# How is it that 12 eighth notes fit in a measure labeled as common time?

I am looking at Franz Liszt's Consolation S.172 No.3. I have checked out two different music scores of the same composition and they both have the same time signature (standard), however the base line includes 12 eighth notes (making it a 3/2 time signature?). My question is how is that possible? How am I supposed to compare the base line with the treble line when they seem to be on different signatures?

I am still relatively new to music theory and appreciate any constructive criticism as to my approach or my vocabulary.

Here is a snippet of what I am talking about. The first two measures of the composition:

Later on you will see this gets even more confusing when the treble is certainly divisible by 8 eighth-notes and the bass is doing its own thing:

Note that this is still standard time. Also note that the second measure here uses eighth notes for both the treble and bass but the treble's eight notes clearly take up more "space" within the measure (four eighth notes are clearly different between the two staffs).

• If I can state the obvious. Sometimes people break the rules. Changing time signature temporarily without actually telling you. Usually returning to a very clear 'one' immediately afterwards. Here it appears that they've broken the rules by using triplets, and not told you about it. Is there anything at the head of the sheet which might indicate this? Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 11:21
• I like the theory, but there anything there to suggest that is true here. Sorry @AJFaraday! Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 21:40
• I said that it appears to be implicit triplets in this case. Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 21:41
• Sorry, I didn't mean to discredit your observation. Simply responding to your question about if something at if there was anything at the head of the sheet to indicate your theory. Not that I can tell at least. Sorry for being too quick with my reply :) Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 21:44
• Written out the way it is, l.h. can only be triplets. There's no other explanation. At least the engraver has been thoughtful enough to write each hand as it's played, from a vertical point of view.
– Tim
Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 10:32

They are actually eighth note triplets instead of eighth notes. The alternative notation to this would be to group the eighth notes and rests in threes and put a 3 over them like a standard triplet, but it's easy enough to see that you are fitting 12 equally spaced notes in a measure which end up being eighth note triplets which would kind of screw up the legato flow of the passage.

Another thing to note is it is very common if you expect to be playing in 4/4 with almost exclusively triplets you would play in 12/8 so you don't have to put triplets over each set of three eighth notes they would just work out to 12 eighth notes a measure. This piece takes this idea , but just keeps the piece in 4/4 and it is just implied that the eighth notes are triplets.

• I'm not sure if I would agree that it's "easy" to see it, except once you compare the right and left hands in the last quoted measure it becomes the only explanation that makes sense. Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 21:02
• @ToddWilcox when you have 4 quarter notes per measure and you're putting in 12 eighth notes in, it's the thing that comes to mind first.
– Dom
Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 21:11
• Well it wasn't for me (or the asker, apparently), perhaps I'm more the exception in this case. Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 21:16
• One interpretative note: if you notate it with triplets, it would imply a bit of emphasis on the first note of each triplet. Rather than being a shortcut, Liszt probably wanted all the bass notes played with an even strength with all the emphasis on the sustained D. The notes should stream out as a soft flowing tail to a profound D (it's like a "three voices-two hands" part). I imagine he wanted the performer to focus on an even legato flow, not math correctness. Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 13:31
• @AustinHaskew the composer chooses the notation for his piece how he wants to it doesn't have to be the standard. He can omit a time signature completely as seen in the second movement of Quartet for the End of Time or make the score completely graphic.
– Dom
Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 21:17

The eighth notes in the left hand are all triplets. The ones in the right hand are normal. Note how the note heads line up vertically in measure 4.

On a purely technical level, this is incorrect notation. But it's something that can be figured out pretty easily, so I guess Liszt either didn't care or wrote it like that for artistic reasons.

• Can you please explain the bit about the eight notes in the right hand being normal? Are you referring to those in the base? They seem to be the same as the eighth notes on the left. Or are you referring to the treble notes on the right? Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 21:10
• @KJPrice The treble (right hand) notes in the second half of the last measure are regular eighth notes. 1) They are beamed in a group of four. 2) They add up along with the half note to a 4/4 measure. 3) They are spaced in the measure like 8th notes. The triplets/12tuplets in the left hand are not spaced the way 8th notes are which is why they aren't lined up with the "real" 8th notes. Also the left hand notes (bass) are all beamed in one group which would not be done with normal 8th notes. Finally, they don't add up to a 4/4 measure (which is what prompted your question, of course). Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 21:14
• This lax notation is actually not uncommon for Liszt (and some of his contemporaries like Chopin). Many times, a run will be seen with an arbitrary number of notes that doesn't rhythmically divide into the measure in any fashion whatsoever, like 17 notes or something like that. He was generally more concerned with the melodic flow of the notes than their mathematical precision. Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 17:53
• Further to this, it's pretty common for the first bar to be notated as triplets, then write "simile" on the next bar, and job done for the rest of the piece. Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 18:03

In support of the other answers here, I have re-notated this passage in your example to emphasize the triplets. This is the exact same passage of music (unless I have made a typo or two) but using extra symbols to make it more explicit.

Note that in measure 4 you are required to play "two against three": your right hand is in a duple rhythm while your left hand is in a triple rhythm. This is tricky!

• This is perfect! Thanks @wheat! Yeah I keep picking songs that I think will be simple and then I get a good ole romantic-era slap in the face! Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 22:38
• Do you agree the original gives a better impression of continuous musical flow? Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 23:28
• @LaurencePayne, I agree. The original is how Franz Liszt or his publisher wanted it to appear. I created my version only to analyze it -- to show the triplets clearly to demonstrate how to count the subdivisions of the beat. That is all.
– user1044
Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 23:44
• @KJPrice, I don't think that "simple" and "Liszt" can exist in the same sentence. Neither can "simple" and "Chopin". I'm not a pianist but I'm sure there are other Romantic-era composers that would be an easier place to start.
– user1044
Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 23:49
• To my mind, the first measure should have a 12-tuplet notation across it, with a simile marking at the start of measure 2. Problem solved with elegance and accuracy. Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 9:40

I would hold a slightly different opinion to those already given and say the proper notation is 12 in the time of eight which is played the same as four triplets but still this is 12 in the time of eight.

The person that did the transcription probably felt the marking for twelve in the time of 8 would be to hard and left you to scratch you head instead.

• So why beam in two groups of 6? And what 'transcription'? The piece was composed, not transcribed from a recording. Commented Nov 11, 2021 at 13:16
• This would be more representative if all the quavers were joined together, otherwise there would be unnecessary emphasis on the 2nd part of the bar, which I imagine Liszt wanted to avoid.
– Tim
Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 10:44