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excerpt of Rautavaara Piano Sonata 2

In Rautavaara's Second Piano Sonata, first movement, beginning 20 bars before the end, there is a tablature-like symbol. What does it mean?

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The symbol denotes a tone cluster that includes all chromatic pitches between D1 and D2. The notation is explained in Rautavaara's "Table of Clusters".1

Rautavaara Table of Clusters

The effect can be heard in this recording by Laura Mikkola. The link is timed to the cluster. The "Table of Clusters" is shown at the beginning of the video.



Another example of this notation can be found at the end of (the piano arrangement) of Danny Elfman's "Victor's Piano Solo" from The Corpse Bride.2

Victor's Piano Solo final measure

(Arguably, the notation above is not an exact representation of the piece as heard in the movie. That specific effect could be notated with the cluster chord indication plus a downward-pointing arpeggio sign.)


1 Zachary Matthew Ridgeway, "The Fire Sermon: Program and Narrative in Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Second Piano Sonata", PhD Dissertation (University of Texas, 2018). (Accessed 29 Jan 2021.)

2Danny Elfman, "Victor's Piano Solo (from The Corpse Bride)", in The Halloween SongBOOk (Alfred Publishing, n.d.); song is (c) 2005 by Warner-Barham Music LLC.

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  • I remember seeing those rectangles on Victor Piano Solo sheet. I always thought it was an unofficial notation which meant "press random chords to make crazy noise". – Clockwork Jan 30 at 0:21
  • Is there a reason it's from a D to another D? It looks like the bottom line is on C and the top line is on D? – Clockwork Jan 30 at 0:25
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    @Clockwork Great find! I've added "Victor's Piano Solo" to the answer. Regarding Rautavaara's notation, you'll see in the chart that the lines indicating top and bottom are placed just above or below (respectively) the intended pitches. So the bottom line being precisely on the C ledger line means that D is the lowest pitch. Had he wanted C included, the bottom line would have been slightly below the ledger line. – Aaron Jan 30 at 0:45
  • Thanks, Aaron, for saving this question! – Tim Jan 30 at 14:14
  • Just for the curoius: There is a Unicode symbol for that; see page 2 of unicode.org/charts/PDF/U1D100.pdf. – U. Windl Feb 16 at 17:29

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