Another question for my amateur Shostakovich Symphony 11 arrangement for solo piano. The part I am asking about is 29:36 to 29:56 in this video, or rehearsal marks 80 to 82 in the original score. I'm ignoring the strings/woodwinds since pianists only have two hands, and I'll have the right hand play the higher brass chords while the left performs the trombone/tuba glissandi. Here's the extract in the original:

extract of Shostakovich 11

The low brass glissandi are a fun effect; it is continuous over a half-tone interval so microtonal if you want to play it exactly as written (doable for trombones, not so much the tubas, very much impossible for pianos). I've made chromatic grace note effects out of it:

extract of Shostakovich arrangement for solo piano

Now I am pretty satisfied but there's one effect heard in the recording, and in my mental version, that I'm not sure how to convey; the horn/trumpet chords are slightly disaligned with the trombone/tuba glissandi. Ignoring the glissandi parts and listening carefully to the beats on the natural notes E, F, F#, G, G#, A, Bb; in my experience they are at first slightly behind the horn/trumpet chords, and when the melody modulates they get slightly ahead of those chords. It's played asynchronously, arguably "messily", and I think that's both fitting in this section of the score and sounding very well.

Listening to different recordings you can see several approaches to this passage: synced - slightly out of sync - out of sync - very out of sync. So asynchronity is not totally unique to one recording. In any case, I think my arrangement should suggest it as an option, which I would put between parentheses to clarify that it is my instruction, not Shostakovich's.

How do I tell or suggest to the pianist to mimic that effect, to play it messily, asynchronously, like they are playing in the midst of the Russian Revolution (or the communist regime, depending on whom you ask), and everything is death and awful and the metronome doesn't matter because terror is everywhere.

Somehow I feel rubato doesn't cut it - it also doesn't usually mean asynchronity between the hands. Is there a fitting Italian term available, or should I just put all that context in an English footnote?

  • Try finding another recording of this symphony by another conductor and hearing if the exact same lack of syncing occurs. If those instruments don't go out of sync there, then I'd really rather not put any syncing indication in.
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 9, 2022 at 19:05
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    For the record, synced - slightly out of sync - out of sync - very out of sync (although in this one the trombs are so continuous it's hard to tell where their beat is)
    – KeizerHarm
    Oct 9, 2022 at 19:19
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    I should note that I would put this instruction between brackets to clarify that it's my own addition/suggestion, not Shostakovich's. I have already added a couple such novel instructions to my arrangement, for example some tempo and dynamics marks that I use to better differentiate sections and make the piano version feel more dynamic.
    – KeizerHarm
    Oct 9, 2022 at 19:31
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    What's wrong with "messily, asynchronously"? Oct 9, 2022 at 19:39
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    @the-baby-is-you that's an option; it's just that I've yet to use English anywhere else in the score so it'd stand out. Also if there's a more idiomatic term to describe the feel of what I'm trying to convey, rather than strict time instructions, I would prefer to use that.
    – KeizerHarm
    Oct 9, 2022 at 19:41

1 Answer 1


First, to address the direct question:

Somehow I feel rubato doesn't cut it - it also doesn't usually mean asynchronity between the hands. Is there a fitting Italian term available?...

Ad libitum, often abbreviated ad lib. is a common indication for giving the performer even more freedom than "rubato." It literally means "at will." While we use "ad lib" in other conversational contexts to talk about total improvisation—"I forgot my lines in the play so I ad libbed it"—as a score indication near some notes it would mean more like "play these notes, but don't feel to constrained by the exact timing" (or maybe even the exact order or pitches).

or should I just put all that context in an English footnote?

But yes. Absolutely. Any time that you feel strongly that you want something to come out a certain way, don't rely on a few words, especially that are not in the performer's vernacular language, just because you feel that you must stick to "traditional" markings. Ad lib. doesn't convey everything you're thinking, especially the extra-musical socio-political ideas. They're meaningful, and contribute to the performance. I might elaborate on the whole idea in a text introduction, and then mark the passage "Freely*" with an asterisk and then in a footnote, "* See introduction." I've seen scholarly editions use similar methods to call the performer's attention to issues like measures that differ in different sources, or complicated ornaments.

For that matter, you've already been forced to translate what was a steady-rising gliss into some very different chromatic-grace-note figures, just by the demands of the instrument. You could use the same introduction to explain that, just in case the performer has other ideas about how to replicate the feeling of the original.

  • Oh, I didn't know you could use "ad lib." by itself, I thought it had to be in combination with another instruction (the thing that's optional). Making an introduction with the musical idea is interesting. Definitely less unwieldy than inserting an unexpected paragraph footnote on page 43 of 102. I hope only that prefacing with analysis doesn't appear arrogant of me, as if I am actively reinterpreting the work when entire books have already been written on it. My goal with this project is that if a pianist comes across it, they can play some Shostakovich and have a good time doing so.
    – KeizerHarm
    Oct 9, 2022 at 21:17
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    If I saw ad lib. I would certainly think that the composer was instructing the performer to play anything that fits, not necessarily the notes written in the score. Dolmetsch online agrees: "the opposite of obbligato. In other words, to depart from the written notes or script and improvise" (still, among the synonyms they offer are "recitativo," "senza misura," and "senza tempo," which tend to support this answer even if the other synonyms don't).
    – phoog
    Oct 9, 2022 at 21:27

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