Waltz in A Flat Major Op. 39 No. 15, Brahms

I have attached the starting of a waltz (A Flat Major Op. 39 No. 15) by Brahms. As you can see, the left hand plays broken chords while the right hand plays the chords normally. There are two possible ways I can think of interpreting this.

1) Play the left hand broken chord and then play the right hand chord just after that. This is as if the right hand chord was the last note of the left hand broken chord.

2) Play the right hand chord exactly in time with the first note of the left hand broken chord.

I want to know what is the proper way to play this, i.e. as intended by the composer.

2 Answers 2


The melody (right hand) should be played in time. Don't shift it to try to match something temporally funky in the accompaniment (left hand).

The broken chords should be played so that the last note of the chord occurs in time with the melody. The lower notes should come just ahead of the beat. The reason for this is that the higher notes in the chord will always be more present in the listeners ear. This is true in generally any context--if you put notes of equal volume (and similar timbre) in a chord structure, the ear is going to hear the highest-pitched one the most clearly (until you get beyond the range of human hearing, obviously). This is especially true if you play the notes in arpeggiation.

When you play the broken chord so that the top note is in time, the ear will hear the entire harmonic structure as occurring on that top note. The lower notes that came ahead of the beat will blend in to the harmony. If you do the opposite, and play the lower notes in time and the higher notes after the beat, the ear is going to hear those late higher-pitched impulses, and your playing will sound sloppy and arhythmic.

That said, the arpeggiation of these first chords should be VERY subtle. Listen to a few recordings and see how the professionals do it.

  • So you say that playing the start of the broken chord (its lowest tone) together with the melody note, followed by the arpeggiation, would be wrong?
    – Gauthier
    Aug 14, 2012 at 19:33
  • Yes, because the top note of the chord would be late.
    – NReilingh
    Aug 15, 2012 at 2:38

If you played the right hand chords at the end of the broken chord, you would disturb the rhythm of the melody.

You should think of it as two separate voices (one per hand). If the right hand does not come on time, it would feel like you played rubato all the time.

I would go for your second alternative.

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