In Franz Liszt Transcendental Étude No.1 (Prelude) --

There is something saying "Piano zu 7 Oktaven" --

my question:

Which is the ordering to play these bars?

Am I understanding correctly that there are two choices:

  1. Red --> Blue --> Purple ---> Pink.

  2. Red --> Blue --> Orange ---> Green.

Which choice is based on what reasons? Are there other choices that Liszt intends to suggest? (Why?) Is it possible to include all these bars together?

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Thanks in advance for your help!!!

2 Answers 2


Pianos in Liszt's time were evolving and not all had a wide enough range to play his music. So the "main" option (purple-pink) is for a piano smaller than seven octaves, which was still common. But if you have one of the "new" pianos with seven octaves, then you can play the alternate (orange-green) part.

They would not be played together. They are alternatives depending on the capabilities of the instrument.

  • 1
    +1 Yes - that was what I thought --- so did Liszt originally use the option (purple-pink) in his era, or did he ever play the other (orange-green) option? Thanks!
    – wonderich
    Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 0:31
  • 1
    @wonderich I don't know, but that would be some very interesting (and possibly very difficult) research to undertake.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 0:39
  • 1
    Liszt himself would most likely have used the orange-green version, but provided the lower range one because smaller range pianos were still around in his day, if becoming less common. Pianos with the modern standard range were developed during Beethoven's lifetime (compare early and late Beethoven to see him expanding to fill the new larger range), and he overlapped Liszt by about a decade, so by Liszt's time 88 keys would be quite common but not necessarily guaranteed yet. Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 17:55

What you are seeing here is something we tend to call an "ossia stave", which is a small staff printed over the staff in question, usually marked "ossia" (it. "or be it, alternatively"). These staves are generally aligned with the music it replaces, so you will see that each 16th note in the top small stave align with the corresponding 16th notes in the top regular staff. So your understanding is correct.

As for the why: Aaron did already point out that this case is for pianos with sufficient range. But generally you will find such ossia passages for many different reasons, such as

  • Different instrument ranges
  • Different technical skill required
  • Preference (a composer might offer alternative ways to play something as you seem fit)

These things might also come from the editor, e.g. because the editors thinks "this passage can be done differently on a modern instrument", or "I like this passage better this way", or even "we have different sources, and one does it like that".

Unless your are insanely skilled it should be impossible to play these passages at the same time, and you are not expected to do so. Nevertheless considering that Liszt did like improvise, adapt, arrange and change you may try to find a compromise between these options if you really want to.

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