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I'm working on an atmospheric/minimalist piece for Pierrot ensemble. I have the following figure in the piano part. I know that while the tempo is rather brisk (it's in 6/8 time, dotted quarter note = 80) it is not terribly difficult. But I'm wondering how many bars of this a professional-level pianist can maintain without physical discomfort. Obviously because I can play it as a very-not-professional it should be fine once, but can I expect a pro to be able to go for 8 bars? 16 bars? Will they kill me if I ask for a solid minute?

If this is not good for a pianist, what could help? Any good workarounds?

repeated sixteenth-note figure: D-E-A-G#-E-F#

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  • A reasonably good pianist could play this for ever. (Well, for as long as they could play anything else.) Nov 21, 2021 at 8:19
  • Should be absolutely possible.
    – Lazy
    Nov 21, 2021 at 8:25
  • Before (or as well as ) asking here, I'd be asking the player who has to play it. After all - it's for that person, and the legitimacy of it will be purely down to him, surely. And with nothing for the l.h. to do, if it was me, I might use both hands to play it..!
    – Tim
    Nov 21, 2021 at 10:58
  • 1
    Ask the snare drum player in Bolero... Nov 21, 2021 at 16:32
  • 1
    Here's (an almost continuous) 4 minutes of repetition of an ostinato in 8ths at 170 bpm: musescore.com/user/24361621/scores/6794860 So yeah, I think a 1 minute repetition of 16ths at 120 should be fine. It is faster though.
    – Creynders
    Dec 2, 2021 at 10:17

4 Answers 4

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At 80 dotted quarter notes per minute I run into two problems:

  1. Fingers getting twisted up and
  2. Losing count of the repetitions.

As a skilled amateur, after a few minutes of practice, I played 12 bars before getting tangled up. After a fingering adjustment, I played 20-or-so bars before losing count. I don't see fatigue as being an issue, even in an extended passage. One minute would be 40 bars, which seems fine.

A professional pianist should have little or no trouble with the passage (though I can't rule out an eye roll).

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As a sideways answer, consider one of my favorite pieces: the seventh movement of Ligeti's Musica ricercata. (See a faster performance here.)

In this movement, the left hand has a rather rapid ostinato that lasts for over three minutes (!). It's a little slower than yours: Ligeti's is basically septuplets at 88 beats a minute, yours is a twelve-let at 80 beats a minute.

Eight bars of yours is definitely doable, as is sixteen. And a minute sounds doable, albeit it with some training. Pianists might not be happy with you, but they're not always happy with Ligeti either :-)

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  • It doesn’t last as long, but this question made me think of the repeated note in the right hand of the second movement. Nov 21, 2021 at 2:27
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    How does that compare with the opening 3:30 of Tubular Bells? [Serious question, I don't read well so have trouble abstracting from score to 'feel']
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 21, 2021 at 8:08
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You should be perfectly fine. Most professional pianists have probably played other really hard pieces with very fast trills / runs, for example Chopin & Liszt Etudes and Rachmaninoff's Etudes-Tableaux / Concertos (Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto 3, 3rd movement) so they should be able to play this perfectly.

Only problem could be the pianist losing count, but that's unlikely

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Like Aaron, I'm a skilled amateur, and had little difficulty picking up your passage. After experimenting with a couple of different fingerings, I could keep it up pretty much indefinitely at 80 with little to no fatigue. But hopefully, this is accompanying something a bit less repetitious, because otherwise, like Aaron, I would easily lose count of the repetitions.

To give you a bit of perspective, Schubert's Erlkönig has what is considered one of the most difficult piano accompaniments in the repertoire, with relentless repeated notes throughout. Schubert was quite happy to write it anyway, nobody "killed" him for doing it (in fact, Liszt wrote a piano-only arrangement of it, because of course he did), and it gets performed quite often. Here are two versions, one with the music and one by the great Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau that is one of my favorites musically (and, interestingly enough, transposed down a step from G minor to F minor).

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