Half-way through Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C# minor there is this connected set of double clefs. Can anyone tell me what to do? It was a single set of bass and treble clefs for half the piece.

I thought maybe there was a D.C. al Coda thing going on where I should perform one set and return to play the second... no idea really.

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4 Answers 4


He was quite a good player - flamboyant, too. Looking carefully, in the double treble lines, he'd play the chord at the beginning of a bar, then the three quaver chords, come down again for the next octave on beat 3, then go back up again, and so on, all with the r.h. The l.h. is similarly played. There's so much going on, it's better to read (and write) separating the 'two parts' in each hand.And 'ffff' means give it all - no chance of playing the wrong note by mistake - everyone's going to notice!

It's virtually SATB, but for one player. Takes a bit of doing, but when it's ready, not only does it sound fantastic, but it looks spectacular.

  • 6
    And he had enormous hands, which is an advantage when playing his music. Aug 11, 2019 at 17:59

All four staffs should be played simultaneously. Both treble staffs are for the right hand, both bass staffs are for the left hand.

It’s split up into double staffs just so that it doesn’t get as crowded as it would be on two staffs. This notation is fairly unusual but not exceptional, as a way to write densely-textured sections more readably.

Reference performance on YouTube, with score (double-staff passage at 2:21)

  • 2
    Note that starting on the next page (you can even see the marker here), the upper staff on the left hand moves up to a treble clef. Notating this on one staff would be a pain and very confusing to read, requiring the clef to change between every other chord. Hence why it's split up this way. Aug 12, 2019 at 17:18
  • If this was for solo piano not piano four-hands, Rachmaninoff should've used two voices. Rachmaminoff should use four staves if this is really for piano four-hands.
    – Vighnesh
    Jan 6 at 13:58

That's a case for the sostenuto pedal (the middle pedal, not the sustain pedal) on a grand piano. You play the chords in the 2nd and 4th system, hold the notes by downing the sostenuto pedal, then play the intermittent notes in the 1st and 3rd system (that are not held since the sostenuto pedal only holds notes that were active when it was being lowered) and release the sostenuto pedal just before playing the next long chord in the 2nd and 4th system.


You can play it all at once. It's pretty 'bravura', but there's plenty worse in Rachmaninoff. :-) You could just about write it all on two staves if you wanted to.


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