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La fille aux cheveux de lin has a lot of confusingly written parts, but I'm completely stumped by the ending:

https://i.stack.imgur.com/UJ1Py.jpg

I just have no idea about the rests and how I'm supposed to play them. Does it mean anything that the left hand note in the 2nd to last measure and the right hand note in the last measure are tied to rests, or are you just supposed to play them like they're tied to the chords before?

Another problem is that the right hand chord loses the G♭s after the octave. Ideally, I would release the pedal right after the octave and then press it again. However, I was using the pedal to sustain the bottom left hand fifth, because I had to take my hand off of it to play all the notes of the left hand chord since my hands aren't big enough to reach them all at once. If I were to pick up the pedal after the G♭ octave, I would release the notes I was holding with the pedal.

Does anyone have any idea how to play this part?

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The notation describes "what to do with your fingers". if you do that, you will get "the right sound" automatically.

Play the chord marked "pp" and sustain all the notes with the pedal. Then take your hands off the notes, and play the two quarter-note octaves and the following rests as they are written. Finally, release the sustain pedal at the end of the piece.

See this - except that she uses both hands to play two notes of each quarter-note octave, for no particular reason.

At first glance you might think the sostenuto pedal would be useful here, if your piano has one. But in fact it doesn't help, because normal sized humans can't hold down all the notes of the left-hand "pp" chord with their fingers before pressing the sost pedal, so some of them would not be "captured".

The dotted-half-note chords are all tied together, i.e. you play the chord once and it is sustained to the end of the piece. Some of the ties are shortened, just to avoid creating a confusing mess on the page - this is quite a common notation.

An alternative notation would have been to write the quarter-notes and rests on a separate staff, but that would take more space on the page and doesn't add much value to the way Debussy notated it.

Like most intelligent composers (and unlike many unintelligent editors!) Debussy didn't mark the pedalling, either because it is "obvious," (as in this example) or because the details depend on the instrument, the size of the hall, etc., and any notation would only be an approximation to what the pianist actually needs to do with his/her feet.

  • It should perhaps be added, because I suspect this is part of the reason the notation was confusing to the OP, that the quarter rests in the second and third measures before the end are nonsensical: the quarter notes in those measures are of course not stopped after a quarter note, since the pedal is on. I would have written the quarter notes as dotted halves with ties toward the right. No more complicated and less confusing. But I'm not Debussy. – Scott Wallace Sep 7 '18 at 8:30

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