I was looking at Rachmaninov's Prelude in C Sharp Minor. In the first section, a number of chords are played. The way they are written indicate that the pianist has to overlap his hands partially, such as here:

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However, this could also potentially be played as follows - no longer requiring hand-crossing:

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What would make a composer choose one of the two? I am not very familiar with music theory, but I would imagine playing the non-crossing version is easier?

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    I've neither played nor studied this piece, so this is purely speculation, but I would guess that it's because octaves are easier to find. We play octaves all the time and our hands automatically make that interval with no thought. Split the way it's written, it's a little less mental work to get the fingers to the keys. – MattPutnam Sep 12 '17 at 14:09
  • I hadn't thought of that. I do prefer the octave version because it's what I learned, but my girlfriend has very small hands and can not reach a full octave, hence we were rearanging the piece so she can play it. It was only then that I realized how the rearanged version seems to be simpler (because a lot of the times, both hands play the same, just one octave apart) – Joren Vaes Sep 12 '17 at 14:13
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    Because it makes you look awesome. – General Nuisance Sep 13 '17 at 1:20

The crossed version is quite easily playable (assuming you can reach octaves with ease), and it makes it easier to control the balance between the notes making the theme. So in the first chord, the RH plays two C#s, LH plays two Es. It is easier (for example) to bring out the notes in the RH, than to bring out the upper of two notes in each hand. (Well, yes, there's the third note in between, and that just has to be shared across the hands.)

As Matt Putnam said, it may also be simply easier for finding the notes. I expect Rachmaninoff just wrote down the notes the way he found himself playing them.


Note that the top notes of the left hand part are all white keys, but the bottom notes of the right hand part are black keys. So the "hand crossing" is easier than it might seem at first glance. It also makes it technically easier to deal with the fact that this is really music written in two parts, each doubled in octaves, with more notes added (and played slightly softer!) to fill up the chords.

Rachmaninov was a virtuoso pianist himself, as well as a composer. Details like these were not "accidental"!

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