I am writing a harpsichord score, and I want to be quite specific with note durations: most notes should be held for the duration of the following note (see bar 1). I am afraid that explicitly writing the durations like this (bar 1) might be unnecessary complicated, and I was wondering if there is a way to simplify, for instance not writing the ties and simply indicate that the notes should be held? I think I remember seing the indication laisser résonner somewhere? (see bar 2) resonances notation Is bar 1 overly complicated or is it a proper way to write the sound that I'm trying to get?


Yes, bar 1 is overly complicated, but not in the way that you think. You need to respect the beats in the bar better, because consolidating the note values in that fashion is very hard to read.

No, you don't want to use laisser vibrer or laisser résonner, because that implies that all the notes are held, and the harpsichord doesn't have a pedal to raise the dampers. That means that your performer will have to try to hold all the notes in the measure with his/her fingers, which means 5-note chords in both hands that aren't particularly grateful to finger (note the black keys under the short fingers). It is also not what you are intending.

Try something like this:

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In the right hand, the addition of a second voice is cleaner. Note that the first half of the measure uses a simple 1:2:1 proportion - that's about the only exception to notating each beat that exists. The 1:2:1 proportion has been notated that way in keyboard music for a very long time. The other off-beats are using ties across the beat boundaries, which is both normal and much easier to read.

You can notate the left hand as one voice with chords if you want (i.e., the high G♯ dotted quaver attached to the E, no rests, and the stems changing direction according to the vertical position of the notes) - it is six of one, a half-dozen of the other which is more legible.

  • 2
    It's the OP's music not mine, but two obserations: 1. Good harpsichordists (i.e. people who actually know how to play the instrument, as compared with people who know how to push the "harpsichord" button on their digital piano!) will automatically tend to hold down notes which will generate sympathetic resonance (e.g. octaves) beyond their written duration without being told to do that, but (2) the "overlapping chords" in the OP's sample bar don't seem very idiomatic for the instrument - sustained notes tend to be drowned out by the emphatic attack of any note(s) played later.
    – user19146
    Nov 1 '16 at 22:50
  • Well, yeah, a tendency to roll and sustain chords and notes is pretty standard technique, it being the only way available to create dynamic differentiation. OP is being not entirely unidiomatic, though - what's happening in the left hand is going to sound somewhat like style brisé, especially in conjunction with the late E in the right hand.
    – user16935
    Nov 1 '16 at 23:43
  • Thank you very much Patrx2, your answer really helped me see the issue clearly. And thanks alephzero for pointing out the idiosyncrasies of hps technique. It seemed to me that holding down the notes was standard for the music of the past but not necessarily obvious in a contemporary music context, am I wrong? And I don't get your point #2; I think the sustain does make an enormous difference. And if sustained notes were drowned out there would be no reason to hold down notes in the first place as explained in your first point? (I'm not arguing, just trying to understand your point). Thx again!
    – mrtnmgs
    Nov 3 '16 at 13:14
  • Yeah, in the case of the harpsichord, the dampers are actually affixed to the tops of the jacks - hold the jack up with the key, and the string vibrates; let the jack return, and the damper contacts the string.
    – user16935
    Nov 3 '16 at 14:08

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