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A single sextuplet and a pair of triplets are similar in the fact that their rhythmic note values are equal, but are different (as affirmed in this post) in that usually a sextuplet should only have an accent on the first note, whereas a pair of triplets should have a slight accent on the first note of both triplets.


However, I'm looking at the Vorspiel (Prelude) of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, composed by Richard Wagner. Below are measures 194-196:
mm. 194-196 of the Vorspiel of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

In measure 194 the second violins and violas are playing sextuplets (the first "two" of the "notes" are a quaver (eighth-note) rest, and the other four notes are semiquavers (sixteenth-notes). This pattern continues in measure 195 until the last beat. The last beat of m. 195 (marked in the above image) is a pair of triples, (the first of which is a semiquaver rest followed by a two semiquavers, and the second is three semiquavers).

I don't understand why the sextuplet grouping has changed to a pair of triplets.

I am not a string player, but as I understand it the notes under each slur (each beat) are to be played with a single bow stroke. I assume that this would make accenting the first note of the second triplet difficult/unlikely.

It there some subtle reason that makes triplets more correct or a better way to represent the notes in this beat? (perhaps it has something to do with the rests)

Is there some difference in the way these might be performed if the last beat was simply represented as another sextuplet (as opposed to the triplets)?

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  • I would also have guessed it is about a little emphasis on the second triplet, which would somehow correspond to the first violins playing the last zwo eighths staccato. This theory is questioned by the previous bar, where the same staccato-notes are set against sextuplets. Hopefully some string player can give insights here.
    – guidot
    Feb 15 at 8:50
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    Looks to me like it is for clarity. Changing all the sextuplets to pairs of triplets would mean the first triplet had two semiquaver rests and an isolated semiquaver - ugly and would not look as though it was meant to be smooth. The change to pairs of triplets flags to the musicians that somethings has changed - 5 semiquavers instead of 4, and the complete change in the next bar.
    – Peter
    Feb 15 at 9:38

1 Answer 1

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The brass are playing a eighth note and two sixteenths on the last beat, leading into a change of texture: the brass take over the melodic line from the violins. The next measure is marked 'sehr gewichtig' ('very heavy') so there's a ritardando on this beat. The second violins and the violas are playing a relatively unimportant accompaniment figure and they'll be almost inaudible against the brass. They have probably been thinking their figure in eighth-note triplets and at m.196 they suddenly have to 'change gear' to sixteenth notes (or 32nds). The changed notation makes it clear this beat is two eights and helps them adjust.

This is what this passage sounds like:

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  • I heard a number of different renditions of this piece. This one by Münchner Philharmoniker, cond. Christian Thielemann is excellent. Feb 21 at 20:31

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