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I don't see this very often but I do see it in 1 of Chopin's nocturnes. In particular his F major nocturne op. 15 no. 1

It switches back and forth measure by measure between 3/4 and 9/8, well at least in some editions it does.

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A lot of editions just have a 3/4 time signature throughout the nocturne which makes more sense to me. After all 9/8 is just a compound version of 3/4. It is like 3/4 with triplets essentially. But why then would some editions have this measure by measure switch between 3/4 and 9/8 if they are essentially the same but expressed differently? I don't see any reason to have those 2 time signatures side by side. Now if it were 3/4 + 2/4 that would be a different story but here the 2 time signatures are essentially the same.

So why even write 2 time signatures side by side if either time signature would fit equally well to the entire nocturne and 2 time signatures side by side means a measure by measure switch?

  • Actually the time signature has more tasks than to transport the feel; any decent note engraving program will complain if you don't fill the measures properly. – guidot Oct 2 '18 at 7:01
  • @guidot you seem to have forgotten the 10 or so centuries before "programs" , let alone "computers" existed. Now get offa my lawn you young punk – Carl Witthoft Oct 2 '18 at 13:51
  • @CarlWitthoft: I fail to see the difference to human interpretation, given the frequently observed laxity of notation especially in respect to tuplets. Time signatures arrived around 1600, so this seems somewhat exaggerated, but you seem to have taken my example somewhat too strict. – guidot Oct 2 '18 at 14:06
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As you noted, most editions use just a 3/4 time signature. Among these is the 1st edition, which marks the first LH triplet with a 3.

The extract you show is from Augener's edition. The "9/8" comes into play only in the central F minor section. In a footnote on this nocturne's 2nd page, the editor, Karl Klindworth, explains: "...there is a change in the figure of the melodic phrase, for which I am responsible, having altered Chopin's notation from 3/4 to 9/8...". Klindworth also changed the rhythm itself: Chopin's 3/4 original has dotted-quaver (8th), semi (16th), two crotchets (quarters); Klindworth's 9/8 alteration has crotchet (quarter), quaver (8th), two dotted crotchets (quarters).

The extra 9/8 time-signature at the start would be merely a way to get out of marking the initial triplets with 3, and later sextuplets with 6, except that Klindworth's altered rhythm which I mentioned above has two dotted notes, and the "9/8" might prevent a reader from misinterpreting those notes as needing a beat and a half each.

  • Oh, well usually when I see 2 time signatures side by side, that means that there is a measure by measure switch going on between 2 time signatures. For example, there are a few pieces that I have seen with 2/4 and 3/4 side by side to avoid writing lots of time signatures and to avoid misinterpretation of a 5/4 time signature because I have seen 5/4 interpreted in 3 ways(simple quintuple meter, 2+3 compound, and 3+2 compound are the ways I have seen 5/4 interpreted). – Caters Oct 6 '18 at 15:29
  • @Caters Yes, that's another usage of dual time signatures. – Rosie F Oct 6 '18 at 17:48

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