates the tied D4, for example, 3 times: the initial attack, the chord on the half-beat, and quietly again on beat 3. Truthfully this seems highly unlikely; I'm reacting to the fact that the Synthesia score indicates slight breaks in the note.
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 1:12
  • 1
    @Matriz Just added a couple of edits: one observing that in m. 32 the chords under the ties/legato markings are not marked staccato, and a second attempting to describe how I'd execute the passage.
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 1:14

The legato mark applies to the phrase in the upper voices in the bass clef, not to the bass notes that have the staccato marks.

  • Thanks, but how exactly has one to do that, I mean you need to play the pedal for playing the upper voice legato, while playing the bottom voice staccato?
    – Matriz
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 22:12
  • You wouldn’t need a pedal if you have monstrously large hands. Rachmaninov’s legendary handspan was an octave plus a fifth. Personally, I would need a pedal or a third hand.
    – Howlium
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 22:16

Half pedalling is a way to get round this. It involves lifting the dampers partially off the strings, which means there is some sustain, but any notes played staccato still sound shortened.

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